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Speak up to protect Philadelphia’s parks and open spaces

Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones is the sponsor of a billboard bill, No. 180387, that re- zones a narrow strip of land zoned for Parks and Open space in Fairmount Park to I-2 (Medium Industrial) zoning.

Sign the petition against the billboard!

The zoning change is intended to allow the erection of a double-sided digital billboard within an area of West Park between Montgomery Drive and the Strawberry Mansion Bridge.

The area is surrounded by parkland not far from the Bill Pritchard Riding Academy, within 660 feet of Belmont Plateau and 225 feet of Martin Luther king Drive.  The spot zoning is intended to allow a section of a railroad right of way to be used for a billboard. The strip of land is adjacent to I-76.  The Federal Highway Beautification Act strictly prohibits billboards in parks and open spaces and forbids spot zoning to erect billboards.  PennDOT is now charged with enforcing the federal and state billboard laws in Philadelphia and they have been made aware of this bill.

Here’s what you can do to help protect Fairmount Park:

  1. Sign this petition against the legislation.
  2. Attend Rules Committee hearing – May 23 10AM.  City Hall Rm 400.
  3. Call Council Members on Rules Committee:
Curtis Jones, Jr (sponsor) – (215) 686-3416, (215) 686-3417
Chair William K. Greenlee- (215) 686-3446, (215) 686-3447
Vice Chair Mark Squilla- (215) 686-3458, (215) 686-3459
Cindy Bass- (215) 686-3424, (215) 686-3425
Blondell Reynolds Brown- (215) 686-3438, (215) 686-3439
Kenyatta Johnson- (215) 686-3412, (215) 686-3413
Bobby Henon  (215) 686-3444, (215) 686-3445
Maria D. Quiñones Sanchez- (215) 686-3448, (215) 686-3449
Al Taubenberger- (215) 686-3440, (215) 686-3441
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Philly Greenfest 2012

2Greenfest_2012Sept. 9, 2012 – Greenfest Philly is the largest environmental festival in the Philadelphia area. With over 100 exhibitors and vendors, Greenfest is the place to learn about living sustainably while having fun! This event has something for everyone: shopping for local green wares, great food, live music, live demonstrations, kid-friendly activities, and more.

6Greenfest_2012 1Greenfest_2012

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Philadelphia Futures/Scenic Philadelphia Summer Enrichment Program


HACE group photoGroup shot- Nic Esposito speaker

By: Madeline Ranum – University of Pennsylvania Civic House Intern

July 2012 – “If I can make a change, you can make a change,” Zaire McLaughlin, a rising high school junior, told her audience with conviction. Zaire and nine peers spent their summer vacation developing proposals for community renewal in Philadelphia.

For the second year in a row, Scenic Philadelphia, formerly known as SCRUB, and Philadelphia Futures partnered to create a summer enrichment program for local high school students. Taking place throughout July, the course, entitled Renewing Philadelphia’s Future: Exploring Urban Planning and Renewal, was four weeks of intensive hands-on learning, concluding in a research paper and public speaking competition based on student propositions for community development.

The partnership between Scenic Philadelphia and Philadelphia Futures provided the students with a unique set of resources. While Scenic Philadelphia is a non-profit focused on reducing blight in Philadelphia through advocacy, education and legal action, Philadelphia Futures is an intensive college preparation program designed to provide high-performing but economically disadvantaged students with the resources to pursue their goals. With supplemental academic courses, personal mentorship, college guidance, and financial programs, Philadelphia Futures boasts a 98% rate of college enrollment for the students in their program.

The students grappled with some of Philadelphia’s most difficult planning issues, including the persistent presence of vacant lots and abandoned factories which tarnish neighborhoods and communities, and the history of “redlining” and its dire effects. Jennifer Reed, a long-time teacher at Philadelphia Futures, led the program and developed this year’s curriculum. A team of two interns and a teacher’s assistant supported her efforts. The students did not focus exclusively on blight, however; they also highlighted and celebrated the beauty of their city. Through field trips and guest speakers, the students learned to consider Philadelphia with a fresh perspective.

Guest speakers included Mary Tracy, Executive Director of Scenic Philadelphia; Maria Gonzalez, Director of HACE (Hispanic Association of Contractors and Enterprises); Stephanie Kindt, General Counsel for Scenic Philadelphia; Melissa Jest, Neighborhood Coordinator of the Preservation Alliance; Amy Hillier, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design  and Nic Esposito, writer and urban farmer. The students visited a thriving Community Development Corporation, learned how Philadelphia’s complex history can be used to revitalize the city, explored legal avenues to community development, and spoke with current community activists about ongoing projects. Exposure to a wide variety of Philadelphians working toward the revitalization of the city informed and inspired the students’ final project proposals.

The program culminated on July 25th with an event at the Philadelphia Bar Association. In a conference room with panoramic views of the city, filled with mentors, family, and contributors to the program, the students undertook what for many was their first public-speaking experience. Abdulaye Soumahoro, Samantha Walker, Wesley Zhao, and Zaire McLaughlin presented their proposals for community development before a panel of judges. From turning a vacant lot into a dance studio to converting an empty building into a place of worship to be shared by all religions in the community, the ideas were diverse, thoughtful and focused on community unification. Zaire McLaughlin won first prize and received a Nook Reader for her proposal to convert a vacant lot in her neighborhood into a community garden. Although only four students presented their proposals, all of the students participated in the event, some reading poetry about their communities and others sharing their reflections on the program.

Now that the second year of the program has come to a close, questions remain: what happens after the final presentations? Do the areas of blight that challenged the students remain unchanged? Brianna Zepp, participated in the Renewing Philadelphia’s Future program last summer and returned this year to work as a Teacher’s Assistant. Her proposal to turn a vacant lot in the Juniata neighborhood into a community center had won first prize before a panel of judges last summer but the vacant lot itself remained the same. With this year’s program wrapping up, Brianna chose to send her proposal to her local newspaper and to her government representative, City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez. During the last week of the program, a beaming Brianna arrived in the classroom holding up a copy of the Juniata News with her entire proposal published and a meeting scheduled to speak with Councilwoman Quiñones-Sanchez. Though the vacant lot still sits empty, for Brianna, this is an incredible start.

The Renewing Philadelphia’s Future summer program has left the students with improved writing, researching, and public speaking skills. Yet the positive outcomes go beyond academic achievements. The class teaches students to see the world around them—both the beauty and the blight—and to know that they have the power to alter it. As this year’s winner Zaire McLaughlin said to sum up her proposal, “We can all do it together, one lot at a time.”

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Documentary-This Space Available


By Sabrine Tribié, Civic House- University of Pennsylvania Intern

March 28, 2012  The Philadelphia Free Library was the venue for the showing of the documentary “This Space Available” produced by international branding expert Marc Gobé, for an audience of approximately two hundred and fifty people. In the movie, Gobé and his daughter, director Gwenaëlle Gobé, tell the stories of people around the world fighting to reclaim their public spaces from visual pollution. The event included an audience discussion with Marc Gobé, moderated by Avi Eden, a director of The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.

The discussion opened with the question of what is an effective method of advertising.  How do you spend your energy if you’re not spending it on outdoor advertising? Gobé described his conversation with the CEO of The Coca-Cola Company in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  The city underwent a remarkable transformation when Mayor Gilberto Kassab passed the “Clean City Law” that banned outdoor advertising in 2006.  How did Coca-Cola spend its time and efforts after the ban?  Gobé says they focused on enhancing their products’ presentation in supermarkets.  These efforts were met with an astounding 4% increase in sales.

The ban on outdoor advertising was actually a relief for the Coca-Cola CEO.  Gobé described outdoor advertising as an arms race, with Coca-Cola having to constantly compete with Pepsi for bigger and better signage.  “Whenever Pepsi put up a sign, Coke had to put up an even bigger sign,” Gobé remarked. He then discussed what Philadelphians should do to address the issue of outdoor advertising.  Moving away from the notion created by New York City that big cities should be covered with colorful signage and flashy lights, Philadelphians should realize that their brand is different.  Rather than compete with New York City, they should strive to make Philadelphia more attractive and livable, and brand the city in a unique way.

Mary Tracy, Executive Director of SCRUB also used the forum to announce that SCRUB, formerly known as Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight, has changed its name to Scenic Philadelphia. SCRUB was founded in 1990 as a grassroots coalition to stop the proliferation of billboards in Philadelphia. Since its inception, SCRUB has been responsible for the removal of 1000 illegal billboards and its volunteer attorneys have represented community organizations and local taxpayers in forty court appeals. In addition to fighting billboards, recent accomplishments include preventing the expansion of Fox Chase Cancer Center into Burholme Park, conducting a seminar on digital signage with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association and partnering with Philadelphia Futures to provide a three week summer enrichment program for local high school students.  SCRUB currently provides leadership as a coordinating member of the Crosstown Coalition; a group comprised of over twenty five civic associations and neighborhood associations across the city providing input on Philadelphia’s new zoning code.

The new name, Scenic Philadelphia, more accurately reflects the broad focus of the organization. The name change also is indicative of the organization’s affiliation with Scenic America. Scenic America is the only national nonprofit organization dedicated solely to preserving and enhancing the scenic character and visual quality of America’s communities and countryside. Scenic Philadelphia’s work isn’t an isolated activity; it’s based on a value system that guides Scenic America and is shared by over thirty five affiliates nationwide.

Please take a momet to look at he trailer for this thought provoking documentary.

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Korea Team visits Scenic Philadelphia


By Willa Granger, Civic House-University of Pennsylvania Intern

June 11, 2011. Issues of public space and outdoor advertising represent an international concern. This fact was made clear with a recent visit by representatives of the Gyeonggi Province (South Korea) to our office to talk about Scenic Philadelphia’s mission and its impact on shared space. Our guests included members of the Gyeonggi government’s New City Development Division, Land Development Planning Division, and several other departments as well as representatives of the advertising industry. The group, which discovered the Scenic Philadelphia through our website, was in the process of conducting a national tour of America, stopping in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. Their stop in Philadelphia was planned solely to visit our organization.

Mary Tracy, executive director of the Scenic Philadelphia, presented a PowerPoint about Scenic Philadelphia’s mission, history, and actions. The group was especially interested in Scenic Philadelphia’s advocacy for protecting public parkland, as well as learning about signage legislation in general. While the Gyeonggi contingent had previously met with members of America’s advertising industry, Tracy’s voice represented a powerful and resonant counterargument to advertising and its impact on public space. Its members were struck by a particular quote Tracy shared: “One generation plants the seeds, another gets the shade.” The sentiment was especially profound in light of the motivation behind this tour of American advertising practices: Gyeonggi leaders had come to America to garner ideas and opinions about the future development of their province. In particular, representatives were curious about the merits of LED signage in establishing the proper “look” of a modern region. As Tracy later commented, the journey was meant to encourage Gyeonggi leaders to be visionary; signage, especially LED signage-with its significant toll on environmental resources-is simply not innovative. We must remain sensitive to the “seed” we plant for future generations, and realize the environmental and visual burden we pass on through outdoor advertising.

We expect to hear from representatives of Gyeonggi about the future development and beautification of their province.


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Seminar on Digital Signs a Success

December 4, 2009 There are a growing number of towns and cities grappling with the pressure from the LED and billboard industry to erect digital signage.

Stacey Graham explains the legal aspects of regulating electronic signage.

Scenic Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association held a seminar on electronic signage. Speakers included: Jerry Wachtel, CPE, author of “Safety Impacts of Emerging Digital Display Technology”, Al Borden, FIAD, PLDA, Principal of The Lighting Practice and Stacey Graham, a Scenic Philadelphia attorney. Over 60 people attended the seminar including municipal planners, architects, attorneys, and Philadelphia City staff members.

With the advent of new technology in signage, many municipalities are behind in offering sign codes that address digital signage. From on-premise signs to large digital billboards, the impact of this technology is immense. Presenters addressed the actual technology of the new PECO lights, driver distraction and the health and safety aspects of increasing visual clutter on driver safety, and the legal aspects municipalities must keep in mind when writing legislation to regulate digital signage in Pennsylvania.