Francisville fears loss of garden as gentrification creeps
WINDING ROSES PARK in Francisville has for years been "a place of celebration." The lush "arts garden" includes mosaic tiles on stone tables and benches with rosebushes around it, along with an elegant mural on the wall with giant pink roses at the bottom and smaller ones that spiral up a brick trellis.
WINDING ROSES PARK in Francisville has for years been "a place of celebration."
The lush "arts garden" includes mosaic tiles on stone tables and benches with rosebushes around it, along with an elegant mural on the wall with giant pink roses at the bottom and smaller ones that spiral up a brick trellis.
"It's a beautiful oasis," Una Vee Bruce, a longtime Francisville community activist, said of the park.
When it opened in the 1990s, neighbors celebrated birthdays and graduations there. Members of the old Moroccan street gang, grown now into middle age, began having annual Father's Day picnics there.
And sometimes the garden, at Uber and Brown streets, was a place to remember a lost soul.
"If someone in the neighborhood died and the family had a small house, weather permitting, we would have the repast and have food and stuff outside," said Bruce, 69.
But Bruce said she and other Francisville residents "are fired up" after learning that one of the five lots that make up the park - which had been privately owned and neglected - was sold to a Huntingdon Valley developer who plans to build on it.
Angry residents said the city should have negotiated with him to trade that lot for another vacant lot so that the park can remain as a gathering place.
It's the latest salvo in the gentrification battle that has left residents resentful and angry in Francisville, where development is taking off due to its proximity to Fairmount and Spring Garden.
Penelope Giles, executive director of the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp., said there is tension in the area because working-class blacks are upset about the influx of high-income people. And they blame gentrification for the loss of their gathering place.
"In order for Ridge Avenue to be sustainable, we need people back in the neighborhood," Giles said. "That means we need all the different housing products, for low-income, moderate income, market rate and even high-end."
Giles said she asked developer William Guzman to negotiate a deal for a different lot, but it didn't work out.
Guzman said he bought the lot about three or four years ago and only recently began the process to build a house. He said he was willing when he bought the lot to make a land swap, but nothing ever happened.
"I don't know if it was the city or the people running the homeowners association, but nobody got back to me," Guzman said Friday. "I didn't buy anything illegally. Someone offered me the property and I bought it. There was no objection at the time."
Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for City Council President Darrell Clarke, who represents Francisville, said he has tried to reach out to the developer to broker a deal with the CDC and residents.
"However, this office has never heard from the owner of the lot," she said. "As it is privately owned, there is not much we can do beyond that."