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New Development Gives Francisville Something to be Proud of

October 10, 2013 Category: ResultsUncategorized

While the Francisville section of North Philadelphia received some bad publicity earlier this year, there’s actually a lot for the community to be excited about. There are signs of development at every corner of Francisville, from Fairmount Avenue to Girard, and from 19th Street to Broad.

One of the more publicized developments is a vacant lot near Ridge Avenue and Parrish Street. The Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation (FNDC) plans to turn this space into a mixed-use development with commercial property on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors, according to Penelope Giles, executive director of FNDC.

She emphasized that FNDC, in conjunction with the developer How Properties, would concentrate on bringing in affordable retail options for low- and moderate-income residents of the neighborhood. FNDC will subsidize the development and will have office space at the location.

JBJ Soul Homes, another development in the neighborhood at the triangle between Ridge and Fairmount Avenues, has also received considerable media attention. Jon Bon Jovi– who the project was named after– has been working with Project HOME and People for People Inc. on this $20 million project to bring transitional housing.

While the project has met with a lot of skepticism in the community, especially from those who want to see market-rate housing, it ultimately received FNDC support. “Affordable housing is something that is necessary in this neighborhood,” Giles said.

New Businesses Find Their Place 

Some locally-owned small businesses have also opened up in Francisville over the past couple of years. A recent Temple University graduate opened up Kayuh Bicycles at 19th and Girard in 2012. The owner, Izzat Rahman, said he is the beneficiary of “tremendous interest in the neighborhood,” and serves those commuting through Francisville on bike as well.

Also, the Flying Carpet Cafe and Bar has proven popular among locals since opening in 2011. Located right up the street from a triangle of vacant land that a developer promised to develop but never delivered, the Flying Carpet attracts eaters and drinkers with its vibrant colors and atmosphere. The owner and many employees live in Francisville.

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“It is such a diverse neighborhood,” said Hank Henson, who manages the bar at Flying Carpet. He points to the melting pot of long-time residents, new residents from different countries and young professionals who came from the suburbs.

Striking a Balance

All the enthusiasm over new residential and business development is tempered by neighborhood tensions. Giles said that she and other long-time residents think of the neighborhood as having a “village-type atmosphere.” These residents remember when the triangles that define the neighborhood formed a middle-class, African-American enclave. Many of these original residents remain close-knit with each other.

However, there has been an influx of new residents, lured in by Francisville’s proximity to Center City, the Art Museum-area, and Temple University. Giles recognizes that there is some anxiety between new and old residents, but she also believes that the further development of her beloved community is inevitable.

While many residents were generally optimistic about the future of Francisville, they recognized that there was still tension to overcome. “I just hope that the neighbors who’ve been here for years can come to terms with the changes and maybe the new neighbors can reach out more to meet the older folks and learn from their experience and wisdom,” said Andy Benson, who’s on the Board of the Friends of Ogden Park. Ogden Park is a pocket park at 20th and Uber Streets transformed from abandoned lots.

This tension has received coverage twice in the Philadelphia Daily News: once by Stu Bykofsky in June and again in July. Even long-time residents we spoke to seemed hesitant to paint as dire a picture as both the articles suggest.

“All I say [is] welcome to the newcomers,” said Paul Goldston, who has lived on Poplar St. for most of his 56 years, except for a brief year-and-a-half stint elsewhere in the city. “I hope you [newcomers] stay and become our new family.”

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