Give this woman a Pulitzer Prize! Oh, Inga Saffron already won one ? Excellent. Isn’t her writing beautiful? And it’s true.

High above the Schuylkill, in the Ridge Park section of Roxborough, old millworker houses sit side by side with wood-trimmed Victorian mansions. The little houses are jammed together as tightly as crayons in a box, but they typically sit back from the street, often behind postage-stamp gardens, and many have snug porches or high stoops. The streets, still paved in red and yellow brick, rise steeply, and thick woods carpet the slopes behind the houses. It’s just 10 miles from Center City, but it might be a small town in Pennsylvania.

That village-in-the-city quality is what locals love about the quirky Philadelphia neighborhoods that hug the long ridge that follows the river. From high points like Germany Hill, Center City’s skyline glistens like a distant Oz. It’s not unusual to spot a deer or fox in someone’s yard.

But now, the same housing boom that took Philadelphia’s flatlands by storm is blowing into this quiet corner of the city, and it is threatening to turn the compact village into something more like a suburban subdivision.

I read that when I was 250 miles from home and it made me homesick. To help Inga with the story, I had walked her around the Ridge Park area (roughly Ridge to Fowler, Hermitage to Lemonte) for almost two hours as she stopped to take numerous smartphone pictures. She asked lots of interesting questions about the history of buildings here and the evolution of the neighborhood. She liked our brick cartways and posted pictures of them on her Facebook page. In her Philadelphia Inquirer work since 1999, she has always seen what Robert Campbell, another Pulitzer Prize winner, calls “the whole architecture” of a place – not just the buildings but also the spaces between them and the way they meet the public street. The character of the public street is what we’re trying to address with the Neighborhood Conservation Kit and our two adopted NCOs. Here’s hoping their pedestrian-friendly rules make a difference. Thank you Inga Saffron for telling our story.

Read the full story Fighting the Suburbanizing Tide in Roxborough




More neighborhood protection is on its way! Bring your thoughts and support.


THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2015, 7:00 PM



Below is the proposed boundary for the overlay. We are limited to 25 blocks by the rules of NCO-making in Philadelphia.  Blocks were chosen for their walkable pattern, proximity to rail transit and Ridge Avenue, and level of development pressure. The text is the same as the Central Roxborough NCO available here.  Comments are welcome on this blog and at the meeting.



Apologies for the long gap in posts. We the NCK team have been crazy busy this Fall trying to get two Neighborhood Conservation Overlays (NCOs) drafted and the overlay areas completely photographed. Two of the Roxborough civic associations, Ridge Park and Wissahickon Interested Citizens, have local residents working on their proposals for the Planning Commission, hoping for adoption by December. Our team has assisted with intern power, but the impetus for protecting their own walkable character comes from them.

As it turns out, the actual code drafts are simply replicating the language in the already adopted Central Roxborough NCO. Although everyone sees some room for improvement in the CRCA overlay, at this time it is considered risky and cumbersome to have three different overlays in neighboring areas that have the same walkable T4 patterns and zoning districts (RSA-3 and RSA-5). One of the stated goals of our Knight grant was to make these NCOs easier for the Planning Commission to administer, and they’re getting requests (demands?) from all over Philadelphia for new NCOs.

The main change we would like to see in the Central Rox language involves existing properties where the owners pave over the front yards and park cars on them. We have strict rules against developers doing that in new construction, but are not adequately protecting Roxborough from itself, so to speak.

The next post will address how to minimize the negative effects of driveways and curb cuts where they already exist or are contemplated. Hint: narrower and greener.



Everybody knows what a NIMBY is, right? The homeowner who blocks all new development with the attitude Not In My Back Yard. If you’re watching the terrific HBO miniseries Show Me A Hero, those are NIMBYs screaming at Yonkers City Council that they don’t want public housing in their area. In some ways you can’t blame them because the form of public housing was so awful. It was in the form of towers concentrating poverty and not giving residents their own defensible space to take pride in.

The same thing happens with private development. The form of it has been so bad that NIMBYs routinely block all development, out of justifiable fear that whatever comes in will degrade the neighborhood. But they may blame it on “those people” when it might have more to do with “those buildings.”

Therefore in Roxborough the Neighborhood Conservation Kit team is operating as NOOFYs, not NIMBYs. We coined the term NOOFY for Not On Our Front Yard.   It recognizes that the front yard, a.k.a. the private frontage, really belongs to all of us, because it affects our experience from the public sidewalk – our view, our comfort, our safety. It’s not just my yard, but our neighborhood’s yard.

Here’s what’s degrading our neighborhood.  Yep, this is the frontage, not the back. The sidewalk, slanted in a continual curbcut for cars. The front doors hidden between garages. Vast impervious surface in a critical watershed.


This development interrupts walkable streets where the older houses have friendly frontages: gardens, porches, stoops, approachable front doors, shared parking on the street.

NOOFYs and NIMBYs would both try to block this, though for different reasons. NIMBYs are afraid of any change, any increase in density; NOOFYs don’t mind change and density that make the neighborhood better, not worse.  In time, maybe NIMBYs can become NOOFYs, developers can become NOOFYs, and NOOFYs can become developers. It has to be better than this.

PS  Here is a fun NIMBY quiz.

So We Won a Weird Poll

Roxborough is the center of the universe! Assuming the Philadelphia area is the universe, which of course we do. Always been parochial. Let’s face it, outside of this area, you can’t get the rolls. That’s probably why Pope Francis is coming.

It’s a weird set of contestants in this Neighborhood Bracket, but a win is a win, right? In Billy Penn/Fox29 voting, we beat out numerous fine Philadelphia neighborhoods as well as sketchy suburbs. Check it out.



Look what came across Kay’s Facebook page out of the blue. (Kay Sykora is the NCK Team civic liasion.) A 2012 video by Sarah Shaak, Roxborough Preservation, has sad music and pictures of doomed Roxborough houses. (We consider all of them doomed, the way things have been going since then.)  The video Addison Geary made of our walkaround is also sad, because it is too late for the blocks we were walking. Even without the great song by Sia.


Ace intern surveyor Nellie K reports with selfies:

20150727_142431  Here is me and a dog.

20150727_140208  Here is me and weak walkability.

20150727_134001  Here is me and a big drive way with a far setback to the house.

20150727_133744  Here is me and a milkshake and some houses that fit in very nicely.

20150727_141759  Here is me and a friendly fountain.

Branding and Shooting

This may be the wild Northwest (of Philadelphia) but we’re not ranchers and gunslingers, we’re graphic designers and photographers. Since we last posted, it has been a busy few weeks for the Neighborhood Conservation Kit team.  NCK team member Wynn Geary, an urban farmer and designer who graduated from high school just last month, branded us beautifully with this logo:

neighborhood _conservation_kit_final_draft

The white space is bold and Street Trip loves it. Ready for urban infill!  Meanwhile, out on the range, the NCK effort has expanded to the Wissahickon neighborhood, shown here in a map provided by urban planner Jillian Puleo Dierks. The large parcels to the right are part of the heavily wooded Wissahickon Valley Park (the “Wiss” or “Wissy” in the vernacular).  The yellow area is already within the Wissahickon Watershed Overlay District, important for water quality because the creek joins the Schuylkill River immediately above one of our drinking water intakes.WICA_ALLCompact walkable development patterns like those found in Roxborough are also important for watershed health, as they preserve large swaths of forest and wetland, and, compared to sprawl, reduce impervious pavement area per capita.

If a civic association decides to pursue a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay (NCO) to protect its walkable character, every building in the overlay area must be photographed and carefully labeled. Here’s intern surveyor Matt Sawyer photographing in his neighborhood, getting a head start on this big job.


Even if the “civics” don’t end up pursuing NCOs, these surveys are a great way to showcase local architectural precedents, and get to know one’s neighborhood.

Here are some delightful details we found along the way.

Flowers_Rochelle WhiteStoop Brickwork_1 RedDoor

In an upcoming post we’ll look at some beautiful driveways we found. Hard to believe, Harry*, but so is a no-hitter by Cole Hamels in his last start as a Phillie. Forgive us, out-of-towners, we are homers, which is why we strive to be Hall of Fame stewards of neighborhoods.

*Harry Kalas, late beloved Phillies broadcaster, laid to rest in Laurel Hill, the historic cemetery a mile from that red door.


As part of the Neighborhood Conservation Kit training for civic associations, about fifteen of of us Roxborough residents recently walked some of the newly-developed blocks that have been causing the most distress. Our neighbor Addison Geary made this short video of some of the highlights and lowlights. We hope it helps you think about some of the issues confronting our older walkable neighborhoods that are under development pressure. Not surprisingly, much of our discussion revolves around parking, parking, parking.

How are you balancing cars and pedestrians in your neighborhood?


Yesterday we trained the five interns who will help with the photography survey of the Roxborough neighborhoods seeking protection from out-of-context development. Here they are with their cameras and surveyor wheels from Stanley’s Hardware: the Next Gen and the Next Next Gen (Will, 15 months). Urban planning and coding should look ahead 30, 40, 50 years so Will, this code’s for you.


Here’s the street map color-coded for each surveyor. This area is just part of one of Roxborough’s civic associations, Ridge Park, who are working with the Neighborhood Conservation Kit team.


Our surveyors are all from zip code 19128, and there’s no better way to get to know the form of your neighborhood than to document it on the ground. The City of Philadelphia requires any Neighborhood Conservation Overlay to include a photograph of every building in the regulated area, so that’s a lot of documenting.

If you see any of this gang out there photographing, tell them what kind of development you want to protect and encourage on your block. And contact the Central Roxborough Civic Association for more information.