Sunday, February 28, 2010

Walkability in Graduate Hospital

Walkshed Philadelphia gives anyone the ability to explore Philadelphia neighborhoods according to the proximity of such neighborhood perks like coffee shops, pharmacies, grocery stores, parks, libraries, car share pods, bars, hardware stores, and more. Although 1/4-mile radius is the generally accepted distance that is defined as 'walkable', a 1-mile radius is used on this site.

Philadelphia is the personal research project of Aaron Ogle, a software developer at Avencia. It's based upon the popular Walk Score site, but seeks to improve accuracy and relevance by allowing each user to customize the site based on their personal preferences. Since walkability can be a very subjective measure, each visitor can rank the elements that are most important to them so that they're more heavily weighed in the walkability calculations. For example, if you're a college student and would rather live closer to restaurants, bars, and transit than neighborhood parks and grocery stores, you can easily place more weight on those categories. The site also takes into account the actual walking distance that you'd have to travel to get to each location, rather than relying on a 1 mile radius on a map which doesn't reflect barriers to pedestrian movement like railroad lines or rivers.

According to the default priorities, Montrose Green has a walkability score of 74 out of 100.

Most areas in and around Center City will have high walkability rankings, no matter if higher importance is placed on libraries and coffee shops compared to pharmacies and restaurants. However, Walkshed is a helpful tool to explore neighborhoods in the City that you're less familiar with, especially if you're thinking about moving to a different area of town.

The data that we reviewed for Graduate Hospital seemed to be fairly accurate, but we noticed some missing players. For instance, when setting Montrose Green as the starting location, the site didn't show the relative proximity to the Italian Market even though it's within the 1 mi. boundary. Several popular neighborhood restaurants & cafes that are also within the 1 mi range weren't listed either, such as Pumpkin Restaurant near 17 & South Street.

Also missed were neighborhood favorites like:
May's Cafe- 1700 block of Christian Street
--best prices on lunch meat around
Pumpkin Market
- 16oo block of South St, south side
--local produce & baked goods, their coffee shop now opens at 7am!
Pumpkin Cafe- 1600 block of South St, north side
--sandwiches and light fare using seasonal ingredients
Salsita - 1600 South St.
--just $10 for your first salsa class
Jamaican Jerk Hut- 1500 South St.
--BYO rum to mix with their fresh fruit drinks
Organic Community Garden- 1500 block of Christian St.
--opened summer 2009, garden plots available for rent
Govinda's Gourmet-To-Go- Broad & South St.
--amazing veggie wraps & sandwiches
Philly Kitchen Share- 1600 block of South St
--cooking classes & commercial kitchen rental space
Cafe L'aube - 1500 block of South Street
--typical independent coffee shop offerings

This is not an exhaustive list, so there may be other neighborhood amenities not represented on WalkShed. It's a shame that the fast food joints along Broad Street are listed, while somehow these unique local businesses weren't included in the data set. They certainly add a unique vibrancy to the neighborhood that is difficult to measure, so their omission seemed important to note. Hopefully future versions of this site will be updated to ensure a more accurate reflection of the goods & services available in Grad Hospital.

It's encouraging to see that carshare pods, hardware stores, and farmer's markets are included as categories on WalkShed, but we'd personally like to see a few more dog parks, childcare centers, and public restrooms. For those of us with young children & pets, these are wonderful amenities in the city that aren't normally equally distributed. How about bike racks or bike lanes? What else would YOU add to Walkshed? Does your neighborhood seem accurately represented?

SOSNA (South of South Neighborhood Assn.) hosted a discussion last fall about increasing pedestrian safety in our neighborhood. We don't know the details yet, but it sounds like the neighborhood association won a grant to implement some innovative improvements. Looking forward to learning more about their plans in Grad Hospital as walkability and pedestrian safety go hand in hand. To learn more about SOSNA, visit their website: Neighborhood meetings & locations as well as important updates are listed there.

FYI... For those less familiar with the name of our neighborhood, "Graduate Hospital" or simply "Grad Hospital" was the name of a hospital located in the north central part of the neighborhood. The hospital closed a few years ago and was subsequently bought by UPenn's health system. It now operates primarily as a rehabiliation center and has been renamed, but our neighborhood moniker lives on. Many residents weren't crazy about the name to begin with, but they can't seem to agree on a new one. The funny thing is, this neighborhood already goes by a number of other names. These include: Southwest Center City, South Square, SoSo (South of South), Naval Square, G-Ho (terrible, isn't it?), Marian Anderson Village, Schuylkill Southwest, and my all-time favorite... Northwest South Philly.

Whatever you call it, it's a great neighborhood and others seems to agree. Out of hundreds of neighborhoods in the Philly area, Grad Hospital made Philadelphia Magazines, "10 Awesome Places to Call Home" list for 2010.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Our snow-covered city

This weekend Philadelphia was blanketed with over 2 feet of snow in one of the biggest winter storms in the city's history. A few details that show a glimpse of Philly's surreal transformation (from the vantage point of our roof and backyard, of course). For scale reference, notice the travel mug on the picnic table in the bottom image.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Montrose Green update...

Well, it's been quite a while since our last post- we're long overdue for an update. We have finished the Montrose Green renovation and are in the final stages of wrapping up the LEED-H certification. We're still on track to achieve a Platinum level, as long as the final air infiltration & blower door testing goes smoothly. Lately we've primarily been preoccupied with designing and building our next project- this time for a client. The house is a 3-story infill on mid-block site in Graduate Hospital and is approximately 50% through construction. We've been photo documenting the progress and will be posting updates very soon at our new website: This site is still under development, but we'll be slowly transitioning to a new format that will allow us to report updates on multiple projects as our firm grows and we take on additional work.

In other news, we've recently decided to "temporarily" move into Montrose Green. Although we took the house off the MLS during the holidays, the home is still for sale by owner. We are taking this opportunity to test all the systems & appliances and monitor the utility bills (with a family of three) to see if we are indeed saving as much energy as we projected. With this winter season being the coldest in several years, it is proving a great testing ground. We'll report our findings as we compile the data, but so far, so good. Our unscientific report to date is that the house stays quite toasty, even on the bitter cold days. Because the HVAC sytem is zoned (1st floor- zone 1; 2nd & 3rd floors- zone 2) , and with the help of a tightly insulated envelope, numerous ceiling fans, and an open design, we can usually just heat the first floor and let the warm air rise up through the house.

The green roof and the stormwater planter have gone into dormancy for the season. Some of the sedums on the roof have turned a deep red color, but there's still some green visible. All of the other plants are doing well- with little to no maintenance. We are looking forward to the spring season when we'll get to witness the green roof and rain gardens bloom and mature.

As you can imagine, we're really enjoying our stay in the Montrose Green house. As the designers, it's an amazing learning opportunity as we're experiencing first hand every decision we made- for better or for worse. We're very satisfied with the vast majority of outcomes, but there are inevitably a handful of things we would do differently if given the opportunity. Overall, the layout works really well and the room sizes and storage space are more than adequate. The circulation is compact and the amount of natural light in the house is amazing...we usually don't turn any lights on during the day. The Caesarstone countertops in the kitchen and baths are extremely durable, with no worries about stains or scratches. We'd use that product again in a heartbeat. The chalkboard door in the kitchen is one of the other fun ideas that's working out almost exactly as planned. Having a powder room on the 1st floor, not having to trek down to the basement to do laundry, and having real closets are definitely a bonus. These aren't unique concepts, but are conveniences that older row homes often lack. The "green" features are more elusive to evaluate initially since they affect the energy usage/performance more than the day-to-day functionality or aesthetic of the home.

Up next...a critique of what we would change/do differently next time. We'll also share photos of some of the finishing touches as we continue to unpack & get settled. The plan is to open up the house again for tours later this spring, so stay tuned!