Creating a buzz for 14 Phila. neighborhoods

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Link to original article with images

By Suzette Parmley, Inquirer Staff Writer

To some, they are former diamonds in the rough, locales that a decade or so of change has polished into something now truly unique.

And many have made the cut as city neighborhoods that the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. will be showcasing in a new, two-year campaign.

The 14 areas, to be unveiled Friday as part of the campaign's launch, are: Fairmount, Spring Garden, Graduate Hospital, Callowhill, Bella Vista, East Passyunk, Fishtown, Northern Liberties, Queen Village, Pennsport, Cedar Park, Spruce Hill, University City, and Powelton Village.

"Philly is a city of neighborhoods. What does that really mean?" GPTMC president and chief executive Meryl Levitz said of the impetus behind the campaign. "We want people to go one block farther. People haven't felt this good about Philly as they do now."

Added Mayor Nutter, "Our goal is to encourage visitors and residents alike to look at what all of Philadelphia has to offer, beginning with these 14 vibrant neighborhoods surrounding Center City."

One of these neighborhoods, Cedar Park in West Philadelphia has these things in its favor: a storied street (Baltimore Avenue), buzzed-about restaurants, emerging art galleries, independent shops, music venues, parks, and annual festivals.

Tucked between 46th and 52d Streets, Larchwood Street and Kingsessing Avenue, Cedar Park, with its stately Victorian homes, has transformed during the last decade, with help from the University City District. Young families have moved in, drawn by new schools (such as Penn Alexander Elementary) and two parks (Cedar Park and Clark Park).

"There's been a lot of good changes, a lot of them structural, with new roads and better safety," said Sourabh "Harris" Tolasaria, 29, a native of Calcutta who since 2009 has opened three Indian restaurants on Baltimore Avenue. "It's really improved the area."

Tolasaria spoke Tuesday over lunch featuring veg samosa chaat (baked pastry garnished with yogurt) and veg pakora (batter-fried vegetables with sauce) at Desi Village, one of his restaurants.

Annual events in Cedar Park, such as the Dollar Stroll (set for June 13 and Sept. 12), attract as many as 5,000 patrons to Baltimore Avenue for daylong bargain-hunters' street fairs. Dining Days (July 18-Aug. 1), now in its ninth year, showcases restaurants.

"What used to be a less-than-popular neighborhood is now a vibrant, thriving community," said local business owner, community organizer, and resident Algernong Allen, 40, who moved his family to Cedar Park two years ago from Fairmount. "Residents are interested in preserving the green spaces and supporting their local businesses."

Such as Mariposa Co-op, a member-owned-and-operated cooperative at 4824 Baltimore Ave. that sells fresh produce and organic meats and features speakers and classes. And Milk & Honey Market, a full-service grocery store at 4435 Baltimore Ave.

"I like the people. They're real," said Pavlos Kollias, 26, a Princeton graduate student and area resident, as he picked up produce and bread at the co-op. "It reminds me of Greece."

Restaurants dotting the stretch from Baltimore Avenue's 4500 block to the 5000 block give it a global flavor. There are Dahlak (Ethiopian/Eritrean), Desi Village (Indian), Aksum (Mediterrean), and Vientiane Cafe (Laotian-Thai).

At the heart of the community is Cedar Park itself, at 50th Street and Baltimore Avenue. A trolley runs daily along Baltimore - you can see and hear it from VIX Emporium, a former millinery at 5009 Baltimore, where artisans design and create the jewelry, clothes, ceramics, and other items for sale. Next door to VIX is Seeds Gallery, which exhibits locally made art, and Danger Danger Gallery, which features college bands.

"I meet new people every weekend," said VIX owner Emily Dorn, 40, who opened her shop in 2007, the same year Dock Street Brewery, a restaurant and bar, opened across the street. "Cedar Park has been remodeled to make it more open and inviting for families."

The neighborhood campaign is being funded by an $800,000 William Penn Foundation grant. GPTMC plans to use social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare, to encourage visitors to share experiences. The campaign's main call to action,, will help in mapping out trips to the 14 communities.