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Land Revitalization Fall '07 Newsletter – Frankford Creek - Lost & Forgotten

Urban waterways have great potential for vibrant revitalization
Click on each photo for larger view.

Frankford Creek at Frankford Avenue and Greenville, SC
Frankford Creek at I-95 and Shanghai, China
Frankford Creek near Kensington Avenue and San Antonio, Texas

From Drainage Ditch to Urban Greenway

Frankford Creek in northeast Philadelphia meanders through the neighborhoods of Juniata Park, Frankford, Port Richmond and Bridesburg.  Most of the creek is contained within a concrete channel or diverted underground through culverts. Barely visible, inaccessible and polluted, Frankford Creek has been lost and forgotten. 

Philadelphia and its neighboring communities envision a recreational greenway and nature trail along the only open air portion of the creek, a 2.7 mile stretch beginning at the Juniata Golf Course and extending to the confluence of the Delaware River. The Tacony-Frankford Creek River Conservation Master Plan will guide this long-term, multi-faceted effort to improve stream ecology, develop a greenway system, preserve the history of the creek, provide a riparian buffer, manage stormwater and connect communities.  The greenway will improve the water quality and ecology of the Franklin Creek corridor and create a destination that celebrates the water environment, encourages economic opportunities and fosters community stewardship.

Frankford Creek was used and changed over the past 300 years for transportation, energy and industry.  Industry built right up to the banks, dumping sediments and pollutants in the 1800s.  Rapid development of the urban environment with its impervious surfaces introduced other pollutants in stormwater runoff and caused flooding.  To reduce flooding, the creek was straightened and channelized in the 1940s, which segregated the creek further from the adjacent landscape and made the creek virtually inaccessible and non-navigable.  Today, many undesirable uses such as scrap yards, car lots, old mills occupy large industrial lots, reflecting underutilization of largely vacant properties.
The communities along Frankford Creek are some of the most ethnically diverse and integrated in the Philadelphia   The neighborhood has experienced economic decline in the past 15 years, putting it below surrounding neighborhoods and the city as a whole.  The housing stock in the area is old and outdated and often adjacent to industrial or auto-related businesses.  Community perceptions about the polluted creek have largely kept people away from the water and fencing creates obstacles as well.  Vacant overgrown lots have encouraged vandalism, dumping and graffiti along the creek.  With a high density of residential row homes, open space is a critical amenity and the proposed Greenway represents an opportunity to revitalize the area, increasing home values.

Thirty sites along the creek have been identified as sites of misuse and contaminated.  The Philadelphia Water Department and the Clean Air Council sought EPA's assistance to assess properties along the creek for contamination.  EPA is in the process of conducting phase 1 and 2 environmental assessments on three light industrial properties in Juniata section of the city - the Allegheny Iron and Metal Co. 2200 Adams Avenue.; Penn Salvage Co. 4100 Ashland Street and 1196 Adams Avenue.  The Phase 1s are finished and the Phase 2s should be complete by January 2008.  After these properties are complete, EPA hopes to assess additional properties.  The City is also planning to step up enforcement and potentially take over these illegal dumping sites so that they can be restored.

The City certified part of the area as a redevelopment area and classified it as "blighted".  New improvements in the area include a 54-home residential project and a $177 million rehabilitation of the SEPTA terminal.  The City is now seeking easements to support the greenway and allow public access.  Successful implementation of the Frankford Creek Greenway is a long-term effort that will require a coordinated effort among the City, its partners, landowners and residents.  The plan will be implemented in stages over the next 15 years for full build out of the greenway, including land acquisition, environmental restoration, securing financial support and facility development. Designs for the three early "anchor" sites along the Frankford Creek are under development - the wetland at the Juniata Golf Course, stormwater management and public use at Womrath Park, and a privately owned portion of the future greenway for which the City is seeking a permanent easement.  

The Frankford Creek Greenway project will create a destination along Frankford Creek, celebrate the water environment, provide economic opportunities, and affirm community culture and history.  Partners in this effort, including state and federal agencies, regional planning organizations, local community groups, and PECO, Philadelphia's electric utility company has committed $260,000 for planning and land use assessments. The community and city officials gathered in Womrath Park to participate in the kickoff of the greenway master plan on June 15, 2007 – Frankford Creek Greenway Day in Philadelphia.

Article contributed by
Kristeen Gaffney, EPA's Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program
With input from Laureen Boles, Philadelphia Water Department


Region 3 | Mid-Atlantic Cleanup | Mid-Atlantic Brownfields & Land Revitalization

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