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Huge Civic Project Aims To Bring Social Spaces to Several Phila. Neighborhoods

By KYW community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Two charitable foundations are making a multimillion-dollar investment in public spaces in five of the city's most underserved communities, creating what could become a national "test kitchen" of sorts on urban renewal.

The $11-million investment from the William Penn Foundation and Knight Foundation will help transform several spaces, including the dilapidated former viaduct of the Reading Railroad, languishing for decades atop 20-foot-high masonry walls along the northern edge of Chinatown, into a vibrant green park with walking paths, landscaping, and gathering spaces.

"It's just a really incredible time that it's finally moving forward," says Lea Murphy, board president of the Friends of the Rail Park, who notes they've been working for years to transform three miles of the viaduct into a rail park.

The group will be getting $1 million in grants, giving them a total of half of the $8 million needed to complete the project.  So, Murphy says, they'll break ground on phase one.

"Phase one is a quarter-mile stretch of it in a neighborhood called Chinatown/Callowhill North," which runs in the area of North 11th Street, from Vine to Callowhill.

"The ultimate goal is to create a set of civic investments that become community assets for these neighborhoods," says Shawn McCaney, who works for the Penn Foundation, which provided $5.5 million for the entire five-neighborhood initiative, known as "Reimagining Civic Commons."

The Fairmount Park Conservancy will manage the initiative, which will also target the neighborhoods of Bartram's Garden, Mt. Airy, and Strawberry Mansion.



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