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Frankford Gateway in Kensington looks a lot greener these days

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The old eyesore of an intersection now boasts a small orchard

Volunteers spent one day beautifying the Frankford Gateway in Kensington.
Photos by Hans Hesselein

For three decades, the intersection at Frankford Avenue and Sterner Street was long considered one of the worst eyesores of greater Kensington neighborhood and a truly unwelcoming gateway to Frankford.

Today, thanks to just one day’s worth of volunteer work, the Frankford Gateway is better, cleaner, and much, much greener.

For about 30 years, the site stood as a collection of unsightly, vacant lots next to the freight rail viaduct. But in 2014, an opportunity arose to transform it from being a neighborhood nuisance into a community asset. It was identified as a high-priority site for the North of Lehigh Neighborhood Plan, and in 2016 the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) teamed up with the New Kensington CDC (NKCDC) to implement the actual transformation.

“Our volunteer group was really interested in finding a project where they could bring professional expertise, but also have a volunteer-led built project where they could make a big impact,” said DVBGC president Alex Dews. “We really liked NKCDC’s proposal because they already had a good plan in place of how to get the most out of the site.”

The East Lot, before and after.

After raising about $13,000 via an online fundraising campaign, the NKCDC and DVGBC hosted a community planting day on a “really hot day” in June. About 50 volunteers came out to help clean up the site and plant trees and fruit-bearing plants.

Going forth, the site will be managed by NKCDC, which is considering the Frankford Gateway an “ongoing project.” “No specific programming is being set up for the space but there are still a few elements that will added to the space in the near future with resident assistance,” says John Tracy, NKCDC’s land use and sustainability coordinator.

Before-after of the West Lot.

A local artist, for example, plans to install some sculptures on the lots, and informational signs will also be put in place to let visitors know what’s happening here. More community events may be in the works to help maintain the space.

Dews says the one-day transformation (plus one year of planning) shows that this type of volunteer-based model can be replicated throughout Philadelphia. “We’re not the first to do something like this,” Dews says. “But we’d really love to be examples for other sorts of stabilization and beautification programs.”

“It’s impressive to see how much work you can do in just one day.”