Posted September 24, 2015
  • Team members Nyasha Felder and Emily Silber contribute to the interactive mural with community children

    Credit: Jordan Cassway
  • Lehigh-Frankford underpass

    Credit: Jordan Cassway
  • Drawing visions for the community

    Credit: Jordan Cassway
  • Chalk art in the underpass

    Credit: Jordan Cassway
  • Garden at gateway

    Credit: Jordan Cassway

Improving the Viaduct: A Frankford Gateway Prototype

Work Completes on Social Impact Project


Improving the Viaduct: A Frankford Gateway Prototype was unveiled on September 12th, with resounding community support and enthusiasm. The project began as a Social Impact Project funded through PennDesign and organized by PennPraxis. The group of PennDesign students and recent graduates leveraged grant funds to design a cost-efficient, interactive event to improve and highlight the Lehigh-Frankford underpass, coordinating with Somerset Neighbors for Better Living (SNBL), and the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) to coincide with their annual Community Day.

The purpose of the pop-up project was to promote the conceptual, but not-yet-funded, redesign of the Lehigh Viaduct underpass on Frankford Avenue, showing that small interventions can go a long way to inspire a community to re-envision the space. The original concept was designed by the Community Design Collaborative (CDC) as part of the Conceptual Design for Neighborhood Gateways project. While a complete redesign of the underpass would be costly, the student project demonstrated that the underpass could be substantially improved with some low-cost interventions, and with community-driven art to highlight the strength of the Kensington and Somerset communities. Students hired professionals to power wash and paint the underpass with bright, illuminating colors. Secondly, the students partnered with the City of Philadelphia's Lighting Department to install lighting to brighten the dark and ominous space and improve real and perceived safety issues. On the day of the event, the community was invited into the space underneath the viaduct to draw pictures of their vision for the community, and have their silhouettes captured on the walls through interactive mural painting activity.

The space was further activated by a flowing, light-filled fabric sculpture and music provided by a local band. In addition to the improvements to the underpass, the students purchased plants from Greensgrow Farms and created a garden at Frankford and Sterner that beautifies the northern entry to the underpass on the slope adjacent to the Conrail tracks.

NKCDC Director of Community Engagement, Andrew Goodman commented on the event: “NKCDC was glad to be a community partner with this team of PennDesign graduates. The team rose to our challenge of being the first step in a multi-year journey to transform one of our northern neighborhood's most forgotten gateways. The end result is one that shows brightness, compassion, and lasting impact beyond the one-day event!”