51 ineligible people tried to vote in CHCA board election

CHCA election 51 ballots rejected
In a closely contested election between “slate” candidate and “non-slate” candidate factions, 16 candidates vying for 9 board seats,  the Chestnut Hill Community Association rejected 51 of 513 ballots cast as invalid, according to a report in the Chestnut Hill Local, August 5, 2021 edition. (Fifty-one votes account for about 10% of votes cast.) The report did not provide an explanation as to why the ballots had been rejected nor did the CHCA, owner of the Local, nor three current board members respond to a request for comment. However, John Derr, publisher of the Local, apparently taking on the role of spokesperson for the Association, stated that the 51 rejected ballots were from people who were not members of the Community Association and that some of those had lapsed memberships. He assured your correspondent that the election was fair without addressing your correspondent’s concern about election integrity relating to why so many people tried to vote in an election they weren’t eligible to vote in. Your correspondent has followed up with a letter to  the Community Association's President, Kathi Clayton.

Download CHCA clayton election fifty one voter letter 20210814.pdf (52.6K)

In a letter to your correspondent, Clayton responded that she was disappointed so many votes didn't get counted and that going forward the association will more often and broadly publish the requirement that to vote a member must be paid up as of the designated date, June 30, 2021 this year.


Neighbors retrieve iPhone from storm sewer

Retrieving iphone from storm sewer
Group shot retrieive iphone from sewerTo replace a lost key to the house of her neighbor whose dog she walks, Ardleigh Street resident Sarah Bettien-Ash made a trip to Killian’s Hardware Wednesday afternoon. Exiting the store, she realized that she had forgotten to pay for parking and quickly pulled out her phone, an iPhone12, to pay using the online app. It flew out of her hand and down through the storm sewer grate next to the store. Her daughter bought a pole and a net at the hardware store and, with a friend, tried without luck to fish it out. Bettien-Ash contacted the water department and was told someone would come out but she had no idea when. (They called the next morning) She was hopeful the phone was still working because it was still ringing when her daughter dialed it. Your correspondent came upon a small group of helpers, neighbors and friends, early that evening and learned Bettien-Ash had returned for another go at it with a newly purchased steel rake. A workman who had been repairing cement outside the hardware store was so impressed with Bettein-Ash’s determination that he retrieved tools from his truck and with help, pried off the grate. By then the local beat police officer was lighting the area with his flashlight. Bettein-Ash reports she pulled out the phone, wondrously illuminated with text messages and Instagram notifications. According to iPhone 12’s specs, the phone cannot last in water more than thirty minutes. Bettien-Ash appears to have beaten all odds. Watch video of neighbors rescuing iPhone from sewer and interview here.


Brick man sculptor makes brick men

Adam brick man maker - 1
This is the story of the brick men. Twenty-five years ago a brick side addition of the big old house in West Mount Airy that Adam Shuman, a retired Philadelphia firefighter lives in, had collapsed, One of his tenants, whom he suspects harbored unrealized architectural ambitions, decided to use some of the bricks to construct a simple human form from the bricks to see if he could get it to balance.

When Shuman needed access to his ladders through the basement cellar door, he moved the brick man to the front. That’s when, he says, it got out of hand. He just wanted to build brick men, more and more of them. So he began to actively collect bricks from burnt out brick-strewn lots in North Philadelphia on his drive to classes at Temple University.

For years now, dozens of brick men have lined the front of the property and also along a side property line with a neighbor. They provide kind of a visual frame for Shuman’s numerous rusted iron and wood sculptures that adorn the yard.

The brick men are very popular, he says, especially with twelve year-old boys who can’t resist toppling them. Every couple of years he finds two or three brick men knocked over.He purposely doesn’t cement them lest they get knocked over and seriously hurt someone. And he has a constant stream of people stopping to take photographs, chat and ask questions. Years ago, TV’s Captain Noah and his wife numbered among the regulars.

If Shuman sees bricks, a brick man may be likely to follow. He made one traveling with family in Namibia in 2007. Near land they have in Mexico, he made one out of adobe but rain washed it away.

Shuman demonstrated his technique for making a brick man; to start, 7 bricks are laid side by side and the middle three removed and then the bricks are layered upwards until the final 16th layer.

In his art studio he has fashioned a brick man out of wood cut into brick-size pieces. He entertains a plans to build a giant brick man made of 500 bricks and standing at 6 feet tall. Now that would seal Shuman’s reputation as the brick man.

Watch the video tour of the brick men with the brick man here.

A shorter version can be viewed here.

 


Emptying coins from parking meters - last time along Germantown Ave?

Emptying coins from parking meters

Coin collecting employees of the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) make one of their last if not their very last appearance along Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill, northwest Philadelphia. A small team walks quickly down either side of the street going from parking meter to parking meter. One hand chained by the wrist to the wheeled collection box meteropens the round metal flap with a key and the other hand pulls out the cylindrical coin container, attaches it to the portal atop the box, twists to release the coins with a jingling sound and then inserts it back in the meter. Your correspondent surmised that a thief interested in stealing a box would not need too large a bolt cutter to cut through the chain but would likely be deterred by the physical brawl likely to ensue trying to part the money box from the human collector.

According to Phil Dawson, PPA is expected to begin removing the old meters and installing SmartMeter kiosks on the Avenue on Monday, June 7.  The project is part of a city wide plan to shift parking fee collection to credit cards or through the smartphone app, “MeterUP” which allows a driver to be notified when their parking time is running with an option to refill remotely. The user can stop the time early so as not to be charged for unused time.The meters currently have a slot for some type of card in addition to the one for coins but they seem blocked/non-functional.

Alex Bartlett, archivist of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy located photographs in the Conservancy collections indicating that they were installed at some point between around 1950-1955. He writes , “The Chestnut Hill Development Group (later Business Association) [and] the Parking Company (later Foundation)were very much involved in dealing with issues associated with parking at the time, including the creation of the parking lots behind the stores.

Watch video of parking authority employee emptying coins from parking meters along Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill shortly before they are to be replaced by a kiosk system and smart phone app.

 


We build a mudhif

Mudhif building sarah and mohannad
Your correspondent joined U.S. military veterans, Iraqi refugees and other volunteers from the community to break ground on Memorial Day and start work on a traditional Iraqi structure dating back thousands of years called a “mudhif“ on the grounds of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough, Philadelphia. More photos here. Watch a video about the first day ceremony and building start of an Iraqi mudhif.

“Al-Mudhif” is the brainchild of Seattle-based artist Sarah Kavage and Mount Airy based designer Yaroub Al-Obaidi who, after attending a lecture Kavage delivered a year ago at Moore College of Art during which she displayed a photo of a mudhif, suggested they build one! It is, perhaps, the first in the United States. The project, sponsored by the Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River, is one of fifteen site-specific installations, six already completed, extending as far north as the Delaware Water Gap and as far south as Wilmington, west to Reading and east to Trenton, all within the Lenapehoking watershed, the home of the native Lenape people.

Building a mudhif, which your correspondent can attest to firsthand, is overlaying and binding together reeds into long columns. These columns are then placed in 32-inch deep, 2-foot wide holes to provide the vertical supports. They are then bent toward one another to form an arched roof. In upcoming days, mats will be woven and set in place to form a thatched roof. Air and sunlight will come through lattice panels to be constructed and attached. Adjacent to the structure, Kavage’s husband, Rob has been busy installing the structure for a large bench for seating and a view from just outside the mudhif.

On day one, we divided into two large teams- the first tasked with digging 10 large holes, 5 opposite 5 to form the length of the rectangular structure. I opted to work with volunteers assembling the columns. We used phragmites, reed grasses, harvested previously. (A non-native form of phragmites is considered invasive and it is likely a plus-side of the project was some invasive control)

From the sidelines, an older man from Iraq who went by “Kam” vividly recalled his father’s large mudhif in Nasriyah near the Euphrates River. His family would welcome guests and travelers to rest, stay, eat and drink coffee or tea in the mudhif, set apart from the main home. At that time, Kam said, people traveled distances by horse and would go from mudhif to mudhif to rest along the way.

A younger man, Hadi al-Karfawi, who left Iraq at the age of nine spoke of his strong emotional connection with the mudhif his grandfather, a tribal leader, had built . As a boy, he was tasked with preparing and serving the strong coffee to guests. He absorbed that the mudhif was community place where people would come to resolve disputes. Everyone was given a chance to speak without interruption. The disputes might be inter-tribal or among families  of one's own tribe.

As your correspondent spoke with al-Karfawi, Mohaned Al-Obaidi, the lead builder and Yaroub’s brother, was having some trouble bending the first two columns of reeds to form the arch at the entrance. Traditionally, al-Karfawi said, the reeds, of a different variety in use here, might be more moisture-filled, perhaps more freshly cut, which would make the bending easier. (The arch is not going to be the traditional rounded one; Yaroub has designed it to be more angular  so winter snow will more easily slide off and not weigh down the roof.) al-Karfawi spoke of helpers being divided into groups, just like us, with specific tasks and he demonstrated how he and others would stomp on mud mixed with hay to form the “cement” to applied inside the roof. He had brought along two of his young children and, as the project was about to get underway, they stood by with child-sized shovels at the ready.

In his opening remarks, Al-Obaidi spoke of how emotional this undertaking has been- recreating a traditional community structure from his homeland. He suspected many of us have only associated Iraq until now with war and suffering. He hopes this welcoming mudhif will bring about a better understanding of Iraq’s ancient and rich culture.

The grand opening of the mudhif is planned for June 24th and according to a Schuylkill Center blog many activities are planned. “We will activate the installation Al-Mudhif with extended programming around exchange of war experience, healing and intercultural encounters from June to October 2021.”

Your correspondent asks, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the dispute resolution aspect of a mudhif could be "activated”? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if representative native Lenape could settle ongoing claims in this mudhif with representatives of the long dominant immigrant community? Descendants of former slaves with descendants of former slaveholders? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Israeli and Palestinian representatives could forge a just and lasting peace in this mudhif? And isn’t it fitting that this peace and justice-making take place on land taken from the Lenape, now in the safekeeping of environmental non-profit, in a traditional structure of a people who themselves experienced recent devastation to their own culture- the swamp Arabs of Iraq? A structure built for community, hospitality and peace-making. Inshallah.

------

More videos here

Building Al Mudhif - short version

Mudhif groundbreaking ceremony

Docent tells about Iraqi mudhifs and ancient Sumer

Schuylkill Center Director acknowledges land belonging to Lenape people at mudhif groundbreaking


The orchid mantis and other subversive embroidery

Lopez mantis orchid - 1
The “orchid mantis” is an erect praying mantis, wearing a raspberry-colored dress with folds that look like orchid petals. For this hand-embroidered piece, Richie Lopez started to hand-stitch a dress from images he saw in an old Vogue magazine and then decided to put a bug in it. Another, showing poet Sylvia Plath knelt next to the oven was inspired by the Lana Del Ray lyrics I've been tearing around in my fucking nightgown / 24/7 Sylvia Plath” from the song “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have.” Explains Lopez, “There’s a subversiveness about embroidery that people don’t really know about. That’s what I was doing here.” Life, death, sexuality and mysticism are subjects that intrigue Lopez and feature prominently in his work. His art also reflect his Latin heritage such as the one of a monstera plant emerging from a man’s torso, part of his “botanical boys” series and another of the “Handsomest drowned man in the world," from a short story by Gabriel García Márquez. “Oftentimes the entire medium is relegated to the domestic but there have been many people that have used embroidery as a way of expressing something that isn’t necessarily what people think embroidery is." That's what Lopez aspires to do. Watch a video interview of Richie Lopez who  finds inspiration in dark-themed literature and song for his subversive embroidery mixing fashion and biology


Wire train removes old catenary wire above train tracks

Septa catenary wire

This video depicts SEPTA’s flotilla-like “wire train” renewing the catenary wire above the tracks on the R7 Chestnut Hill East line as it works its way past the Mount Airy train station. The wires become worn after decades of use. The workers are taking down old catenary wire, dropping and sliding it into the gondola for scrap metal. The new catenary wire is already in place and running trains. Naturally, for the safety of the workers, the catenary is de-energised and grounded.

The following description is from a SEPTA blog post of July 13, 2017
“In our world, a catenary is a system of overhead wires used to supply electricity to a locomotive, streetcar, or light rail vehicle which is equipped with a pantograph. The pantagraph presses against the underside of the lowest overhead wire, the contact wire.
Current collectors are electrically conductive and allow current to flow through to the train and back to the feeder station through the steel wheels on one or both running rails. Unlike simple overhead wires, in which the uninsulated wire is attached by clamps to closely spaced crosswires supported by poles, catenary systems use at least two wires. The catenary or messenger wire is hung at a specific tension between line structures, and a second wire is held in tension by the messenger wire, attached to it at frequent intervals by clamps and connecting wires known as droppers. The second wire is straight and level, parallel to the rail track, suspended over it as the roadway of a suspension bridge is over water.
Simple wire installations are common in light rail, especially on city streets, while more expensive catenary systems are suited to high-speed operations.
The Northeast Corridor in the United States has catenary over the 600 miles (1000 km) between Boston, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. for Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express and other trains. Commuter rail agencies including MARC, SEPTA, NJ Transit, and Metro-North Railroad utilize the catenary to provide local service.
Overhead line equipment can be adversely affected by strong winds causing swinging wires. Power storms can knock the power out with lightning strikes on systems with overhead wires, stopping trains if there is a power surge. During cold or frosty weather, there is a risk of ice build-up on overhead lines. This can result in poor electrical contact between the collector and the overhead line, resulting in electrical arcing and power surges.
On the Media/Elwyn Line, we're working on replacing 17 miles of 80+ year old overhead catenary wire. We're also building/installing new catenary support poles.”


Tour of the Winterthur quarry garden (in the rain!)

Winterthur quarry garden horticulturist
Pouring rain did not deter a small group of visitors from touring the quarry garden at Winterthur, the former estate of Henry Frances DuPont. Beneath a broad umbrella and underscored by a staccato of raindrops, Jim Pirhalla, horticulturist in charge of the quarry garden, described how “HF” at the age of about 81 in 1961 decided to convert what had been a working quarry in earlier times into an ornamental garden. Stone was brought in and placed by crane to create a terrace effect against the quarry wall backdrop for pocket plantings. On our early May visit, rose-colored primula japonica in the quarry basin was blossoming profusely- peaking, Pirhalla said. He explained how water channels in the quarry bottom were created because a bog-like environment would not be suitable for such plants. The channels had to be dug out again in the 1990s after silting up. Some employees who had been with Winterthur a very long time related to Pirhalla that they had drunk quarry water in days long past. Fed by a natural spring and water funneling into the quarry from the fields, the channel water flows into Wilson run (known at Winterthur as “Clenny” run for the farmer who once worked the area) before joining the Brandywine Creek. The quarry is also an oasis for orioles, catbirds, robins, warblers, wrens and all sorts of birds, some migrating through, and even in winter, as the quarry area never freezes up; as Pirhalla related this, birdsong accompanied him. Watch video of quarry garden tour here.

More photos of Winterthur here.


Walk across the Wissahickon

Crossing wissahickon
Your correspondent asked a young man he saw crossing the Wissahickon Creek from the side opposite Valley Green Inn what it was like. He says he was a little nervous at first because he didn’t know how deep the creek was or how strong the current would be. But he deliberately place one foot in front of the other and made it from the east to the west side without slipping or the water rising much above mid-calf.

“It feels good, the water’s cool…” It was only his second time there. He remembers coming years ago to the spot and spent the previous two weeks trying to rediscover it. He had hiked down from Ridge Avenue into the park. He couldn’t see the bottom so trusted his instincts. “If the ducks can do it, I can do it!” Overhearing our conversation, a regular park goer got his attention and walked him back to water’s edge to take a look at the water snakes that hang out in the rocky area at the edge.

Watch video and interview  of young man crossing Wissahickon Creek here.

 


Tabling at Brown's Shoprite for Earth Day

NN earth day tabling
On Earth Day 2021, a team from Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks, a grass roots political organization, hosted an informational table inside the Brown’s ShopRite on Fox Street in Philadelphia. Spokesperson Merle Savedow explained, “What we’re doing is try to raise the awareness of how to stop climate change and promote responsible sustainable living” Signs like “There is no planet B” adorned a tri-fold display and on the table were earth friendly products such as reusable sandwich wrappers. Grocery patrons appeared pleased to receive free reusable Shoprite shopping bags. Along with the bags, the activists offered shoppers a flyer with a checklist of earth friendly actions on one side and notice of a rally happening nearby later in the afternoon. The rally goal was to get SEPTA and the City of Philadelphia to shut down the polluting fracked natural gas plant in the Nicetown neighborhood and switch to renewable energy sources. Watch video and interview of environmental activists tabling at a neighborhood grocery here.