Philly reaches for upgraded parks, rec centers and more in 2017 (Metro 12/19/2016)

Source: Metro
Byline: Sam Newhouse
Date: 12/19/2016

Philadelphians may have a lot to look forward to in 2017 — the year the city begins to realize the mayor’s bold dreams for neighborhood improvements, particularly in long-neglected communities.

Philly Rebuild (or Rebuilding Community Infrastructure) is focused on upgrading Philadelphia’s parks, playgrounds, rec centers and libraries. The program is scheduled to announce the first round of projects, selected from out of 405 potential sites, in the spring. They’re aiming to have shovels in the ground later in the year.

“This is really about spreading equity and reaching neighborhoods that haven’t received as much investment over the years,” said David Gould, a spokesman for Philly Rebuild. “Historically underserved neighborhoods, with high poverty, high unemployment, high health risk, and high crime areas.”

Mayor Jim Kenney’s stated goals with Rebuild are “economic growth and equity,” so the city is collecting data now to determine where investments can make the most difference in those areas.

That doesn’t mean Rebuild will exclusively work in poorer neighborhoods. But while selecting the first round of sites in collaboration with the City Council, Gould said the city will take a data-driven approach to selecting work sites.

“What the data help us do is come up with an objective and transparent process so we can really articulate why a site is getting investment,” Gould said. “We want the public to be confident that it’s an objective and informed process.”

Rebuild is financed with a combination of a $100 million grant from the William Penn Foundation, new bond sales and revenue from the new sweetened beverage tax and assorted other services.

The Mayor’s Office isn’t the only place where plans for Philly’s future growth are being hatched.

The Urban Land Institute’s 2017 report on new trends in real estate lists Philadelphia as a “market to watch,” and ranks the city eighth nationally in terms of homebuilding prospects.

“Pennsylvania’s largest city appears to be riding a wave of optimism going into 2017,” ULI stated in the report.

Another city agency with big projects for 2017 is the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA).

In the first quarter of 2017, the RDA is expecting to select a developer to rehab 36 homes in the area of West Philly where the 1985 MOVE bombing caused the destruction of dozens of homes.

“The 6200 blocks of Osage and Pine have a well-known and tragic history,” PRA executive director Gregory Heller said via email. “It was a priority of this administration to address this situation in our first year in office to seek a path for restoring the blocks, bringing new residents to these homes, and help this community heal.”

PRA is also planning in 2017 to launch a study of how to develop vacant land in Eastwick, and to restore the Germantown YWCA.