A lush oasis flourishing with sweetgums and sugar maples will soon blossom at the corner of 17th and Carpenter streets. Under a haven of canopy trees, children will gather at a water spring, cooling off and seeking serenity in the midst of dense urban space.
Nestled in the Graduate Hospital area, this eden of economic development and sustainability, known as Carpenter Green, is an ongoing brainchild of the South of South Neighborhood Association — or SOSNA — a nearly 20-year-old registered community organization, encompassing Broad Street to the Schuylkill River and South to Washington streets.
About six years ago, conversations sparked among SOSNA members about revamping the neglected parcel of land, which, at the time, was blighted with two abandoned homes.
For SOSNA, the premise of Carpenter Green, which is designed by Maser Consulting, was to not solely satisfy sustainable and economic objectives, but for the project to serve as a family park.
“Re-activating public space — giving it back to the neighborhood — that was really the key,” said Christopher Stromberg, a board director and architectural designer of SOSNA.
The region, which is home to about 15,000 people, has experienced various fiscal, socioeconomic and demographic changes over the last two decades.
“There’s been a tremendous amount of resurgence and development in this neighborhood,” Stromberg said.
Since 2000, the 19146 Zip Code, which includes Southwest Center City, Pointe Breeze and Grays Ferry, saw a 51 percent increase in household income, a 106 percent increase in higher education and a 404 percent increase in median home value, according to a recent study by RENTCafé.
After a few years of advocating, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, which owns the land, approved the project, commencing phase 1 of the plan, which entailed infrastructure improvements, including demolishing the buildings, clearing the sight and working with the Philadelphia Water Department to install rain gardens.
SOSNA also worked with the city in changing the land from multi-family residential to park zoning.
“One of the things we’re trying to promote is having projects that are responsible development and then also provides some sort of amenities,” Stromberg said. “We really push commercial, mix-use projects.”
Stromberg says Carpenter Green is SOSNA’s largest project to date as far as budget and size.
The first phase, completed three years, ago was funded through a $100,000 government grant. The second phase, which is set to break ground within the next month, recently totaled nearly $225,000 worth of funds from various organization, developers, companies, government agencies and residents through more than two years of fundraising.
Contributors included $50,000 from the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development and $25,000 from Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s office through the PRA.
Another $50,000 was donated by the Goldenberg Group — the developers behind the Carpenter Square complex, which is also located at 17th and Carpenter.
SOSNA, which receives funding from the Community Development Corporation Tax Credit Program, provided $10,000.
After recently reaching the goal, SOSNA went out to bid, hiring Reed Street Buildings as the contractors.
Phase two includes all of the hardscape, like leveling the site, pouring concrete paths, installing benches and building the central plaza with adjoining sprayground — the epicenter of the park.
Stromberg says the surge of families in the last five years especially inspired this hydro playground aspect.
“Because our demographic has changed dramatically, we wanted to have safe, clean places for families and kids to go play,” Stromberg said.
The third and final phase, which kick offs in the early fall, involves the mass planting of all greenery, comprising of lawns, woodland gardens and various street trees native to the Philadelphia region. From Blackeyed Susans to Blue Wood Asters, the native woodland and rain gardens will be abundant with an assortment of flora.
A shed will also be built to house electrical equipment, including potential PA systems for summer cookouts and other events.
Peppering the landscape with color, Lyft, which gifted $25,000 to the project, is investing an additional $25,000 for an art installation with design firm Groundswell — the creative force behind the illumination at Spruce Street Harbor Park. Currently, the two entities are proposing a circle of interactive lights around the sprayground which glows when touched. The pair is pitching other forms of public art, like murals, as well.
Bridging blocks along 17th Street, Carpenter Green will be the hub of an already booming intersection, as the recently built Carpenter Square complex, which was also supported by SOSNA, is diagonally southeast of the park. The street-length urban plaza features townhomes, condos and, soon, a Melograno restaurant scheduled to open this summer.
In February, Edwin M. Stanton School built a vibrant playground — located across from the northeast corner of the park.
“It’s all hinged in the ‘trifecta’ — we call it,” Stromberg said.
The grand opening of Carpenter Green is scheduled for October with expected attendance from officials such as Johnson and Mayor Jim Kenney.
While construction budgets have been reached, fundraising is ongoing, as additional funds will help cover past expenses, ensure unexpected construction costs and provide support maintenance, planting and programming.
Stromberg says SOSNA is grateful not only for the city’s support but for the nearly 30 to 40 residents who used connections and contributed ideas for Carpenter Green during monthly meetings over the past few years.
“It’s been a community effort,” he said. “An army of people to make this happen, so everybody is super excited about it.”