Jojy Varghese is state Rep. Tony Payton Jr.'s chief of staff, and a very tenacious Philly-neighborhoods advocate. Our first sense of this came with an email from him about Frankford, whose real estate he thought should be more broadly promoted. "Frankford has a lot of historic housing stock. I’m constantly telling others that stately mansions could be had in Frankford for quite cheap."
But that's not all. Varghese also wants to spread the gospel of Juniata, Feltonville, Oxford Circle, Hunting Park, Tacony, Olney, Nicetown—"all those gritty, historic neighborhoods we’re working hard to advance over here," he says.
Their plans include initiatives that sound more at home in other parts of the city. "We’re constantly looking at new and innovative methods of improving the community," he says. "Shared kitchens, vertical gardening, educational murals, pocket parklets, sculpture gardens, community tool shops, farm to fresh food, artists in vacant storefronts"—doesn't sound like what you think of when someone says, "Northeast Philadelphia," right? And that's exactly the point, says Varghese: Why should Fairmount or Old City or Fishtown have all the fun? There are about 135 neighborhoods in the city—plenty of room for each and every to be vibrant.
One project that's making the rounds of city agencies and nonprofits right now is the greening of the El as imagined by Shift Design.