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Challenge brings out the best in Philadelphia’s communities

4/8/2015 | Real Estate Blog

There are times when recognition is a mixed blessing. Every city wants to be named the “most livable” or “most family-friendly” city, for example, but no city is marketing itself and lobbying hard to be recognized as the “most expensive for seniors” or, as Philadelphians may well fear, “most derelict, dilapidated and decaying inner city.”

Philly recently slammed the competition in a 26-city challenge, and our victory either shows we are the neediest city or we are the city with the most creative and most active community organizations. Philadelphia has been awarded seven grants by the Knight Cities Challenge that kicked off in October 2014. In all, the program awarded 32 grants to organizations in 12 cities. Philadelphia received seven.

The program was looking for ideas that would encourage “talent, opportunity and engagement” in the identified cities. Philadelphia’s winning programs addressed both neighborhood and city-wide opportunities in unique ways. For example, one project is devoted to turning vacant space in the city into an “urban forest.” Another will transform the space around one of the city’s recently closed schools into a “community living room.”

One of the projects will take advantage of a little used zoning ordinance, the Neighborhood Conservation Overlay. The neighborhood in question is Roxborough in northwest Philadelphia. The grant will give Central Roxborough Civic Association $20,000 to create a “toolkit” that will guide the community — and, eventually, other communities across the city — through the NCO process.

The purpose of the NCO designation, according to city ordinance Sec. 14-504, is to encourage “conservation and preservation through the revitalization of the physical environment that is unique to a specific neighborhood.” The physical environment includes both new construction and renovations to older buildings as well as streetscape planning and design. The city zoning board will be responsible for ensuring proposals are in compliance with the NCO design guidelines.

The NCO designation is not the same as the historic district designation. We’ll discuss the difference next week.

Sources:, “Northwest Philly Lands Grant to Attract Immigrants,” Neema Roshania, April 1, 2015

Knight Foundation, “Knight Cities Challenge Winners,” accessed April 7, 2015