Household Name

Postgreen’s new green building project Awesometown aims to live up to its name 

Erin Witman wasn’t planning on becoming a homeowner when she walked into Fishtown’s Lloyd Whiskey Bar one evening after work in March. But a colleague had encouraged the real estate professional to stop by for the launch party of Awesometown, a collection of 14 super-insulated and energy-efficient townhomes that will soon be rising along the 400 block of Moyer Street in Fishtown. Created by the local residential development firm Postgreen Homes, the houses promise to be rich in utility-saving features: LEED Platinum design specs, rainwater collection areas, low-flow bathroom appliances, and triple pane windows to keep both warm and cool air inside the homes, which are scheduled for completion next summer.

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Class Action

 

Haddington Woods is the first place students of a free land management class will test what they've learned. | Photo by Jen BrittonFree land management course teaches citizens
to take care of their forests

Twenty-five Philadelphians gathered this past June to learn how to manage their forest. But many of those who met at the Haverford Avenue branch of the Free Library in West Philadelphia had no technical background in restoration, ecology or anything else you’d expect for land managers.

The “Short Course in Land Management,” taught by David Hewitt, research coordinator for the Wagner Free Institute, was a “highly distilled version of an ecology course I teach to city planners at Penn,” Hewitt says. The free, six-week course is part of an innovative experiment to engage local residents in managing the city’s forests, meadows and waterways, and is open to anyone. The laboratory is Haddington Woods.

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Super Model

  

Philly Foodworks promises flexibility for consumers, a market
for small food producers, and a bridge 
from rural to urban

Although we talk about community supported agriculture (CSA) frequently in the pages of Grid, it’s a relatively new business model. First introduced into the U.S. in 1986, it offered a brilliant solution to a problem farmers regularly faced: cash flow. By encouraging consumers who wanted fresh produce to pay farmers in advance, the model bridged a gap in the winter and early spring when farmers had little to sell. When crops are ready to be harvested, consumers get a weekly box—a share of a wide variety of the freshest fruits and vegetables you can buy. It’s a big win for both the eater and farmer. 

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Keeping the Wheels Turning

Cory Dulaney, left, and Soleil, 4, share a moment July 17 after Words on Wheels delivered books to Soleil. | Photo by Cory J Popp

North Central Philadelphia book delivery program aims 
to improve literacy and fight the summer slide

In 2009, Temple University undergrad Lauren Popp witnessed firsthand how limited access to books can affect a child's ability to read. Popp was tutoring an 8-year-old student at Tree House Books, a nonprofit dedicated to improving childhood literacy. The student’s assignment was to write and rewrite a set of words, which he was able to do. But when Michael Reid, Tree House’s executive director, asked him to pronounce the letters of each word and the words themselves, the boy started crying. He could only say the words because he had memorized them. 

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Watered Down

A closed-loop system springs a leak

In 2010, my husband Ben and I had been bit by the small-farm bug. I had just swapped a career in managing concert venues and nightclubs to start working with farm and food businesses. He was a paramedic who had lived on a Kibbutz in Israel for four years milking cows, picking avocadoes and doing field work.

Illustration by Sarah FeroneWe had just moved into our first apartment in Philadelphia, but were sure that within five years we’d buy a farm and build something of our own. We grew sprouts, wheatgrass and greens under a small shop light. We hung upside-down tomato planters, with boxes of basil and cilantro underneath to catch the drainage. Our humble harvests had us wide-eyed, knowing that we were planting the seeds of our future. 

One day I came home from work, and Ben had surprised me by building our koi fish tank into an aquaponic herb planter. I was mesmerized watching the fish swimming through tunnels of dangling basil roots. Aquaponics is a soil-free cultivation that takes hydroponics to another level by creating an ecosystem that uses the fish waste for plant food. In hydroponics, the grower mixes nutrients into the water reservoir to feed the plants.

Wanting to experiment with both techniques, we traded in our dining room table for a 16-square-foot hydroponic system to grow greens. When our koi started to get too big for their tank, something clicked. Why not retrofit this hydro system to be fed by the fish and solve two problems at once? We were soon swept off our feet by aquaponics, watching every Murray Hallam video we could find on YouTube, and phrases like “closed-loop sustainable system” started peppering our dinner conversations. But soon our apartment was bursting at the seams with equipment, and tying to balance the flow of water for 10 hours a day wasn’t working. We kept springing leaks, which the bank below us did not appreciate. 

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Fixer Upper

Volunteers at a Repair Café in Palo Alto, Calif., repair bikes, clothing and tools. | Photos courtesy of Repair Cafe Palo Alto

Group focused on saving broken items from the trash heap
brings Repair Café to Philadelphia

On September 20, a repurposed bowling alley in the basement of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill will be transformed into Pennsylvania’s first Repair Café. Yes, there will be coffee provided by the nearby Weavers Way Co-op, but this is a cafe unlike most in that it invites Philadelphians to drag in their broken lawn mowers, busted vacuum cleaners, damaged jewelry and worn-out bicycles to be repaired—for free.

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Accessibility in an App

Illustration by Miguel CoUnlock Philly aims to improve traveling and living in the city for people with mobility issues

Ather Sharif, who had moved to Philadelphia last year for treatment for a spinal cord injury, knows how important it is for people with mobility issues to plan when using public transportation. Though he was impressed with the accessibility of SEPTA's subways and buses, he saw how quickly regular maintenance issues—a broken elevator at a subway station or construction blocking a pathway—could derail travel plans. 

James Tyack, a senior software engineer and frequent SEPTA rider, recognized a need. He created a mobile app called Unlock Philly to help people with mobility issues find wheelchair-accessible SEPTA stations, but, with input from the community it’s poised to become a wide-ranging resource for people with disabilities who live and travel in Philadelphia. 
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