The End of Gerrymandering

Two Pennsylvania court cases could end partisan political districts—possibly even in time for the 2018 elections.

Illustration by Michael Wohlberg

Illustration by Michael Wohlberg

By Kyle Bagenstose

The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania tackles a long list of pressing issues: drilling in the Marcellus shale, child welfare, collective bargaining and campaign finance among them.

But more than any other, it is gerrymandering—the political process of drawing uneven election maps to heavily favor one party—that sets off alarm bells for league vice president and Chester County native Carol Kuniholm.

“The system is broken, and democracy is dying in Pennsylvania if we don’t fix it,” Kuniholm said.

Gerrymandering is such an important topic for the league that in 2016 members helped launch Fair Districts PA, an organization fighting for competitive elections. Kuniholm serves as chair and says the organization is closely watching two ongoing court cases that, if the pieces fall into place, could require a redraw of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts ahead of next fall’s general elections.

“Normally, the courts don’t involve themselves in a legislative process. It will be interesting to see what happens,” she said.

Also following closely is Michael Li, senior redistrict counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Li points out that even though Pennsylvania is a closely contested state, usually voting about 50-50 in statewide elections, Republicans hold a 13-to-5 edge in congressional districts. But he’s more troubled by the noncompetitiveness in recent elections.

“The problem is not only the 13-5, but that it’s locked in,” Li said.

Li explains that although gerrymandering has existed for more than 200 years, new technologies now allow politicians to use “surgical” precision in redrawing maps. A redraw by Pennsylvania Republicans in between the 2010 and 2012 elections provides evidence.

In the first election, 51 percent of Pennsylvania voters picked Republicans and 47 percent picked Democrats. Power flipped, with the Republicans gaining five seats for a total of 12.

Two years later Democrats surged back, winning 50 percent of the vote to the Republicans’ 48 percent. But Democrats actually lost a district, and haven’t won one since.

Having seen enough, the League of Women Voters filed suit against the state this year. What happened next was highly unusual: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled 4-3 to fast track the suit and require a lower court judge to render a decision by Dec. 31. Even if the court favors state Republican leaders contesting the suit, the state Supreme Court could overrule it.

“The question becomes, ‘How can you undo [gerrymandering]?’” Li said.

Because primaries would start in the spring, a likely route would be to put in place an independent “special master” to redraw the lines for the 2018 elections, Li said. The court could also favor a request from the league to make new rules for legislators for future redistricting efforts, such as not allowing the use of party registration data in the process.

“The long-term solution is an independent commission,” Kuniholm added.

Should both courts rule in favor of state Republicans, there’s a second, federal gerrymandering case brought by five Pennsylvania voters that began in December. But Li thinks it’s a long shot, as it argues “that you can’t have any partisanship at all” during redrawing, he says.

“This has not been tried before,” Li said. “It potentially opens the door in a way that the U.S. Supreme Court might not be comfortable with... where literally any map is challengeable.”

By June, both suits could be moot, depending on how the Supreme Court rules on a third suit, Gill v. Whitford. The landmark case out of Wisconsin could make highly partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional nationwide. Although the Supreme Court has heard gerrymandering cases in the past and declined to curb it, Li believes new data and mapping technologies allow a higher level of scrutiny that could turn the tide.

Should all fail, Kuniholm says there will be one consolation. Through court documents, she says the public will learn what kinds of conversations went on in 2011 when Pennsylvania Republicans redrew the maps.

“I want people to see these are the names of the people who sat in a room and deliberately denied millions of Pennsylvanians a fair, free vote,” she said. “No matter what the decision in these cases, that information will be made public.”

Comings & Goings

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Protected Bike Lane Planned for South Street in 2018
City officials announced Dec. 13 that construction will move forward for a protected bicycle lane on a portion of South Street adjacent to the South Street Bridge. 

The project, which is expected to be completed in mid-2018, will run along the painted bicycle lane on South Street from 21st Street to 27th Street at the base of the bridge. It will also include 27th Street from Lombard to South. It will include the restriping of the existing paint-buffered lanes and the installation of flexible delineator posts within the painted buffer at South and 27th streets. 

“Protected bicycle lanes will create a safe space for people of all ages to bicycle, eliminate loading and parking in the bicycle lane, and clearly separate bicycle space from vehicle space,” said Director of Complete Streets Kelley Yemen.

On Nov. 28, a privately owned trash truck turned near 11th Street in Center City and killed Emily Fredricks, 24, who was biking to work on the Spruce Street bike lane, CBS Philly reported. The news prompted bicycling advocates to again call on the city to move forward with long-awaited protected bike lanes on Pine and Spruce streets. 

DVGBC Renamed Green Building United
The Delaware Valley Green Building Council, which advocates for green building practices, is now officially renamed Green Building United.

The U.S. Green Building Council, which previously housed DVGBC, continues to operate through national chapters, and Executive Director Alex Dews wants the organizations to maintain a working relationship together.

The nonprofit took on the regional Passive House and Living Building Challenge organizations a year ago as a way of unifying the local green building movement, said Dews in an email to Grid.

“The proliferation of green building tools and standards beyond LEED/USGBC, as well as our focus on existing buildings that will never interface with above-code rating systems, means that we need to be an independent broker of information on sustainability in the built environment,” Dews said.

New Trail Creates Safer Link Through Tacony Creek Park
The city broke ground Dec. 7 on Phase 2 of the Tacony Creek Trail, which will connect the north and south sections of the 300-acre Tacony Creek Park. 

The 0.3-mile trail segment links Phase 1 of the lower trail—completed in 2013—and the upper portion of the trail—completed in the 1970s—which had been divided by the multilane Roosevelt Boulevard. Tacony Creek Trail will eventually span 3.2 miles.

State Invests in Solar Energy, Recreational Sites
Gov. Tom Wolf in November announced $30 million in new grant funding to promote the installation of new solar projects and the manufacture or assembly of
solar equipment.

For solar equipment manufacturing projects, the state’s Solar Energy Program will offer up to $40,000 in loans or $5,000 in grants for every new job created within three years. For new solar panel installations, the program will offer loans up to $5 million or $3 per watt, and grants up to $1 million or $1.50 per watt.

“We all have long known that the future of our country and our commonwealth’s energy economy will include a robust renewable energy sector,” said Gov. Wolf. 

Also in November, Gov. Wolf signed legislation requiring that the solar renewable energy credits (SRECs), which are used to demonstrate compliance with Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act, must be generated at solar facilities that deliver electricity to the grid in Pennsylvania. Prior to this change, Pennsylvania was one of the few states that allowed out-of-state transactions of such credits.

The state wants to increase the amount of solar electricity generated in Pennsylvania to 10 percent of the state’s total by 2030 through the Finding Pennsylvania’s Solar Future project, which is led by the Department of Environmental Protection.

“Keeping the supply in state will likely increase the value of SRECs, providing a major boost for residents with solar panels who provide electricity to aggregators,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in an op-ed for PennLive. 

On Dec. 5, Gov. Wolf announced an investment of $44 million for 266 projects across Pennsylvania to “create new recreational opportunities, conserve natural resources and help revitalize local communities.”

Heritage Areas will also receive  $2.36 million for improving trails, improving signage, and planning and marketing heritage tourism events.

The grants were awarded through the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Community Conservation Partnerships Program. 

The department received 442 applications requesting more than $87 million in project funding.

“The fact that the state must deny nearly 40 percent of grant requests received reveals how underfunded these programs are. The needs facing our commonwealth are great, and they grow exponentially with each year we ignore them,” said Andrew Heath, executive director of the Growing Greener Coalition. “The commonwealth must address these funding shortfalls.” 

Report details health impacts of refinery
Environmental justice advocates at Philly Thrive released a survey report in November detailing the energy-infrastructure concerns of more than 300 citizens, most of whom live near Philadelphia Energy Solutions’ oil refinery, in South and Southwest Philly. The PES refinery is the largest of its kind on the East Coast.

Residents in these communities reported significantly higher rates of asthma than the national average. More than half of the respondents reported living with health conditions such as heart disease and cancer. 

Ninety-five percent of those surveyed want the city to consider making PES pay for damages they may have caused.

The survey was submitted to Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability as part of Philly Thrive’s #WeDecide campaign, which began in May 2017. The residents’  top priority for giving additional feedback as the city develops an energy master plan is to have more community meetings with city officials present. 

January To-Do List

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1. Donate your surplus. City dwellers in small spaces know the post-holiday routine: Assess the mound of gifts, admit there is not room for them, decide what to recycle or give away, repeat.

2. Do a safety check. Now that the heat is cranking all the time, it’s a good idea to test the batteries on your fire alarms and carbon dioxide monitors. Older equipment should be serviced each year.

3. Hit the library. There’s nothing better than snuggling up with a good book, especially when the weather is frightful. Head to the library and browse the stacks for a suitable companion or two.

4. Make the b-list your a-list. Benefit corporations, or B corps, are companies that have decided to contribute to the common good while pursuing their bottom line. You have a choice to help support their community-centered work by consciously choosing to patronize their businesses, whether it’s clothing or cleaning services.

5. Tend to your containers. The heat of summer is long gone, but the plants in your patio pots and other gardening containers still need your help. If you have a collection of perennials that you want to see again in the spring, make sure you water occasionally during the winter months.

6. Make a volunteer plan. Many people give money to charities at the end of the year, but they can use your help year-round. Make a list of the causes that you care most deeply about, and then ask yourself: How will I contribute this year? The dark days of January are a good time for self-reflection and gathering strength for the year ahead. Be the change you want to see.

7. Recycle your Christmas tree. Philadelphia doesn’t have curbside pick up for Christmas trees yet, but they still have options for keeping it out of the landfill. From Jan. 6 to 13 there are city sanitation centers that will take them—visit the Philadelphia Streets website to find out more.

8. Bust out the board games. Remember when you spent days upon days with your friends and siblings playing Monopoly when you couldn’t be outside? It’s just as fun now as it was then!

9. Take in some art on the parkway. The Winter Fountains exhibition running through March 18 includes four massive, glowing outdoor domes stationed at various spots on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway that project surreal video imagery at night.

10. Keep calm and drink some tea. If you’re taking a break from all the holiday excess and libations, try out some fresh loose-leaf tea or an interesting herbal mix as your nightly nightcap.

Turning the Page

To everything, there is a season

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The winter outlines of bare trees against the sky always look particularly beautiful when dusk briefly passes behind them—the elegant and intricate silhouettes are otherworldly. 

That they are the same creatures who only months ago were abundant with leaves fluttering in warm sun is fascinating. In this part of the world, they tell us the story of the seasons, and we hungrily turn the pages again and again without tiring of the narrative, like a child with a favorite picture book. In late summer’s gauzy haze, we begin to taste the crisp fall. When winter has gone on too long, we ache for spring. The transitory but relatively reliable passing of the seasons is, in and of itself, a kind of parental comfort. 

That may explain why our present time and place feels more and more discomfiting. Not just politically—as we bear witness to a country wrestling with itself to enact its ideals, or culturally, as we reckon with how to value the female half of the human race without devolving into yet more divisiveness—but as, in the background, a larger and more dangerous disruption lurks, too vast and frightening to comprehend: Our seasonal narrative, our climate, is changing. 

We are caught, in the present moment, between knowing in our bones that something is wrong, and convincing ourselves that all will be well in the end, that a deus ex machina solution will present itself at the appropriate time and save the day. 

In his brilliant book “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable,” author Amitav Ghosh explores and connects the stories we’ve told ourselves about how and where we choose to live and what impacts those choices have on our living planet. He calmly and eloquently reminds us that it is naive at best and, at worst, a kind of collective delusion to continue to believe a fiction wherein humanity—our vast systems of habitat, commerce and politics—are unconnected to the planet we live on. 

That sounds dramatic. The truth sometimes is.

It’s time for winter, then. Time for reflection, to look at the shape of things as they are, with no ornaments to distract us, and to choose a path forward. The stories we tell ourselves are vital. They reflect our cultural mores and priorities. The page we turn now becomes the next generation’s story, and it feels fair and just that it should be one that is appropriate to read to our children.

The British writer Ted Hughes, probably best known in America as Sylvia Plath’s husband and the author of the children’s story “The Iron Giant,” also has a formidable body of dark, muscular poetry. He’s unsparing in his portrayal of the brutishness of nature. But he unspools to us a line of occasional relief, as in the opening of “The Guide,” when he writes, “When everything that can fall has fallen/Something rises.” How far will we fall, and what will rise, I wonder, in the coming years? What will our story be? 

As the editor of Grid for the past several years, this is the question I wrestle with every month, and this month’s issue will be my last as editor-in-chief. I’m looking very forward to continuing to contribute to the magazine while I put my energy into other creative projects, but the past three years have been a wonderful, long season. It’s been an intellectual, creative, collaborative and, at times, emotional challenge to give the magazine a cold, spare spine of truth but to leaf it out with beautiful stories of positivity, resilience and hope. Everything changes—but you can expect that to stay the same. Thank you for reading, and for striving for a happy ending.

Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Editor-in-Chief

P.S.  I can't say thank you enough to all of our talented and dedicated writers, illustrators and photographers, as well as the whole team at Grid. You are wonderful, and Philadelphia is a better place for your talents and hard work. I am no longer in the office, but I can be reached via email through my personal website. Please keep in touch!

Illustrating A Point

Artists tackle the dangers of fracking in a large illustration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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By Walter Foley

The bog turtle—known to biologists as an “indicator species” that can provide valuable information about the health of an ecosystem—emerges from the water as a sign of optimism in the upper-left corner of a 13-by-10-foot illustration about the natural gas industry.

“Drawing species that might not exist in 50 years because of today’s policies is extremely political,” says Bri Barton, who, along with fellow artist Meg Lemieur, presented the pen-and-ink political/educational poster “Water Ways” on Dec. 2 in the Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The poster criticises the hydraulic fracturing industry through a single panoramic woodland scene in which every detail tells a story, and the activists, politicians and citizens are represented as plants and animals.

The Department of Environmental Protection appears as the skeleton of a bald eagle, alone at a desk with stacks of untended papers.

The Federal Energy Regulation Commission is depicted as a rubber stamp that impulsively approves any drilling project put in front of it. 

Baby birds—Pennsylvania’s representatives—eagerly chow on money dropped down their beaks by industry lobbyists.

“Our main goals for creating this illustration are to inform, enrage and empower,” the duo says via email.

The project was funded through the Leeway Foundation’s 2017 Art and Change Grant, which provides “up to $2,500 to women and trans artists in Greater Philadelphia to fund art for social change projects.” 

“We researched a lot of information at first, interviewed many people who are involved with resisting the natural gas industry, decided together how we would visually represent each story, and drew simultaneously on the poster,” said Lemieur, a graphic designer, illustrator and marketing manager for nonprofits. “Each piece was drawn collaboratively. And we got along during the whole nine months of creating the project!”

The 39-by-27-inch posters, which are available on their website and at yet-to-be-scheduled presentations in 2018, come with a booklet explaining the symbolism and history that went into the piece. Barton’s friend Marlon MacAllister, who has led workshops for Philadelphia Assembled, assisted in Saturday’s talk, and the artists hope to train more people to use the illustration in future presentations.

Before guiding the audience through the many narratives contained in the image, Lemieur, 33, and Barton, 28, opened with an acknowledgement that the land they were standing on was the home of the Lenni Lenape. 

A damaged turtle shell at the top-left corner of “Water Ways” represents how “environmental devastation... is always felt first and hardest by oppressed people,” the artists explain in their booklet. 

The poster is drawn in the style of cantastoria—from the Italian for “story-singer”—and bordered by a sketch of Marcellus shale. The bottom-center of the illustration is framed by a trilobite and some crinoids, a nod to the organisms that make up the gas trapped in this shale, which must be broken up before liquids are pumped into the earth as part of the extraction process.

Lemieur and Barton stress during their presentation the importance of showing compassion toward on-site workers—represented in their poster as bulldogs—who often take these dangerous jobs due to scarcity of work.

“Humans are quick to empathize with characters in stories that look similar to them, and quick to dismiss the stories of humans who don’t look like them,” Lemieur said. “More-than-human characters help to remove the viewer’s bias from their interpretation of the story... We also used plants and animals because this is their story, too.”

On whose wall would the artists most wish to see their poster displayed?

“In the ‘tree sit’ at Camp White Pine, a resistance camp currently blocking the Mariner East 2 Pipeline,” Barton said. 

“Maybe in the office of the Department of Environmental Protection,” Lemieur said, “to be used as a tool by staff to remind them that the government should work for the people and not for corporations.”
 

A Mess of Mint

In an overgrown herb patch, a hitn of health, a family line and leaves of black history

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By Constance Garcia-Barrio

"Your mint’s running amok,” my neighbor, an avid gardener, said one sunny afternoon. “Let it go much longer, you’ll need a machete to hack it down.”

Despite the warning, I aimed to let the mint keep growing, though I didn’t say so. Mint has wound its way through generations of many of us black Americans. “In 1792, a man, aged 72, was cured of the stone by taking the expelled juice of red onions and horse mint…” Samuel Stearns wrote in his 1801 Materia Medica. “The discovery was made by a Negro in Virginia, who obtained his freedom thereby.” My elders don’t claim such stellar results, yet mint has long played a role in our health.

From my great-grandmother, Rose Wilson Ware, or just Maw, came herbal remedies from slavery time.  Born into bondage around 1851 near Partlow, Virginia, Maw lived until 1964, 113 years. For her and many other enslaved blacks, herbal medicine meant survival. She used mint for stomach complaints and to ease morning sickness—maybe on the advice of Aunt Alsie Ellis, the local midwife—during her pregnancies with the first generation of children born free.  

When my mother put down roots in Philadelphia in the late 1920s, she hid some of her heritage, afraid that being both black and Southern would shackle her to low-wage jobs.  She hired a speech therapist, worked with him for two years, and erased her Southern accent. On the other hand, Mom didn’t conceal her use of herbal remedies.  When anyone had a chancy stomach, she would cut a mint leaf into tiny pieces and add it to a teaspoon of sugar for the family member or guest. Mom also used mint—transplanted from Maw’s farm in Virginia—to add a cooling bite to her iced tea.

In time, I learned that mint could not only flavor tea or slow-roasted lamb, but my very life. Before Mom moved into assisted living, I took a few shoots of mint—flourishing years after she had transplanted them from Maw’s land—and planted them in the near-corner of my tiny front yard. Now, when I feel the need of Maw’s strength, I pinch off a leaf and eat it, a spiky green prayer.

Mint holds yet another dimension, I found. Some years ago, aching to include in my life rituals lost or frayed during slavery time, I became initiated as a priestess in the Yoruba religion, a sister tradition to Vodoun. My godmother, who led the ceremony, once explained that taking a mint bath can open one’s life to good energy.

And so, I said nothing to my worried neighbor. I let my mint grow till I had enough to cover the bottom of my old clawfoot tub. I turned on the hot water one night, and, after an amen or two, I climbed in. The mint’s sharp scent left me feeling cleaner in body and spirit.

I admit that my neighbor is right—at this point, I would probably have to rent a backhoe to dig out all that hardy mint. Pink daisies would prettify my little yard, but, given a choice, I would rather have that mess of unruly mint that reaches back to Maw.

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Constance Garcia-Barrio lives in Philadelphia and often writes on aspects of African-American history.

Shape Shifting

Ways to transform your body and mind this winter.

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New Year’s resolutions about fitness are inevitable. But why wait until then to renew your gym membership yet again? If you complement your current routine with something that will keep your interest over the coming months, you might just keep off those winter pounds. Fitness classes abound in Philadelphia in every neighborhood, so there’s really no excuse not to get out there and try something new. Want to strengthen your core while you sharpen your strategy skills? Try fencing or rock climbing. Don’t want to feel as though you’re working out? Try dance fitness or a new kind of yoga. Whatever you’re looking for, Grid’s got you covered with cool specialty workouts all over town that offer flexible schedules and payment options.

En Garde!: Shakamaxon Fencing Club
We recently checked out this low-key, beginner-and-kid-friendly fencing club, and there’s a lot to love here. First, you’re going to get a core-centric workout that will also give you killer glutes while you pretend to kill people: Fencing is equal parts aerobic stamina and Shaolin strategy, with plenty of plyometrics thrown in. If you like yoga or martial arts for the melding of body and mind, or CrossFit for its competitive, mind-over-matter ethos, fencing may be an option for you. The intro classes at Shakamaxon Fencing Club mix teens, adults, men and women, and if you get your head in the game you can go from tripping over your footwork to winning practice bouts in four weeks. It’s truly an all-ages sport—national competitions offer age groups for the little ones as well as fencers who are over 70. The brand-new club is based in Queen Village and run by Chris Spencer, with help from Dan Korschun. The pair were nationally-ranked fencers and teammates at Brandeis who narrowly missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team; Spencer is the current head coach at Haverford College. He’s not going to take it easy on you, so expect that if you or your kids are signing up, there will be discipline and required manners all around, even if you’re playing fun games: Spencer will channel his inner Mr. Miyagi as you play fencing-centric rock, paper, scissors or do relay races without a fencing foil in sight. Don’t think too hard about this one. It’s a great workout, all of the equipment is provided at each class, it’s really fun. And, if for some reason you’re ever challenged to a duel, you may actually be able to defend yourself, or even win. En garde!

Various times and locations, Queen Village; shakamaxonfc.com

Master the Mountain: Go Vertical Indoor Rock Climbing
Rock climbing is one of those workouts that feels a little too pro to just pop into a gym and try out for a day. You need special shoes and equipment, and then there is the whole issue of falling if you’re not secured properly, so it can feel a little intimidating. But it’s also a great low-impact, full-body workout that requires you to center yourself mentally—while you’re up there on the wall, you have to make strategic decisions about your route and solve problems under duress. So what’s a girl to do? Head to Go Vertical rock climbing gym and take advantage of two-hour lessons that will show you the ropes. You’ll learn technique and safety procedures for the two main styles of rock climbing, bouldering and rope climbing, the latter of which requires you to learn how to safely rope yourself to another climber. Go Vertical also offers advanced classes and private instruction; and a special youth certification is available for teens who want to get into the sport. The gym’s owners will tell you that climbing is 50 percent strength and 50 percent strategy, and that forming good habits early on is key. Rock climbing can be an all-ages sport, where women often compete equally with men. The trust factor inherent to climbing is why Go Vertical sometimes hosts corporate retreats: If you can trust someone on the wall, the staff meeting should be a walk in the park. Showers and locker rooms are available, and during the week the gym is open until 10 p.m., so if you’re pulling late nights at the office, there’s still time to hit the wall and give it your all.

950 N. Penn St.; 215.928.1800; govertical.com

Sweat It Out: HotBox Yoga
Yoga classes are everywhere in Philadelphia, and you can take your pick of traditions that might suit your needs, from vinyasa or hatha techniques that focus on uninterrupted motion and breathing to traditions such as ashtanga that attract practitioners who want something more muscular and physically demanding. People at Hotbox Yoga, started in 2011 by Brad Young, practice Bikram (“hot”) yoga: Rooms are heated to about 95 degrees, which increases your heart rate while you’re practicing and helps your muscles and joints warm up more quickly. You’re going to sweat—a lot—so be sure to hydrate before and after class. Any kind of yoga or fitness class can get expensive, and Hotbox has two options if you’re trying to keep an eye on your budget. At both the Manayunk and West Philadelphia locations you can take $10 community classes, and there’s also a quasi-co-op option: joining the Energy Exchange program. You can practice for free if you’re willing to spend some time keeping the studio in shape and pitching in with light administrative duties such as checking students in for class. The only catch is that before applying to do the work exchange, you must put in 30 days of practice at the studio. If you’re really ready to join the team, Hotbox also offers a 200-hour Yoga Alliance-approved program for teacher training. The weekend program is intense, and you can expect to be at the studio for 12-hour days while you’re training. And if you want your yoga with a bit of a beat, the Hotbox Power Beats classes will keep you going. The hip-hop-based Namaslay class is probably a good indication that this is a studio where you don’t have to take yourself too seriously, even if you have a serious practice.

West Philadelphia: 3527 Lancaster Ave.
Manyaunk: 4163 Main St.; 267.275.8441; hotboxyoga.com

So You Think You Can Dance?: Philly Dance Fitness
It never fails: You haven’t been out dancing in a while and then you hit the floor at your cousin’s wedding, only to realize that keeping it going for more than two songs is a lot harder than it used to be. Dancing is fun, hard work, and choreographer Deborah Hirsch, owner of Philly Dance Fitness, wants to make sure you have a good time while you’re getting down. The classes are held at various studios in Center City, South Philadelphia and Fairmount, and dancers 14 and older of all skill levels are encouraged to sweat it out. You can drop in on classes or make a reservation to secure your spot. While most gyms offer a few dance-related fitness classes, the sheer number of styles offered by Philly Dance Fitness really stands out. They have a diverse team of instructors steeped in their particular traditions, whether it’s styles like Zumba that were born in a gym or the more traditional performance-oriented traditions such as ballet. You can check out hip-hop-inspired House Party Fitness classes, or, when you’re feeling like throwing some jazz hands, sign up for Jazz Cardio Fusion. But it doesn’t end there, and there will definitely be something that turns your head: Been meaning to learn how to work a pole? Try the striptease class. Always wanted to be in the movies? Bollywood dance classes might be for you. There’s also tap, African dance, cardio belly dancing, swing classes and—when you’ve got to pull out all the stops at your own wedding—a ballroom dancing class that has your name on it.

Various times and locations; 215.645.2717; phillydancefitness.com

Uphill, Both Ways: Incline Running
No one really likes running on hills, but it’s a great way to up your running game. Even if you run at a slower pace, the extra effort of running on an incline activates your muscles almost 10 percent more than when running on a flat surface. Incline Running in Haverford, Pennsylvania, boasts a cadre of state-of-the-art treadmills that mimic running outside, are kind to your joints and don’t require you to change your running mechanics. If you’re a serious runner looking for next-level fitness or to smash your personal best at the next half-marathon, this could be the workout you’re looking for, and you won’t have to go it alone with a fitness watch as your only encouragement: A coach is there to lead each session (think spin class for runners), and you’ll be training alongside other overachievers. Some classes also include core work and yoga for a more holistic workout, and you’ll have choices when you’re ready to work specifically on aspects of your running, such as strength or endurance. Workouts run from 30 to 60 minutes, and if feeling better in your own skin rather than training for a serious race is your goal, you can still take advantage of the classes here: Power walkers and joggers are also welcome. The state-of-the art studio is also equipped with fully stocked locker rooms and an in-house café to fuel you up after you’ve given it your best. 519 W. Lancaster Ave., Haverford, Pa.

484.380.2412; inclinerunning.com

Go Hard or Go Home: The Wall Cycling Studio
Cycling is a great low-impact, all-ages exercise that also allows you explore the city. But the winter months can put a damper on training. Even if you’re willing to brave the cold, black ice is no one’s friend. Enter The Wall Cycling Studio, named for the killer incline that’s part of the late, great Philadelphia International Cycling Championship. It was started by self-proclaimed “indoor cycling junkies,” and they put their own spin on spin: You can find barre fitness and yoga classes, as well as interesting cross-training combinations such as Power Barre Asana and Baradio Sculpt, which focuses on interval training; and, to round out the mash-ups, there’s a Spin and Barre Fusion workout. Another option, the Spin + Strech, allows you split your time between a cycling workout and guided stretching. Classes are generally offered in the morning (some start as early as 5:15 a.m.) and in the late afternoon to early evening. If you can’t commit just yet, The Wall offers packages in class bundles as few as three, so there’s plenty of time to sample what works for you and then sign up for a larger package, a monthly unlimited option or commit to a full year.

107 Cotton St.; 267.336.7928; thewallcycling.com

Age of Anxiety

Is it social media? Smartphones? Or are we just seeking treatment for what was already there?

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By John Henry Scott

If you’ve been reading the headlines lately, you might wonder if America is suffering from an anxiety epidemic. Few of these articles agree on a cause—speculations include smartphones, the results of the 2016 election, and grown children moving farther and farther away from their parents—but most seem to allude that anxiety disorders are becoming more prevalent, especially among the generation of kids raised from birth with social media profiles.  ¶  Statistics from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America show that anxiety disorders are now the most common mental illness in the country, affecting 40 million Americans over the age of 18 every year.

But are we more anxious, or do we have a more defined vocabulary to describe our anxiety and better ways to diagnose it? Dr. Edna Foa, founder of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety (CTSA) at the University of Pennsylvania, doesn’t believe that these disorders have become more widespread in her nearly four decades of anxiety research. Instead, Foa attributes the rise in the number of anxiety-related diagnoses to an increased willingness among those suffering to seek treatment. 

“When I started in this field, people with OCD were reluctant to tell anyone, even hiding from their families,” she said. 

At the time, there was a serious stigma surrounding mental disorders. People suffering from conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive compulsive
disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder also dealt with a very real fear of being labeled “crazy” and perhaps even institutionalized. 

According to Foa, once it was discovered that symptoms of some of these disorders could be drastically reduced through treatment, many more people started coming forward. Today, the CTSA clinic treats all of the disorders mentioned above as well as many specific phobias. 

“It began to be mentioned in the media and became part of societal knowledge,” Foa said. “Pharmaceutical companies were very much a part of this exposure because they wanted to sell the medication.” 

Pharmaceutical companies started anxiety disorder awareness programs to increase demand for their medication. A happy side effect of these money-making ventures was that the stigma surrounding mental illness began to erode. 

“I feel like anxiety has always existed but it’s more recognizable now that we have more communication about it,” said Alex Karaba, 27. “It’s something you’re born with.” 

Karaba, a restaurant server in Center City, was diagnosed with GAD last year, after struggling with symptoms for years. 

“When you have an anxiety disorder, you don’t talk about it,” he said. “You just assume that’s what being alive is.” 

To treat his disorder, Karaba meditates and practices yoga. The routine helps him in his day-to-day, but he admits he feels he’s not doing enough and is considering going back to therapy.

“Simply having a conversation about anxiety helps,” he said. “Saying things out loud, just explaining how it feels gives me a little more perspective than stewing inside of my head.”

While more people are seeking treatment, ADAA statistics tell us that only 36.9 percent of the 40 million American adults suffering from an anxiety disorder receive treatment. This figure may have to do with the difficulty of finding, accessing and affording the appropriate course of treatment. 

Katie Harshaw, 24, is a social worker in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. She suffered with GAD and PTSD for years until she finally found a medication that allowed her to function in daily life. Prior to finding the right treatment, she struggled with drug addiction, a result of self-medicating. As a child, her anxiety disorders kept her out of school. 

For those seeking treatment, Harshaw recommends having a support system, which she defines as “at least one person that you can turn to when you are struggling.” She also recommends keeping busy as a way of warding off unproductive thoughts. Above all, she urges those suffering to seek medical attention. 

“I would not recommend treating anxiety at home,” she said. “If you have anxiety or panic attacks, see a doctor. Don’t self-medicate. Get help.” 

Dr. Thea Gallagher, clinic director at CTSA, echoes Harshaw’s sentiment. 

“If you have an anxiety disorder or you think you have one, get to a center that does good exposure work and get an evaluation,” she said. “It’s usually a pretty focused, short and goal-oriented protocol toward getting you better.”  

The treatment process at CTSA goes beyond talk therapy and medication. Instead, clinicians and researchers practice treatment methods such as exposure and response prevention (ERP) and prolonged exposure therapy (PE). 

“The most evidence-based, robust treatment for anxiety disorders is exposure therapy,” said Gallagher. “It’s of the mindset that the only way through anxiety is through, and that fear can be treated by facing it.”

Exposure therapy puts a patient into situations that would normally trigger an anxious response. Clinicians guide patients through these situations and help them confront their fears and anxieties. Foa used the example of a patient with an obsession with cleanliness. Such a patient would be placed in a less-than-sanitary environment and then prevented from washing her hands for a prolonged period. 

This practice may seem a bit cruel, but it helps break down the harmful associations with cleanliness within the obsessive mind. The patient discovers that, while regular handwashing is healthy, failure to wash one’s hands does not result in catastrophe. Cause and effect become more realistic in her mind. 

The CTSA also uses exposure to treat PTSD, asking patients to revisit their traumatic memories. It’s somewhat more controversial in the medical community, but, according to Foa, the results have been highly effective. When going back into their traumatic memories, patients often find themselves remembering details that change the way they think about the memory, sometimes removing guilt or blame.

“We want to break down those barriers,” said Gallagher. “A lot of the work we’ve been doing is showing that this treatment works. Research shows exposure therapy is the most effective treatment.” 

However, with generalized anxiety, ERP is not as effective because there are fewer specific stressors to target. People suffering with GAD are more prone to obsessively worry about hypotheticals such as being fired from a job or the death of a family member. Due to the intangible nature of these worries, the CTSA uses a modified exposure process for GAD patients. 

Gallagher told the story of a GAD patient who was having an outdoor wedding. The patient was consumed by obsessive worrying over whether it would rain on her wedding day. Clinicians helped the patient run through a scenario in which the wedding was rained out. Slowly, the patient began to be able to accept that outcome as a possibility and move past worrying about it. This course of treatment is rooted in mindfulness: identifying anxious thoughts, allowing them to come into your mind and then calmly moving past them. 

“GAD treatment is about helping people see that there is really no correlation between worry and outcome,” said Gallagher. “A lot of anxiety is your alarm system going off, telling you there’s a fire in your house when it’s really burnt toast. We want to help patients see that.”

Doctors Foa and Gallagher encourage anyone struggling with an anxiety disorder to reach out to CTSA. They are currently in need of people struggling with PTSD for upcoming research studies. The best way to contact the center is by phone at 215.746.3327.

Cannabis, the Medicine

Coming to a neighborhood near you. 

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By Sue Spolan

When Brian Dwyer found out that his infant son, Waldo, had a rare form of cancer, his first stop was the world-renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“There were tumors growing in his eyeballs,” explains Dwyer, whom you may know as the founder of Pizza Brain, the instantly beloved Kensington restaurant that garnered national acclaim upon opening. Waldo has a very rare but treatable form of cancer known as bilateral retinoblastoma. His blindness was the first sign that something was terribly wrong.

"I stared modern medicine in the face, in one of the best children’s hospitals in the U.S. The general treatment is hard drugs and steroids,” he says. “They treat it with chemo—or remove the eyes.”

Dwyer recalls it as a painful time for the whole family. “Those first few chemo sessions were one of the darkest periods of my life,” he says. 

Two family friends came to the rescue, suggesting cannabis oil as a nontoxic alternative to the devastating chemotherapy the baby was going through. 

Though he can’t say whether it was the cannabis or chemo, the Dwyer family saw dramatic improvements immediately upon administering the cannabis, and Waldo felt great relief. The cannabis oil appeared to work miracles. 

So, Dwyer bought it under the table. 

“I was broke, working 50 hours a week, and I felt like I had to keep it a secret. When the medical marijuana bill passed, it didn’t solve our problem,” says Dwyer, who knew it would be three years before his son could get legal cannabis in Philadelphia.

So, a year ago, Dwyer moved with his wife, Danielle, and Waldo to Washington state to continue pursuing alternative treatment for his son, who is no longer blind. Today, Dwyer reports that Waldo is tumor-free and “growing like a young giraffe.”

The Power of Prescription

One institution at the forefront of medical marijuana research is Thomas Jefferson University’s Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp, the first of its kind in the U.S. Australian multimillionaire Barry Lambert gave $3 million to the center, and a half-dozen philanthropists have since added $1.5 million in funding. 

Dr. Ari Greis plans to be the first physician certified to recommend cannabis at the Rothman Institute of Jefferson Hospital. As a physical medicine and rehabilitation doc, Greis sees patients who suffer from chronic pain. Many of those patients have turned to opioids. Greis envisions real therapeutic benefit from products that are mostly cannabidiol. 

“You may be able to get the effect without the high and confusion… Cannabis is so much safer than all these other legal drugs, like tobacco, alcohol and opioids,” says Greis, who has seen the terrible price patients pay when they become addicted to painkillers. 

Drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania increased by 37 percent to a record high in 2016, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. When you add up all substance related fatalities in Philadelphia for 2016, there were 907 overdose deaths. 

As a physician, Greis wants to have control over cannabis dosing and frequency, just as he would with any other medication. “There is mounting evidence that cannabis can help us deal with the opioid epidemic,” says Greis, who cites multiple recent studies that associate cannabis use with decreased opiate intake and a significant drop in the use of prescription drugs overall.

Pay, Don’t Stay

Before setting foot in a Pennsylvania cannabis outlet, you’ll pay a $50 application fee to be placed on the patient registry. The card, available to adults 18 and older, enables patients to obtain and possess 30 days’ worth of product. Adults can also apply as caregivers. Parents and guardians can obtain cannabis for children under 18. 

There are currently 17 conditions that allow patients to obtain medical cannabis. None of these is a catch-all, “wink wink” diagnosis, such as anxiety or insomnia.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, author of the Pennsylvania medical marijuana bill that became law in April 2016, estimates that the first dispensaries will be operational in spring 2018. 

At the outset, these dispensaries will not stock the flowers of the plant. Smoking is not currently a medically approved form of administration. Rather, all products will be packaged as pills, oils, gels, creams, ointments, vaporizers, nebulizers, tinctures and liquids. Dispensaries will stock products, classified by strain, that are grown and processed in 12  state-approved facilities. 

While the marijuana plant contains hundreds of chemical compounds, the general focus of medical cannabis centers on two cannabinoids: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). The former provides the psychoactive effect associated with getting high, while the latter is said to erase pain without the high. All manufactured cannabis products contain one or the other, or a combination of both.

Chicago-based Cresco Yeltrah, which was granted both grower-processor and dispensary licenses in Pennsylvania, plans to offer a modified version of its products now on shelves in Illinois dispensaries, but notes that the formulation will adhere to stringent Pennsylvania laws.

A Family Friendly Dispensary in Fishtown

The future Philadelphia cannabis dispensary is the architectural equivalent of a plain brown wrapper: intentionally easy to miss. Medical marijuana outlets aspire to be health and wellness centers, not hippie retreats with dab bars and Indian print bedspreads. If you’ve ever seen one of the dispensaries in New Jersey, you are familiar with this new vernacular. 

You will not know that Fishtown’s Restore Integrative Wellness Center, operated by Steve and Anna O., is a dispensary. Steve is a physical therapist and acupuncturist, and Anna is a pharmacist. 

“We are a husband and wife team. We’ve created a clinical model where our professions could merge. It’s a holistic health care institution,” says Steve, who grew up in South Philadelphia and works with geriatric patients in long-term care facilities. He became concerned by the volume of pills patients took. “That triggered something in me. I bet half of those pills could be eliminated if cannabis came into play.” 

Steve and Anna O., who also run Reboot Integrative Wellness Center in Elkins Park (not a dispensary), were delighted to be approved in the first round. “We did not come in just to set up shop as retail investors. Our team is as clinical as you’re going to get.”

“There will be no pot leaves on the front of the building,” according to interior designer Christina Casile, who, along with architect Erin Monaghan, are responsible for the look and feel of Restore. 

Monaghan and Casile are partners in the newly formed Design 710. Their challenge was to transform a disused 5,000-square-foot warehouse space at 957 Frankford Ave. into a health care center. The client wanted to create a sense of peace and wellness and move away from the secretive, illegal legacy of cannabis. 

“If a parent brings a child, the dispensary operators want them to feel comfortable checking in,” explains Monaghan, who aims for a soothing, comfortable experience. It will look like a health care facility. “We want it to be inviting and safe,” adds Casile.

Once you enter the building, you’ll see a white waiting room with clean lines and a modern, minimal sensibility. Call it a mix between a doctor’s office and a spa. Behind closed doors that open upon invitation, you’ll find yourself in a secure product room filled with glass cases and staffed by medical professionals. 

While dispensaries in other states have budtenders, Pennsylvania’s dispensaries will have licensed pharmacists on hand to counsel patients who have qualified for cannabis treatment. In the case of Restore, which will offer massage, acupuncture and other therapies, there will also be a licensed physical therapist on duty at all times. Patients will not be allowed to use products inside the dispensary. 

Restore is one of three planned Philadelphia dispensaries. The other two are in Northeast Philly. One of those, in an old Chi-Chi’s across from the former Franklin Mills Mall, is now tied up in a court battle. The other is at 8900 Krewstown Road, and there’s no word yet on an opening date.

No Room for Mom-and-Pop Farms or Shops

Already, the cannabis industry in Pennsylvania is bringing money into the state.

Each grower-processor application has paid a $10,000 nonrefundable fee and a $200,000 refundable permit fee to the state. The applicant has to provide proof of $2 million in capital. Dispensaries carry a lower price tag: a $5,000 application fee and $30,000 refundable permit fee, with proof of $150,000 in capital.

The state has divided application approval into several phases. In Phase One, 27 dispensary operators and 12 grower-processors have received the green light, as noted on the Pennsylvania Department of Health website. Phase Two approvals are expected in the first quarter of 2018, bringing the total number of dispensaries statewide to 50 and grower-processors to 25. 

The state’s Office of Medical Marijuana reports that it received a total of 457 applications: 177 for grower-processors and 280 for dispensaries. That’s a total of $3,170,000 in nonrefundable fees and $43,800,000 in refundable fees for the state.

Entrepreneurs with resources and business connections are poised to profit from legal marijuana; those operating on the black market will continue to risk jail time.  

Legalized Recreational Use on the Horizon in NJ and PA

The next step for Pennsylvania, according to Sen. Leach, is the passage of a recreational-use bill. PA Bill 213, which proposes that adult-use cannabis be sold through the state liquor store system, is now sitting in the Law and Justice Committee. 

Today in decriminalized Philadelphia, police officers may issue a $25 ticket for possessing fewer than 30 grams of cannabis. If you’re caught smoking, expect a $100 ticket, but one that is largely not enforced. According to the city’s chief administrative officer, only about 20 percent of the 7,000 tickets issued so far have been paid since the law went into effect in 2015. 

“I’m going to my first ribbon cutting in April,” says Leach, who’s been working on legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania since 2013. He is optimistic that recreational-use laws will be passed within the next three to four years , and he looks to legalization in New Jersey as a potential watershed for Pennsylvania. 

With recreational cannabis coming to Maryland, Massachusetts and Maine, much of the East Coast will have easy access. If you’ve ever driven to New Jersey or Delaware to pick up wine, you know the drill. 

It remains to be seen what pricing will look like when and if recreational use is approved in Pennsylvania. Customers pay dramatically different sales tax in Colorado—and can buy vastly different amounts—depending on the type of dispensary, says Alex Rubin, business
director for the Denver chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and budtender in a Denver dispensary. For example, recreational cannabis carries anywhere from a 22 to 29 percent sales tax. On medical products, patients pay only 7 percent.

Rubin loves the quality control of a dispensary system: “In a black market, when you buy from a dealer, you don’t know what you are getting. You don’t know where and how it was grown. In a legitimate economy, cannabis goes through a testing process for pesticides and mold.” Strains, he says, are clearly marked. You’re not just buying a bag of weed. Is this what we can expect in Pennsylvania?

Patients, Be Patient

So far, 29 states plus the District of Columbia allow some form of legalized cannabis. The eight states that have passed recreational cannabis laws all have medical dispensaries as well. The biggest hurdle cannabis faces is federal law, which functions like individual shrink wrap over each state. You can’t transport or sell pot across state lines. Cannabis products must be grown, processed and sold in the same state. 

This federal-state mismatch causes all kinds of ripples. Cannabis dispensaries are mostly cash only. Visa and MasterCard don’t want the business. The Internal Revenue Service does not allow dispensaries to take typical deductions. Growers, processors and retailers in Colorado often pay employees in cash, then purchase money orders to pay utilities. 

Right now, medical marijuana in Pennsylvania is all about the process and no product. Construction hasn’t yet begun at Restore Integrative Wellness Center. Dr. Greis has yet to hear back from the state about completing the certification process. 

Patients and caregivers are now able to register for medical marijuana on the Pennsylvania Department of Health website. It’s a quick process: All you need is the information on your driver’s license. 

But for Dwyer and his family, the changes didn’t come soon enough. 

“You think I wanted to walk away from a successful business?” he says, thinking back to the time he was broke from buying marijuana under the table, exhausted from lobbying for reform in Harrisburg and worrying every minute about his son. “I miss Philly. I miss pizza. But family has to take priority.”

Stigma is still attached to medical marijuana, especially when it comes to dosing children. But with the experiences of hundreds of patients—including Dwyer’s son—the tide is turning. 

In Bellingham, Washington, where he and his family live in a lakeside cabin at the foot of a mountain, Dwyer buys cannabis just like he buys his eggs, bread and milk. 

Pennsylvania may get there one day, too.

Meet the New Kid on the Block: Yowie

This housewares and lifestyle boutique charms with colorful, whimsical style

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By Emily Kovach

For Shannon Maldonado, owner and founder of Yowie, Fabric Row has always been special. As a middle schooler, she and her mom would search the fabric shops together for vintage patterns, trims and textiles. When she began looking for a home for her own retail concept, this bustling strip of Queen Village just seemed right. We chatted with her to learn more about her new housewares boutique on South 4th Street.

What’s the aesthetic inspiration behind Yowie?

SM: Yowie is a container for all of the things that I love... The aesthetic is meant to be modern with nods to past art movements, old films, and read as a collage of color, different raw materials and a bit of humor. I love the way all of our objects play off of one another and create a fun, inviting and bright space that people want to spend time in.

When exactly did you open?
SM: We opened on Friday, June 23, to a packed house of friends, family and people we’ve met through our year of pop-ups. We were working up to the minute that we opened. That being said, it was a perfect night and I wouldn't change one second of it.

How do you curate the shop?
SM: It’s mostly intuitive... There’s no exact process other than me falling in love with things,  mostly on Instagram and through trade shows, and some interior sites that I admire. I try to find artists that are doing something different within the home goods space or ones that don’t create home goods that we can experiment with. I believe in every object in our shop.

What would you like to offer that you currently don’t?
SM: More soft goods, such as textiles and pillows. We’re working on solving that problem with our first in-house products that we will be launching next year. We’re also working hard to increase our exclusive product range through collaborations with our artists and friends. We always want the shop to feel new and refreshing.

How have you seen retail/boutique culture change or evolve in Philly?
SM: I was living in New York for the past 12 years before returning to Philly last summer, and part of the reason I opened Yowie here is that I felt the retail landscape was finally ready for something different. It’s exciting as we enter our fifth month in the shop to feel like we’re forging these deep friendships with our neighbors, customers and even passersby that just stumble upon us. I don’t think there’s been one day that I haven’t smiled when I walk through the door.

Yowie, 716 S. 4th St.; no phone

Get to Know Fabric Row

4th Street in Queen Village has fast become a shopping destination

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By Emily Kovach

Many neighborhoods in the city are blessed with its own retail thoroughfare, offering residents and folks passing through a means to shop for anything from groceries to a new bike helmet. But none of the commercial corridors offer such a rich variety of independent retailers as Fabric Row. 

A good number of the old-school fabric shops still line the stretch of 4th Street between Bainbridge and Catherine, with their bundles of textiles and baskets of buttons spilling out onto the sidewalks. But over the past decade the street has undergone a true retail renaissance: Previously shuttered storefronts now boast posh boutiques, a high-end wig shop, vintage shops, art galleries, yoga studios, luxe spas. A six-pack of craft beer? A new skateboard deck? An hour of play-time with kittens? Yup! Some of the best pastries in the city (here’s looking at you, Hungry Pigeon)? You can find all of that, and then some, on this charming stretch of 4th Street. 

For boutique shopping, here are a few of our faves:

Little Moon & Arrow
This past September, Chelsea Pearce of Moon + Arrow opened a children’s extension of her popular boutique, just down the street from the original location on Fabric Row. Situated in a beautifully rehabbed corner storefront at 4th and Monroe that used to house the Philly Performing Arts Center for Kids, this shop is the antithesis of both big chain kid’s retailers and old-school baby boutiques. Comfy, bright and airy, the shop is inviting and unintimidating, though some of the price tags may cause a bit of sticker shock. But, like the original Moon + Arrow, the unstated ethos of the place is explicit through its curation: Handmade, high-quality items are worth paying extra for; they’re lovely to look at and use, they last, and they support hardworking artists and artisans.  

A rack of children’s vintage clothes, plenty of soft, organic textiles and smooth wooden toys for babies, and a preschooler’s dream selection of fabric crowns, magic wands, naturally dyed beads, block sets and sweet stuffed animals are just the start. Books from local artists, adorable greeting cards, charming knit hats, gorgeous mobiles and locally made, small-batch sidewalk chalk (yes, that’s a thing) make splurging on your favorite little one a pleasure. 

729 S. 4th St.; 267.457.5403

Bus Stop Boutique
“Life is short; buy the shoes” reads a little sign on a shelf in Bus Stop Boutique. Nowhere will the mandate be more tempting than at this award-winning shoe shop. For the past decade, owner Elena Brennan has curated a chic line of footwear that’s somehow both thoroughly modern and completely timeless. Simple leather flats go toe to toe with minimalist wool sneakers, low-heeled booties, wild wedges and strappy sandals. The selection for both men and women features brands that are hard to find elsewhere in the city, such as SeaVees, United Nude and H by Hudson. 

In 2015, Brennan began collaborating with a brand, All Black, whose lovely Oxfords she’s been carrying since she opened. Her own brand, BUS STOP X, started out as a range of low-profile, laceless Oxfords in an appealing range of colors and textures. Each style was named after a female Hollywood icon, such as Jean Harlow. The newest collection enhances the neutral leather tones with glossy, metallic accents and bold pops of color. That classic Oxford silhouette remains, though, combining comfort and style in a way that is seriously stunning. Buyer beware: BUS STOP X also includes an in-house line of handbags that are gorgeous. All of these limited-edition shoes are exclusively available at Bus Stop Boutique. 

727 S. 4th St; 215.627.2357

Cactus Collective
There are lots and lots of places to shop for vintage in the city. Many of them have their merits, but ever since opening in 2016 (they’d been doing pop-ups in Philly, Brooklyn and Baltimore since 2014) Cactus Collective has been rocking it extra hard with an ever-evolving selection of apparel, jewelry, accessories and other handmade items, such as herbal wellness products from Primal Apothecary. Owner Lindsay Fryer has an eye for the kinds of 1970s duds that never go out of style: leather jackets, well-worn denims, flowy skirts, wild-patterned blouses, cowboy boots, faded band tees and turquoise jewelry. And fringe... lots of fringe. 

Cactus Collective stays true to its name by taking part in pop-ups, hosting other vintage collectors, promoting friends’ projects through its Instagram account (@cactus_collective) and hosting Fourth Friday art shows featuring local talent. As if that all wasn’t enough to justify frequent drop-ins, the pricing at this cozy shop is beyond fair. While very few vintage shops in Philly rival Brooklyn prices, Cactus Collective is extremely reasonable, championing a democratic, everyone-deserves-rad-vintage spirit. Stop by for a look and walk out with something special, every time. 

739 S. 4th St.; 267.908.4178

One-Stop Shopping

Locally made and recycled options for last-minute gifts—or for you

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By Emily Kovach

After the whirlwind of the holiday season, you may find yourself with a few last-minute gifts to pick up. Or, maybe it’s time to do a little shopping for someone extra special: you! After all, New Year’s Eve is right around the corner and last year’s bejeweled bow-tie needs a few other accessories to make friends with. Whether it’s a new pair of shoes, a refreshed work wardrobe for 2018, or just something to spruce up the apartment—winter does mean spending a lot of time indoors—it’s good to be ready for when the shopping mood strikes. 

Philly hasn’t always had the best retail reputation, but that’s all been changing over the past few years. Just as the big chain retailers have taken over half-blocks in Center City, each neighborhood has welcomed independent shops and boutiques that offer a refreshing version of what local shopping can mean.

Craft Foundry
Artist Minna Aaparyti is the driving force behind this shop in Fishtown that focuses on eco-friendly gifts. Her background as a maker is apparent in the many handmade goods that are offered throughout the store; not all are strictly local, but each item has clearly been chosen with care. A variety of organic bodycare products, such as soaps from Idaho-based Orchard Farm and Philadelphia local Volta Organics, share shelf space with responsibly sourced teas from Wisconsin artisans Rishi Tea, essential-oils-based incense from Maroma, in India, and handknit mittens, hats and scarves. Select items for the home, such as journals made from upcycled paper and naturally scented soy candles, are available as well. There’s also a selection of earrings and necklaces, inspired by shapes in nature, all priced so you could give them as a gift or treat yourself without needing a special occasion. 

Craft Foundry also offers a range of craft classes, all of which take place in the shop. For those interested in paper-based arts, the greeting card and basic bookbinding classes are great places to start. There’s also a workshop titled Two Books in Two Hours, which teaches participants how to make books with simple accordion binding as well as Japanese binding methods. Jewelry-making classes are available, too. You can choose from basic jewelry repair, introduction to silver clay jewelry and an intriguing class called Bronze Clay Adventure. Craft Foundry is a great place to celebrate the beauty and creativity in handmade arts. 

701 Belgrade St.; 267.977.8499

Philadelphia Independents
Old City is packed to the gills with places to shop: There are the tourist traps hawking Rocky- and Liberty Bell-themed swag, the fancy-shmancy clothing boutiques, the high-end furniture design shops and so much more that we’re happy to walk right on by. But when Tiffica Benza, Ashley Peel and Jennifer Provost opened Philadelphia Independents in May of 2014, this bustling neighborhood finally had a store where local artists and makers are the focus. In fact, everything in this cozy shop is handmade and local.

Yes, you will find many Philly-themed items in Philadelphia Independents, but they are clever, well-designed items that actually represent what our city is all about. The T-shirts from Hog Island sport wry takes on local iconography (such as the word “Yous” in the famous “Love” square configuration), elegant screen-printed Philly maps from Eyes Habit, and stark, stunning black-and-white photos by Michael Penn featuring famous landmarks—not all souvenirs have to be schlocky. There is so much more, too: adorable, upcycled stuffed animals, all-natural body care, many styles of jewelry and one of the best selections of local greeting cards around. One wall of the store is dedicated to the 5x5 Gallery, which features work from a different local artist every month, usually with lively receptions on First Fridays. If you ever are in doubt of just how much talent is brewing in our fair city, take a spin around Philadelphia Independents for a potent reminder.

35 N. 3rd St.; 267.773.7316

VIX Emporium
For over 10 years, VIX Emporium has been holding down the corner of 50th Street and Baltimore Avenue in West Philly with super cute local gifts. A decade is a long time in our retail landscape—in 2007, there wasn’t as much retail in the Cedar Park neighborhood as there is now, and there certainly weren’t many artisan-focused boutiques in the city at large. But the selection at VIX, which is down-to-earth and offers a wide range of price points—and almost all locally made goods—spoke to the neighborhood in a way that resonated.

“When the Dollar Stroll started, we were the farthest thing West, but now we’re far from it,” says VIX’s owner Emily Dorn. “I’ve seen children grow up who have been coming to this store this whole time we’ve been open!” 

Some offerings exemplify the location-appropriate bend to the political left—they sell T-shirts with the phrase “Nevertheless, She Persisted” to benefit Planned Parenthood, for instance—and the 1940s-era mirrored shelves are lined with all kinds of quirky, lovely gifts for the quirky, lovely people in your life. Check out the handmade ceramics, ogle the art prints, peruse the candles and bodycare, and don’t miss all kinds of jewelry and decorative home items. West Philly-branded T-shirts and baby onesies have become a symbol of local pride, and, hey, if you need an apron emblazoned with “West Philly is the best Philly,” VIX has that, too. 

New for the 2017 holiday season, VIX is offering two exclusive 2018 calendars: one of paintings of West Philly architecture by artist Russell Brodie and the other by a local artist named Loretta Gary (owner of Radical Hearts Print Lab). Each month features a different radical figure or artist. They’ll print just 125 copies of each calendar, so if you’d like your very own piece of West Philly to appreciate all year long, get there soon. 

5009 Baltimore Ave.; 215.471.7700

Greene Street
When I first moved to Philly in 2004, I needed to buy a suit for a job interview. As a broke and somewhat clueless recent college grad, the prospect of suit shopping had me feeling completely overwhelmed. An older, savvier friend suggested looking in Greene Street, and sure enough, when I stopped into the location at 7th and South, I walked out with a decent suit for under $50, which actually helped me pass for an adult (and, I might add, get the job).

That’s the beauty of consignment shops: Shoppers can go in with a specific mission, or simply just to browse. Either way, the odds lean much more toward success than the thrilling-but-unreliable vintage- or thrift-store hunt. The brands are recognizable, the sizing is modern, all of the garments have been vetted for good condition, and the prices are way, way less than what you’d spend at a department store. 

Greene Street, which is based in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, has built a small empire on this concept. They began with one shop on the Main Line nearly 20 years ago and currently have nine locations across Greater Philadelphia and New Jersey. Each shop sells both women’s and men’s clothing, jewelry, shoes and accessories, and some locations have clothing for kids, too.

This isn’t the store’s only strong suit (no pun intended!), though. Greene Street is also a great option for when you’re doing a massive closet cleanout. That snagged sweater will have to go to the thrift store, but contemporary apparel with minimal wear can be consigned to Green Street for 40 percent commission. The locations in Wyncote and Summit, New Jersey, also offer the opportunity to trade items (see the website for more details). 

Whether you’re buying or consigning, Greene Street helps to keep clothes out of the waste stream. 

Various locations

Comings & Goings

News from around town.

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City’s Clean Energy Vision Open for Public Comment
On Nov. 14, the city’s Office of Sustainability released a long-term vision for reducing carbon emissions 80 percent from 2006 levels by 2050. The plan, “Powering Our Future: A Clean Energy Vision for Philadelphia” is open for public comment through Jan. 31. Residents can take an online survey or send comments to sustainability@phila.gov. The plan is available online through the Office of Sustainability

Cultural and Commercial Spaces Revamp Across City
In Old City, United By Blue opened a new flagship store and café at 2nd and Race streets. It is housed in the “Bridge” development project—a 17-story, mixed-use building with LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The United By Blue space is expected to achieve LEED Platinum certification for commercial interiors. 

The Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia held an opening ceremony at its new Fishtown home Nov. 5, where members and visitors chanted, meditated and watched the creation of a sand mandala by Venerable Lama Losang Samten, the center’s spiritual director. TBC has had many homes over the years, the most recent being 9th and Spring Garden streets. The new location, at 954 N. Marshall St., will host spiritual, cultural and educational events, as well as volunteer projects.

Brandywine Realty Trust, in partnership with Drexel University, broke ground Nov. 8 on Phase I construction of the mixed-use Schuylkill Yards development in University City. The first phase of the $3.5 billion, multiyear project involves the creation of a 1.3-acre community park at the corner of 30th and Market streets to be known as Drexel Square.

Rebuild Announces Oversight Board, Public Meetings
On Oct. 25, Rebuild—the revitalization program also known as Rebuilding Community Infrastructure—announced its new oversight board, which will be responsible for reviewing the program’s progress and making recommendations. 

Rebuild is a $500 million project to revitalize neighborhood parks, recreation centers, playgrounds and libraries. The oversight board will be chaired by Philadelphia Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis, and comprises City Council members and other civic leaders, an educational consultant, the president of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the board chair of the William Penn Foundation and the CEO of Children’s Crisis Treatment Center.

Quarterly meetings will be held to serve as a public forum in which Philadelphians can learn more about Rebuild and ask staff members questions. The first meeting was held Nov. 1.

City Approves Kiosks for Free Wi-Fi and Phone Services
The Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems received approval Nov. 1 to install 100 free-standing kiosks that will provide free high-speed Wi-Fi; device-charging ports; free phone calls within the U.S.; 911 emergency calling; a touchscreen tablet to access city services and apps; and information on city events, arts and culture. 

Construction Code Update stricter on Energy Efficiency and Safety
Legislation signed into law Oct. 26 by Gov. Tom Wolf authorizes Philadelphia, for the first time, to independently adopt the most up-to-date set of building codes available. The updated 2018 codes were released earlier in October by the International Code Council (ICC), which updates its model building codes on a three-year-cycle to incorporate advances in engineering, materials, construction science and safety.

“The 2018 ICC codes will make Philadelphia safer and better protected from man-made and natural disasters,” said Councilman Bobby Henon. “Updating the city’s energy-efficiency standards means improved sustainability.”

Before the legislation was enacted, state government had the sole authority to adopt updated building codes, and only on a statewide basis. The new legislation creates an exception for Philadelphia to adopt the new codes with respect to commercial construction. Pennsylvania never adopted the updated ICC codes released in 2012 and in 2015, so the 2009 codes are currently in full effect. 

“Because the state is several code cycles behind in regulating commercial
buildings,” explained L&I Commissioner David Perri, “Philadelphia has been unable to benefit from many significant improvements in construction practices and materials for almost a decade.”

To become law in Philadelphia, the 2018 ICC codes must be adopted via a City Council ordinance.

Leadership TransitionS at Environmental Orgs
PennFuture—a watchdog organization for policy regarding Pennsylvania’s air, water and climate—announced a new president and CEO, Jacquelyn Bonomo, on Oct. 27.

Bonomo served previously as PennFuture’s executive vice president and COO, and she has leadership and executive experience at organizations including the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy,
National Wildlife Federation and National Audubon Society.

Scott Cooper will take the helm at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University the second week of December. Cooper most recently served as the vice president of collections, knowledge, and engagement at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, Canada. He holds a doctorate in architectural history from Edinburgh College of Art. 

Bridge to Connect Schuylkill River Trail to Bartram’s Mile
Conrail Crossing will be the new name of the Schuylkill River Swing Bridge, which will include a biking and pedestrian crossing to connect the Grays Ferry Crescent Trail to the Bartram’s Mile section of the Schuylkill River Trail system. Construction is projected to begin in 2018.

The city announced an agreement Nov. 1  with railroad company Conrail as part of a project to extend the Schuylkill River Trail into Southwest Philadelphia.

Conrail has agreed to donate the bridge to Philadelphia. The overall project cost is estimated at $12 million, with funding provided to the city by a $3.2 million federal grant and $10 million worth of funding from the state.

Check It Twice: the Grid December To-Do List

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1. Make a holiday wreath. If you celebrate Christmas, living in small spaces in cities often means not decorating a real tree. But a wreath will fit just fine, and you’ll still get that fresh pine scent.

2. Go wassailing. You’ve got two options in the wassailing tradition: Sing for your neighbors, or head to an orchard and sing for the trees in the hopes of a good spring harvest. Bring friends!

3. Donate your money or time. Whatever your cause, end-of-year donations give a boost to local nonprofit organizations. If you’re not able to give money, consider volunteering instead.

4. Shop local for gift-buying. If you haven’t yet finished your holiday shopping, you still have time to hit local stores that offer one-stop shopping, and many retailers offer Philly-made artisan goods. You can see some of our picks on Page 8. Local bookstores and other shops also offer online ordering if heading to the stores isn’t an option— keep that money in town!

5. Lace up your ice skates. Until Feb. 25, the Rothman Ice Rink at City Hall’s Dilworth Plaza is open for skaters of all levels. The Rothman Cabin will once again offer an option to warm up with craft beer and cocktails after you skate (or if you just plan to cheer on your friends and family). Hearty food options include chili and poutine.

6. Change up your workout routine. On those days that the ice, snow and cold are preventing you from going for your normal running or biking session, don’t settle for the treadmill at the gym. Check out our picks for interesting workouts around town that will keep you indoors but get you in shape. An interesting new routine will stave off boredom and the holiday pounds. See Page 26.

7. Give a stray a place to stay. We can’t adopt them all, even if we want to. Consider building or buying a feral cat shelter for your community garden or yard. The organization Alley Cat Allies has an online gallery and DIY videos that demonstrate options for getting them through the winter.

8. Get some houseplants. It’s going to be a long winter, so stock up on greenery. Boston ferns, English ivy and peace lilies are just some of the varieties known to help with indoor air quality.

9. Clean out the freezer. It’s not the world’s most exciting job, but take 20 minutes to get rid of everything that’s undated or unidentifiable. You’re going to want room for those holiday leftovers.

10. Take it easy on New Year’s Eve. The New Year’s Day Mummers Parade and 2 Street celebration are Philadelphia’s own version of Mardi Gras. Lay low on the 31st so you don’t miss the revelry!

To Your Health

Rest up. There is much work to do in the new year.

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By Heather Shayne Blakeslee

During the holidays, most of us plan to take some time to reconnect with ourselves and our families. A break is in order after a year of the world feeling particularly topsy-turvy. It’s time to check in with our priorities, and maybe check out a holiday blockbuster or two. 

For many people, taking care of our own physical or mental health isn’t at the top of the to-do list, even though preventive medicine really is the best medicine. In one innovative program in Philadelphia, NaturePHL, doctors are actually prescribing outdoor time to kids to help them with a host of health issues and to foster the development of their young brains and bodies—adults could do with a regular dose as well. 

We should be thankful that we live in a country where, in most places, sending a child—or ourselves—outside for a media break, some exercise or a meditative stroll won’t send our health spiraling in the wrong direction: In Delhi, India, where there is little environmental regulation, just breathing the air is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. Industry might not like regulation, but our lungs do. 

And here’s where the holiday break comes in: Rest up, because there will be a lot of work to do in the coming year. The degradation of the environment remains a critical issue that is having real-world impacts in Philadelphia and beyond, and regulations are under attack. We’re heading in the right direction as a city, but at the state level, fossil-fuel interests continue to prevail over public health. At the federal level, we have Scott Pruitt, who spent his time previous to occupying the top position at the Environmental Protection Agency suing the EPA over regulations that help keep our air and water clean. It seems he came complete with a twirlable handlebar mustache and a script that included the you-had-to-see-it-coming reversal of the Clean Power Plan and withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Spoiler alert: This one doesn’t end well for humanity.

But not all villains are directly out of Central Casting. Mostly, our tangle of politics, policy, advocacy and personal choices are more complicated than that. I was once asked to interview Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under the Obama administration, for a Philly Tech Week public health forum, and to submit my questions in advance so there would be no surprises. But I was in for one of my own—I wasn’t allowed to ask her a question about environmental justice.

The message was clear: Even at an event in a liberal city where we were to speak about the connection between the environment and public health, we should steer clear of territory that might make a corporate sponsor uncomfortable. I was prepared to ask the question anyway, but I didn’t need to: McCarthy has always been a community-centered pro, and she brought it up herself, reminding the audience that more people die early in America every year from largely invisible air pollution (usually more than 200,000 people) than from the more visible scourge of gun violence (approximately 33,000 gun-related deaths in 2016)—and that communities of color consistently bear the brunt of pollution and its effects. 

The very idea of pursuing health and wellness starts with the presumption that it’s possible to be healthy, and that’s just not true for everyone. We still have work to do making sure that the basic elements our body needs, including clean air and water, are universally available. 

So relax, and take a break while you can. The work we do later this winter calling our legislators and making our voices heard may save us from another silent spring.

Heather Shayne Blakeslee
Editor-in-Chief
heather@gridphilly.com

Ice, Ice Baby: Winterfest Returns With Ice Skating, More Holiday Activities

The Penn's Landing event will run Nov. 24 through March 4

By Walter Foley

Hmmm... What to do on the day after Thanksgiving: Scramble through long lines and chaos to buy more junk on Black Friday, or go ice skating with friends among a forest of twinkling lights next to the Delaware River? 

Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest will return Nov. 24 through March 4 with a regulation-sized outdoor ice skating rink, a chalet-inspired lodge with treats and beverages, and a kids’ lodge featuring small rides, pinball, air hockey and other arcade games.

Thousands of shimmering lights will be strung across the site, illuminating the rink and holiday tree, and a new canopy of lights at the north end will be outfitted with heaters and a seating area. More fire pits have been added this year, and there will be plenty of food, including pizza, pretzels, funnel cake, fried oreos and other bites from Chickie’s & Pete’s, Garces Group and Franklin Fountain. During peak hours, guests 21 and older can enjoy craft beers and hot cocktails such as spiked hot chocolate, as well as apple cider from Linvilla Orchards.

“The additional Winterfest activities bring an extra element of excitement to the experience, creating a new tradition for everyone who visits,” said Yvette Bright, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Independence Blue Cross, which is sponsoring the 24th installment of this seasonal event at 101 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd.

Admission to Winterfest is free; skate sessions cost $3, but are free for Independence Blue Cross cardholders and employees. Skate rentals are available for $10, but visitors are allowed to bring their own, and skate-sharpening services are offered on-site.

Opening weekend activities include LEGO building, facepainting, claymation, circus arts and photo-ops with a life-sized snow globe. Normal operating hours are Mondays through Thursdays from 1 to 11 p.m.; Fridays from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. 

The full schedule of events at delawareriverwaterfront.com includes extended opening-weekend and holiday hours, as well as transportation options.

Santa Claus will be skating from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in December through the 17th. Twelve days of Christmas movies—screened inside the cozy lodge—will include “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Elf,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and other family favorites. 

Scheduled events also include: storytime sessions hosted by the Free Library on Saturdays; a New Year’s Eve fireworks display on the waterfront; Winterfest Brewfest on Jan. 20 and 21; Snowie Bowie on Jan. 13 (featuring tributes to the late artist with concert footage, facepainting, themed cocktails and a screening of the film “Labyrinth”); and Sweetheart Skate on Valentine’s Day.

From Nov. 30 through Dec. 31, the festival will also participate in Philadelphia’s Historic District HoliDays & Nights, a newly formed seasonal collaboration among the city’s museums, restaurants and shops between the Delaware River and 7th Street and Vine and Lombard Streets. Shuttle services will offer free rides throughout the district Thursdays through Saturdays from 6 to 9 p.m.

The entire skating rink, lodge and warming cabins (outfitted with seasonal décor and electric fireplaces) can also be privately rented during off-peak hours.
 

NextFab Seeks to Invest $100k in Four Hardware Startups

Application process now open to innovative start-ups with a prototype

By Walter Foley

NextFab’s RAPID Hardware Accelerator is accepting applications now through Jan. 18. for its spring 2018 cohort, in which four hardware startups will each receive up to $25,000 in funding, along with access to equipment, software and training to help propel their ideas into the real world.

“We are looking for startups that have a physical prototype and are working in a sector where we have strong expertise, like medical devices, new sensors and systems for monitoring and detection, consumer electronics, and devices that improve the STEM experience for kids and students,” said NextFab CFO Ken Tomlinson in a press release. “Of course, we are going to consider good applications from other sectors as well.”

RAPID—Revenue through Advanced manufacturing, Product development, Innovation and Design thinking—will match the selected teams with mentors, provide technical and business consulting, and offer resources for prototyping. At the end of the program, teams can pitch their startup strategies to a panel of judges made up of entrepreneurs, advisers and NextFab staff. 

The 12-week program runs from March 1 through May 24, primarily through NextFab’s 2025 Washington Ave. location—although this isn’t strictly a Philly affair.

“Our previous cohort greatly expanded our reach, because we managed to attract startups coming all the way from Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.,” said Todor Raykov, NextFab’s venture services manager. “For our next cohort, we will keep the geographical scope the same, but we are going to double our efforts to bring even more value to the selected entrepreneurs. Connecting them to our network of local manufacturers, investors, advisers, successful entrepreneurs, and the great talent pool available in Philly is what we think will keep these startups in our region.”

Recent members of the program include Blue Dragon Bioimaging, which produces research-grade microscopes with souped-up technology; Circalux, a developer of portable lighting designed to be less invasive to sleep patterns; Strados Labs, which is working on smart technology for people with chronic asthma; and Vibrating Therapeutic Apparel, a developer of technology to alleviate phantom-limb pain among people who have had limbs amputated.

Read more about NextFab here.

Tibetan Buddhist Center Opens in Fishtown

Sand mandala by Tibetan-born artist and TBC founder being created in open house

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By Walter Foley

After a long search and major building renovations, the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia opened the doors to its new location Nov. 5 at 954 N. Marshall St. in Fishtown.

Venerable Lama Losang Samten led traditional chants and readings, and guests were invited to pour the first grains of a Medicine Buddha mandala—a painting made with colored sand—which will be dismantled in a ceremony Nov. 12 at noon. This event is open to the public, along with a jazz concert Nov. 8 and a meditation class Nov. 11 ($15 donation).

Samten is glad to have a permanent home for the center’s classes, meditation and charity work—although, of course, he offers a quick reminder: “There’s no such thing as permanent.”

The dismantling of the mandala—in which a group of people push the sand toward the center of the table, thus destroying the delicate design—represents ephemerality. Sand mandalas can sometimes take more than a month to complete, with one person carefully pouring thin streams of colored grains into complex patterns that could disappear with a sneeze.

All Buddhist mandalas have a core message of wisdom and compassion, Samten said, and each design represents a theme within that message. The Medicine Buddha is depicted holding herbs to represent healing; the prevalence of the color blue in this design is significant in that it evokes a sort of serenity. Samten said a neurosurgeon approached him after the Nov. 5 ceremony, explaining that staff at his workplace wear blue scrubs in the operating rooms, as it is thought to have a calming effect.

Samten has been painting mandalas for almost three decades, which is an unusually long time within the tradition, he said. The craft is typically practiced and mastered by a young apprentice who eventually moves on to other projects, but Samten still has frequent requests for mandalas from schools and museums, so he continues to paint.

Although his exercises in patience help him stay engaged with this arduous process (Samten paints these intricate designs from memory), physical aches and pains have worsened a bit over the years. But Buddhist monks don’t complain very much.

“The aches and pains are special to me. Aches and pains are part of our lives,” says Samten, who walks a lot and does yoga to keep his body loose when he is not painting.

Samten still uses sand from the original batch he brought to the U.S. from India in a suitcase in 1988. He periodically adds more sand as his mandalas come and go, and as observers are given small handfuls as souvenirs. Included in his palette are sand grains he’s collected from the Grand Canyon and a Catholic holy site in Chimayó, New Mexico.

Samten’s first sand mandala in the U.S. was at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In 1989, he was invited to paint one at the University of Pennsylvania, and he quickly made an impression on a group of students, teachers and seekers, said Ken Klein, former president of the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia and an original member of this core group. Local Buddhists wrote to Samten’s boss—whom you may have heard of—to ask for a favor.

“During that time period, we had asked Losang to stay in Philadelphia to be our teacher, and he said it wasn’t his decision to make. We had to ask the Dalai Lama, because Losang was from the Dalai Lama’s monastery… kind of like the Harvard of monasteries,” Klein said. “The Dalai Lama gave [donations] to Losang, and we used that money to build our first center.”

10 Things to Do Before November Is Over

Make compost from fallen leaves. It’s not hard to gather and shred leaves from the neighborhood to make killer compost that will give your garden a boost this spring.

Plant your spring bulbs. It’s your last chance before winter weather sets in, so early this month, go buy the last of the bulbs that are on sale and get those beauties in the ground. 

Order your free-range turkey. Don’t get caught buying a bird that was raised on a factory farm! Get your order in now from any number of local farmers who raise free-range turkeys.

Wrap up your water heater. Spending $30 on wrapping up your water heater can save you as much as 16 percent on your utility bill. If your average monthly cost is $100, that’s $192 in yearly savings!

Break out the board games. Whether you’re a cut-throat scrabble player or can’t stop laughing during a Cards Against Humanity bout, there is no cozier way to spend the evening with friends.

Make mulled cider. There’s no special trick here… just simmer good old-fashioned apple cider and mulling spices such as cinnamon, clove, allspice and orange rind. It works with wine, too!

Get your gift list together. Whether you’re trying to keep your environmental footprint light, protect the impact on your wallet or you’re ready for a little splurge, getting your plan together will make you less dependent on shipments from online retailers. See our picks, Page XX.

Make room in your closet for holiday gifts. After the presents are unwrapped from the holidays, city dwellers in small spaces are left wondering: Where am I going to put this? Take a little time now to donate or rehome items you don’t need so there’s room for grandma’s sweater.

Do a deep clean. There may be one or two more days this month when we get to open the windows, but then we’ll be shut in for the winter. Take the time to do a deep clean on your living space so that you aren’t sealing the dirt and dust that has been collecting under the bed, on top of fans and cabinets, or inside your closets. It will improve your mood and your indoor air quality.

Be thankful. Gratitude is scientifically proven to positively impact your mental and physical health, better your relationships, increase empathy, decrease aggression and even help you sleep better. Take just 15 minutes to make a list about what you’re truly grateful for in your life. You’ll be glad to be well-rested and feeling balanced when it’s time for Thanksgiving dinner. 

Minimalism with Minis

After a move to the suburbs, a reckoning



By Jennifer Ghymn

Before my daughter came along, my husband and I were city folk living in tiny, 500-square-feet apartments. We only had room for the basics, and if something was purchased, then something else had to go. Having less clutter allowed us to make the most of what we had, and we lived in the present, spending time on priorities like traveling, meeting friends and taking walks. Cleaning up only took 15 minutes. We were happy living with less.

Today, we live in a 2,500-square-foot home in the suburbs. 

We moved for a job, but we bought the house because we wanted to raise a family. Somehow, we interpreted having a child as needing to acquire more stuff, needing more space to fill with stuff, and buying enough stuff to accommodate what we perceived would be our child’s needs. 

What I’ve come to understand is that an extra bouncy seat, an electric swing and a surplus of swaddle blankets just weren’t necessary for survival in my child’s first year of life. Going overboard was a coping mechanism for my insecurities as a new parent. Having the stuff meant being prepared for the crying or uncertainty that often comes with babies. Occupying her immediate needs with an object or motorized distraction helped settle my nerves when I felt like my own parenting reservoir was not enough. 

But now, my living room is a landscape of stuffed animals and board books. I’m not proud. The chaotic clutter stresses me out. 

So as her fourth birthday approaches, I take pause in evaluating this surplus of plastic, paper and battery-operated toys that fills our home. I know what it feels like to live with less. And I want that for her. She can learn from my mistakes. 

Even as I approach this project, I know it will be easier to tempt or—ahem—bribe my daughter with a Hatchimal or tutu. (I didn’t realize that her first advertising campaign was me trying to sell her on the benefits of strawberry-flavored Mickey Mouse toothpaste. “Of course you want to brush with Mickey! He gets your teeth nice and clean.”) But I won’t. I’m betting on her maturing behavior to follow my lead.

She is now at an age where we can talk about behaviors instead of redirecting emotions. “Before we can play outside, we must put away our things.” For the most part she listens and tidies up. I will cheerfully help and show her how proud I am of our small but satisfying accomplishment. Sometimes enthusiasm and a positive attitude are enough motivation to reward behavior. However, when push comes to shove, I find that a song and dance routine turns chore into fun.

We are going to go through the exercise of purging the excess together. We can experience as a family the joy of giving away toys, clothes or books to those who may need it. For kids—for my daughter—having less will mean using creativity and imagination to explore, play and be resourceful. I want to teach her that the world is full of endless possibilities. 

And I want her to know that minimalism is more than just a donation of used possessions. It’s prioritizing what’s essential in life, like time together to just laugh and be and to make room for new discoveries together.

Parenting has evolved from just managing the physical needs of a baby and toddler to raising a child into a proper human being. The only thing I want to collect with her is memories.

Jennifer Ghymn is a writer, digital marketer and intentional tourist living in Reading, Pa. Learn more at theinterculture.com.