Where are you originally from? I originally grew up in Rydal, which is right next to Jenkintown. Right after college I moved to Center City. I’ve lived in and around Philadelphia my whole life, except for one year in New York.
How did you first become involved with LoMo and why did you decide to join the Board of Directors? One of the things about the neighborhood that bothered me when I first lived there was there was a real lack of trees and there was a lot of littering going on. Although some of the neighbors were adamant about sweeping up the front of their house, most times I noticed more trash going on the ground than getting picked up. I happened to come across someone who lived in the neighborhood who said, ‘Oh we actually have a neighborhood group and there’s a beautification committee, you should come to the next meeting…’ About a year later, I met Kim Massare [President of LoMo]… and I was so inspired by [the organization’s] vision that I couldn’t help but volunteer my time and get to work.
LoMo President Kim has described you as a tree hugger! As someone environmentally conscious, what would you say about the LoMo area in terms of greenery? We’ve come a long way. South Philadelphia still has the lowest tree canopy of anywhere in the city, but were closing the gap on that. With the help of some of the other neighborhood associations around, we’ve put a big focus on planting trees… In the last five years, LoMo itself has planted over 250 trees, which is a huge feat because for a long time there was a perception that trees were negative… Some people thought that the trees were actually responsible for messing up the water lines that run under and into the houses causing basement flooding – that’s not true at all… We’ve come a long way. I’m really proud of us as a community and I notice the difference and other people notice the difference. Hopefully with the help of the City, we can grow [the number of trees planted] exponentially into the future.
You’re promoting an upcoming Fall Tree Care & Planting Day on November 10. What can you tell us about it? We did our two biggest plantings last year, so instead of focusing just on getting the trees in the ground… what were trying to do is concentrate on the trees that we’ve planted in the last two years and we want to make sure that they are set up to have a very healthy winter. We’re going to clean up tree pits, [plus] mulching, watering, and pruning… We are really excited about it and can use all the help we can get!
You’re also very active with the Friends of Marconi Plaza. Why? Marconi Plaza is a really unique park. If it’s not the biggest, its one of the biggest parks in the city that is surrounded by residential homes. Marconi Park is 19 acres, two full city blocks, and it runs between 13th and 15th streets and Oregon and Bigler. It’s a historically significant park, it’s been around a long time, and it’s [named after] the inventor of the wireless telegraph. The park gets some attention, but we started a friends group there because it also has two zip codes and there was a lot of confusion over who should be [advocating for the park] besides Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department. A lot of parks have friend groups. Now [residents from several different parts of the neighborhood] are all working together to have events there and make sure that the park is more well maintained than it has been in recent years and also have a vision for the future of the park and try to grow it and make it better every year.
What’s something you would add to the area that it doesn’t have? I wish I could add green space. Marconi is beautiful, and it’s pretty easily accessible by most of the LoMo area, but if you live up this direction [closer to Broad and Jackson] it’s a good 10, 15 minute walk and not everyone has time to take that walk. So if I could add a nice big park right in the middle of LoMo I would. And if I can add a couple more good mom-and-pop restaurants and coffee shops – no offense to the Starbucks that were sitting in right now [laughs]. I would love to see the commercial infrastructure grow a little bit more, the way that it has on Passyunk Avenue.
What are your favorite local spots in the LoMo area? Well, I get my coffee every morning from Carangi’s, which is a bread bakery – I say bread bakery because until I moved to South Philadelphia I didn’t realize there were two kinds of bakeries, but apparently there are bread bakeries and then there’s sweet, pastry bakeries. Carangi’s does bread, and they also have a good tomato pie. They carry La Colombe coffee which is my favorite, so I go there in the mornings. As far as food goes, I’d have to say Los Gallos, which is a Mexican restaurant that has been open for about three years now. It’s right on the corner of 10th and Wolf. It’s authentic Mexican and some of the best in the city. I go there a lot [laughs].
What’s one word you would use to describe the Lower Moyamensing area? Melting-pot. Not really one word but… [laughs] People have lived here for generations and new people are moving in because it’s a good and an affordable place to buy. [LoMo has] been working to mix the new and the old. The new and the old coming together is the melting pot and has been the strength of us. We’re trying to make positive changes but not lose what makes us.
Join Rachel and many other wonderful LoMo residents and volunteers on November 10 for the Fall Tree Care & Planting Day event! Let’s get green!
– Interview by Tylor Augustine