Thursday, March 29, 2012

"First-Time Buyer" post on Curbed Philly

Last week, I spoke to Liz Spikol over at Curbed Philly about contributing something to their "Rookie Roosts Week" that would help promote the week-long event. She asked me to write about my experiences working with first-time buyers, so that's what I focused my efforts on.

Since a good portion of my work week is spent helping out first-time buyers, it was easy for me to put together a general "To-Do List" for people who are looking to buy a home for the first time. I laid it out in a sort-of Q&A format to help break down the different concerns that most first-time buyers face.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Plans for Manayunk's old Propper Brothers

When Propper Brothers said goodbye to the furniture business in Manayunk, after over 120 years of doing local business, many were heartbroken. No one ever wants to see a successful business like PB close after so much long-term success. Honestly, the poor economy played a big role.

But things are changing fast.

After closing up shop, there was immediate demand for the unique building's prime location next to Main Street and the Manayunk train station. Since they closed, another business has already popped up in part of the building: Palm Tree Market. I've been there a few times already, and it's really nice. Not only do they have a lot of everything, but they offer fresh sandwiches, tables/seating, and more.

Just recently, more plans have been presented for the remaining storefront space at street level, as well as for the levels upstairs. In my own opinion, their plans look solid.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring in Philadelphia!

Just a few pictures from Green Tree Run in Philadelphia to celebrate this awesome weather.

These were all taken right outside my door. Enjoy your weekend, all!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Development in Point Breeze

If you follow me on Twitter, you have probably seen numerous tweets from me regarding the latest neighborhood happenings in Point Breeze, Philadelphia. To put it bluntly, locals and newbies are battling.

By locals, I'm referring to those who have lived in Point Breeze for many years; for some, Point Breeze is their generational neighborhood. By newbies, I'm referring to those who have recently taken a liking to Point Breeze; they are looking to rehab older homes or develop vacant lots in order live in the neighborhood or to sell those new homes to other newbies.

Make sense? Cool.

Now, because these 2 groups of Philadelphians have been colliding at local zoning meetings, it has prevented some new projects from happening and has infuriated both parties involved. Local neighborhood groups, South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S. (SPHINC) and Diversified Community Services (DCS), have basically been running the real estate show in this neighborhood for years; until the newbies showed up. Now, the power shift is starting to change.

Why? The new zoning code will change how local neighborhood development is done.

There is a lot of demand for housing right now in Point Breeze. But the problem is that the locals feel the current demand will cause gentrification in their neighborhood. The main fear is this will change the demographic level, home values will go up (as they have already), and it will cause property taxes to go up; therefore, pricing locals out of Point Breeze. Since it has already happened to PB's northern neighbor, Graduate Hospital, locals fear that the same thing is going to happen in their neighborhood.

There are other issues aside from the ones I already mentioned, and you can learn more about them by checking out this article from Plan Philly.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Philly Urban Living gets national attention

About 2 weeks ago, I was contacted by Nicole Davis at Engaging Cities about featuring one of my local bog posts as a "Showcase" piece on their nationally focused website. Needless to say, I gladly accepted and they posted it yesterday.

To see Philly Urban Living get a shout-out from a very well respected and popular online magazine focused on livable communities, please check it out here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The future of Philadelphia is the Delaware River Waterfront

Proposed Delaware River Waterfront Park

*Since today's subject offers so much information to potentially discuss, use the included links as your guide. They will help tell the story. 

If you keep on top of Philadelphia's development scene (either through this blog, or through other local news sources), this post should not be much different from anything you have already heard or read. What it will do is offer insight into how far along we have come.

But for those who are not familiar with the plans that are brewing on Philly's east coast, you will want to start off by reviewing the plans that have already been approved for the shores of Philadelphia's largest river; the Delaware River.

It all started about 5 years ago when the City of Philadelphia decided that it was time to connect Philadelphians back to their river. Neighborhoods like Fishtown, Northern Liberties, Pennsport, and Whitman all have long histories with the Delaware River. It wasn't until I-95 started being built back in the 1960s that residents were basically forced to disconnect from their river.

Race Street Pier

Fast forward to 2012, where the recreational success of the Schuylkill River has forced our local politicians to think differently about our largest water source. This latest article helps explain where things stand today.

Below are some additional links:

A Civic Vision for the Central Delaware

Action Plan for the Central Delaware: 2008-2018

The Delaware River Trail

Developing the Waterfront

Friday, March 16, 2012

What is "Bike Sharing?"

Liberty Bike Share is aiming for Philadelphia

It's a simple concept, and works the same way Philly Car Share does.

You pick up a bike, ride it to your destination, and either bring it back to the original spot or leave it at another spot; simple, right? Just like PCS allows people to use a car when they want to for a reasonable rate, Philly Bike Share would accomplish the same thing ... but with bikes.

Check out this article from Flying Kite to learn more about why Philly needs something like this.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Philly wants to expose its "Hidden River"

Grays Ferry Crescent

Philadelphia has 2 major rivers that run through it and alongside it: 1) Schuylkill River (Smaller One), and 2) Delaware River (Larger One).

Almost everyone who lives in/around Philadelphia, as well as those who have visited have no doubt seen the Delaware River before; it's impossible to miss. It's our "business" river, it separates PA from NJ, all of our major bridges cross over it, and its very wide (almost looking like a small lake in some spots). Believe it or not, not everyone has truly seen or experienced the Schuylkill River.

The word "Schuylkill" actually holds Dutch roots and translates into "Hidden River." Rightfully so, for being a decent size river it does have a tendency to stay hidden sometimes (unless you frequent its trails or happen to live in Northwest Philadelphia).

Schuylkill River Trail - Center City, Philadelphia

From personal experience growing up in the suburbs, but having lived in Manayunk/Roxborough for the last 10 years, I am kind of shocked that people are not familiar with the Schuylkill River, it's actual location, and where it goes. Reason being, a good portion of this river through Philadelphia is abutted by industrial facilities owned by DuPont and Sunoco. When residents don't have a connection to their river, it becomes less of a factor within the surrounding area.

I have blogged before about plans for the SRT biking/jogging trail expansion, as well as for economic plans to transform the Lower Schuylkill into a business/industrial hub. But this latest article focuses more on the recreational potential for the entire Lower Schuylkill District.

Click on the logo to learn more about Schuylkill Banks

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why does the world's cheesesteak mecca not support local businesses?

Geno's & Pat's | Philadelphia's Cheesesteak Mecca

My guess is that you're probably a little confused after reading that title. I would be too.

9th, Wharton, and Passyunk in South Philadelphia, has been the world's most popular spot for authentic Philadelphia cheesesteaks for almost 80 years. If you're a tourist, and you're utilizing tourism websites/brochures/books to find the best place to eat a cheesesteak while hanging out in Philly, chances are they will suggest either going to Pat's and Geno's.


Don't get me wrong, I think both spots make a great steak, but the main reason this South Philadelphia location is the #1 suggested spot is because Pat's is considered to be the founder of our city's most famous sandwich. On top of that, their direct competition across the street (Geno's) looks like something you would see in Vegas; just looking at the building immediately draws you in. And to top everything off, both places are open 24 hours a day.

Enough said.

9th Street Italian Market Festival

The problem is that businesses immediately surrounding these meat and cheese behemoths have never really done well, and are still slow to achieve success to this day. So why is it that one of the most popular tourist spots in the 5th Largest US City can't support multiple businesses? Honestly, it's hard to say. But I do think this area (including the Italian Market) would do a lot better if they were just a little more organized. The local business association now has a plan in place, and it should help with that cause.

In the meantime, other businesses are slowly starting to feed off of "Cheeseteak Corner."

Friday, March 9, 2012

Xfinity Live! is going to change the Philadelphia sports experience forever

Victory Beer Hall - Xfinity Live!

I have to start out this post by saying that this place is going to be bad*ss!

Not only will it be a modern entertainment complex, rivaling any other one like it in the US (or even the world, according to Ed Snider), but it will have Philadelphia sports history literally built into the walls. One of the bars is being constructed with bricks from the old Spectrum, and the Mitchell & Ness retail store will have an original basketball court from old Sixers games as well as original Flyers hockey dasher boards.

In other words, it seems like this project was very well planned and thought out.

There will be 4 major restaurants open for business at XL's March 2012 opening: 1) Broad Street Bullies Pub, 2) Spectrum Grill, 3) PBR Bar & Grill, and 4) Victory Beer Hall (pictured above). Each one of these spots will be a great addition to the South Philly Sports Complex, and you can bet they will be packed before and after games. Who knows, they may even turn into regular lunch spots for Navy Yard employees.

Remember, the complex that's set to open at the end of this month is a drastically scaled back version of what Comcast, Comcast-Spectacor, and The Cordish Company really have planned for this site once the economy allows for it.

If I had to guess, planning for Phase 2 will begin a month or two after Phase 1 opens. Success is imminent for Xfinity Live!.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What is the GUCDC?

The first time I heard it, I asked the same thing. GUCDC stands for "Germantown United Community Development Corporation."

When you look at the expanse of Northwest Philadelphia, there are 6 major neighborhoods (with a lot of other sub-neighborhoods in between): East Falls, Manayunk, Roxborough, Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, and Germantown. Also, each one of these neighborhoods has its own zip code (19129, 19127, 19128, 19118, 19119, and 19144) and its own post office. Although most Philadelphia experts would probably agree with me on these statements, there are always going to be locals who disagree. But hey, you can't please everyone.

When you look at all 6 of these neighborhoods, each one already has a successful community/business association for a number of reasons: 1) They protect commercial corridors by increasing commercial/residential development, 2) They clean and green the main commercial strips (a.k.a. Main Streets), and 3) They keep the residents and businesses unified by working toward a common goal; success. Some have had more success than others, and some have been around longer than others. Overall, 5 of the 6 major neighborhoods have a CDC that's currently successful; except for Germantown.

My hope is that the last remaining neighborhood to run a successful CDC will find a way to get over the hump this time. As more news comes online, you can bet I will be writing about it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Local Business Spotlight: Independents Hall (a.k.a. Indy Hall) | Old City, Philadelphia

Welcome to another Philly Urban Living edition of “Local Business Spotlight.” For this spotlight, I wanted to meet with a local organization that was doing something different. Not only did I want to discuss what makes them a unique business, but I also wanted to showcase the creative side of Philadelphia. 

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Alex Hillman, of Philadelphia’s own Independents Hall (or Indy Hall for short), and pick his brain about an up-and-coming business movement called Coworking. The concept is surprisingly simple, and the idea is popping up in urban areas everywhere. The best part is, business leaders all over the world are coming to Philadelphia (and more specifically, to Alex at Indy Hall) to see how it’s done right.
 *Note: All "Philly Urban Living | Local Business Spotlight" material has been edited from its original content to conform with accuracy and length.
Tim Garrity, Philly Urban Living: Indy Hall was co-founded in late 2006. What was your inspirational moment for a coworking space?

Alex Hillman, Indy Hall: Indy Hall started as a group of people, not a space. I realized that it seemed easier for me to find likeminded people in any city other than my own. Indy Hall was my answer to that for myself ... and soon after, for other people.

There was one moment I remember where I knew something was happening, though. A bunch of the people I'd been working with from cafes, bars, even each others’ living rooms, all attended a summer party held by PANMA, the Philadelphia Area New Media Association. After spending all night talking to people about how excited I was to be finding more people doing cool things in Philadelphia, I closed my mouth and listened - only to find that every way I turned, I heard people talking about the coworking space that I'd been talking about. But they weren't talking about my idea; they were talking about it as they were a part of it.

It was at that point that I realized that this was going to happen with or without me.

TG: How many members does Indy Hall currently have?

AH: We currently have around 175-180 members. 30-35 members call Indy Hall their "permanent" home, and the rest visit on flexible schedules. Our members stretch across all industries. It’s easier for me to tell you which industries we don’t serve than to tell you which ones we do. Individuals in the Tech/Creative, Science, Academic, Music/Film, Art, and Finance industries all call Indy Hall home. We don’t actively survey our membership base, we leave it up to our people to meet one another and find out how they may be able to work together on their own. That’s how the coworking model becomes successful.

TG: So I read that you are originally from the Lehigh Valley. How do you like living and working in Philadelphia?

AH: I grew up in Hellertown, Pennsylvania, which is close to Bethlehem.  I will have been living in Philadelphia for 10 years this Fall. It didn't at first, but these days, Philadelphia really feels like home.

In Philadelphia, the pace is right, the people are right, and it’s just a beautiful city to live in. It’s a small town in the sense that everybody knows everybody, and people travel in similar circles. It has world class history, music, film, food, and art. Philadelphia is a big city, but it doesn’t always feel like one.

I take trips up to New York all the time, and I love it; to visit. When I leave New York, I’m totally exhausted. I can hang out in Philly every day without feeling overworked or stressed out.

From an industry perspective, it’s an extremely diverse city. There is a lot of everything, just in smaller doses. You sometimes have to look a little harder to find the unique things it has to offer, but chances are they are tucked away in some historic alley right in your own neighborhood.

It's a city where you can take ownership of something small, and have it make a big difference.

TG: Indy Hall has a project in the works for a cohousing space called K’House (pronounced Ka-House). Tell me why you are taking on this kind of project.

AH: K'House is one of our answers to "what's next for Indy Hall". We've learned a lot in 5 years of exploring how to make work better, and a lot of the lessons we've learned have in turn contributed to the improvement of the communities we're a part of. Most of those communities are professional.

K'House stems from the idea that we can apply a lot of the same lessons we've learned from Indy Hall to building not just a home - but a different way to interact as neighbors and with the neighborhood. 

TG: How has the coworking movement changed your life?

AH: Indy Hall is not about having a better work environment, but having better coworkers. Because of that approach, coworking has made *everything* in my life different, and often for the better.

I think coworking has helped me think bigger, think differently about how I interact with people, and helped me build a global network of amazing friends and collaborators.

TG: So what’s next for you, Alex? How does Indy Hall provide inspiration for other projects?

AH: Like K'House is a re-imagining of neighbor/neighborhood lifestyle through Indy Hall values and goals, I've thought about what other things we could re-imagine.

There are so many industries ripe for disruption, and I see how our ideas fit each of them. I'd love to do a record label focused on our style of collaboration. I'd love to do something with the education system that focuses on scalable mentorship, and have a few friends already working on great things like that.

I'm also teaching workshops to people interested in coworking models and our approach to things; people who want to start or grow a coworking space on their own, or just apply coworking to what they're already doing. That's really exciting to me, because we get past the idea of "space" and really figure out how coworking can change how people get things done.