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East Kensington was home to both our families and company during the first four years or so of this new business. It’s where we got our humble beginnings with the 100K House, our first project. Now that we’ve built a few projects in East Kensington, we’ve been wanting to go back and document them in creative ways. While our owner hosted dinner parties continues pushed aside due to coordination difficulties, shooting some new videos of the exteriors requires no calendars or scheduling apps.

We’re calling this video series the “History of Postgreen Homes” and plan to add more of these in the near future until we get up to date with everything we’ve developed to date. This first video captures our first four projects in East Kensington from angles and heights we’ve never even seen before. If you’ve never seen these projects in person and only through our very filtered media releases, this gives you more perspective into the context and neighborhood in which these projects were based. We hope you enjoy it half as much as we do.

Look out for future installments for Fishtown, South Kensington and Francisville projects. Have suggestions for shots in the future? That’s what the comments are for below. Be bold and leave those impatient apps for a minute and do some old fashioned blog commenting.

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A few of our recent projects have spanned the length, or width of an entire city block. That got us thinking about the urban grid, how it lays out and why some blocks are bigger than others. Now, you’ve probably never measured your city block. We we’rent even sure how at first. But one thing is for sure; block size does matter. Although large or small does not mean good and bad.

The general thinking since the Jane Jacob’s brought the concept of urbanism to light in the 60′s has been that, unlike many other scenarios, the smaller blocks have the advantage. Smaller blocks allow more variation in your daily commute and spread out the foot traffic around a city. It also provides a city more intersections which are always ideal places for commercial activity. The end result is a more walk able city and more unique shops and restaurants.  Good stuff.

We wanted to apply this thinking to Philadelphia and see how our block sizes influence the health of our urban streets. Our work analyzing potential properties over the years has certainly helped us get familiar with block sizes in Philadelphia, familiar enough to notice they are not at all uniform.  The center city laid out by Billy Penn is a pretty typical grid, but since then streets have been added and cut up. More often than you’d think. There’s Sansom in between Walnut and Chestnut and Hope street in Kensington. Or Ionic which runs for a block in center city stops for 3, then runs for two more then stops again. Then there is Corinthian in Fairmount and Frankford Ave. in Fishtown.  We felt like beginners way over our heads trying to figure out what block sizes meant in Philly.

So we shelved the Philly idea for now and looked to New York and Portland instead. New York always has tons of information about its urban structure thanks to Jane Jacobs and Portland has a cool TV show so we figured what the hell.

New York


Jane Jacobs argues that the long blocks of Manhattan do it a disservice. Manhattan’s streets and Avenues measure 200′ x 900′ from center of street to center of street. It makes walking cross town seem like an arduous task because it takes forever to reach the next block while uptown or downtown seems to pass by more quickly. Although this block setup works well for navigating the island Jane suggests that it restricts the location for business and stratifies building uses. Business can’t succeed on the streets because few pedestrians walk down them and they flourish on the avenues because of the outpouring of people. With the value of mixed building use we have come to understand (see Urban Planning 101 on mixed use) we would agree with Jane here.

Portland


Portland is a different animal. It’s blocks measure 200′ x 200′. Actually the smallest block size in the country. With the recent urban success of Portland and Jane Jacob’s analysis of cities the point is almost proven that small blocks are better. If Portlandia does the city any justice then  a variety of paths to walk down area a good base for a mixed use neighborhoods with hip organic restaurants, a feminist bookstore and maybe even a “Bad Art Good Walls” if you’re lucky.

Ultimately what Jane Jacobs and Portlandia are telling us is that if the pedestrian activity on the streets is spread out and unpredictable, building uses can also be spread out and unpredictable. Makes sense.

But there is more to block size than the flow of pedestrian traffic and its effects on building usage. Having smaller blocks means having more streets. Having more streets means having fewer buildings per square mile, which means a lower density overall, which means less capital being exchanged and which means the value of city land is lower per square mile. You could make up for that by building huge skyscrapers on small blocks but even that has its limits.

But that’s not all! Smaller block sizes also means giving more land over to cars, to infrastructure that has to be maintained and to a more extensive stormwater management challenge.  So although small blocks do have their benefits, I think a lot of people prefer them big. Portland may be in a fit of success now but it certainly took some time to get into the lime light while New York’s density has been upholding that city for a long time.

Philadelphia

It was a great learning experience to think about these two cities. But we live and work in Philadelphia. We still want to know how our block size sizes up. So back to the drawing board. We started in Center City, this is a view of the streets around Rittenhouse square. Some regular block sizes do emerge if you can ignore all the small one lane streets and alleys.

Next we tried Fishtown because our block to block Awesometown project has gotten us looking at the street network a lot over there. Turns out it actually has a less broken up grid than Center City but still with varying block sizes. Not to mention a different orientation.

Finally South Philly, Where we found our most regular block size, again ignoring alley ways.

After some long staring at each image the grid starts to emerge and a few regular block sizes come out of that. All in all 450′ x450′ is the most common. But that is if you can ignore the small side streets and alleyways. I’m not sure if you’re allowed.

But ignoring them for now we can analyze the results of our block measuring competition. Philadelphia is larger than Portland in length and width, larger than NY in width, smaller in the length.  In total block area Philly is actually larger than NY (180,000 SF to 202,500 SF).Of course all of that is ignoring alley ways. With alley ways we are a city comparable to Portland in block size and number of intersections, although with the potential in a few non-broken up blocks for higher density. It sounds like we have a nice variety which plays in well with the need for mixed usage. The square blocks, (or smaller rectangles if you count alley ways) makes our city less striated than New York’s streets vs. avenues.

All in all we feel like we came to some understandings of how block size impacts a city, but we still aren’t sure what to do with the alley ways. Philadelphia is almost like a free for all with the occasional major border vacuums dividing the city into neighborhoods. Thank god we didn’t look at medieval streets.

It feels like we’ve got some more theorizing to do on how our broken up grid affects us and what the alleys ways really do, if anything for our city. For now we’d have to estimate that our block sizes keep our city a field of varying activity with a few major streets to differentiate neighborhoods. Think you have a better idea? Well tell us in the comments.

 

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Last summer we welcomed eleven new Postgreen Homes’ family members to the 1700 block of Folsom St in Francisville. There was a lot of interest in additional condos at Folsom Powerhouse from the market, but unfortunately we experienced some permitting delays that kept us from building the next two corner buildings as quickly as we had hoped. We had to hold back launching sales of those units for a few months.

Well, the time to launch has come. Our sales team at KW put the four condo units in the 1744 Folsom building on the market a little less than two weeks ago. There have been a lot of walk throughs and two were put under reservation quickly. One couple’s plans fell through last night and now we are back to three of the four being available as of today.

There are a couple of things about this building that we are particularly excited about here at Postgreen Homes. Let’s review.

1. Low Price Range

The units in this building are just the right size and share the construction efficiencies of being under one roof and on top of one shared foundation. This allows us to price these in our favorite sweet spot in the $200K’s to $300K’s. We built this company on a core philosophy of bringing higher quality, design, health and efficiency to a new market that typically doesn’t have these options. This building has our lowest priced unit to date at $185K (sorry that’s the one that is still reserved). We’ve done our homework and there just is no comparing the features you can get in this price range anywhere in Philly right now. Period.

2. Ridiculous Energy Efficiency

Our townhomes are typically just over twice as efficient as a normal new construction home. Not bad, but guess what happens when you use the same energy efficient designs on a mult-family building with less exposed wall area per unit and more connection to neighboring conditioned walls, floors and ceilings? The efficiency goes up even more. Now imagine what would happen if we had our friends at Solar States install an 8.8kWh PV array on the roof that would be shared by all of the owners in the building? Utility bills take another sharp turn down. We’re still waiting on the calcs from our Energy Star consultant, but are pretty sure they are going to be our lowest estimated utility bills in any homes we’ve built to date. Yippee.

3. Corner Building + Big Windows + Big Park Across the Street

Light, Air and Views. Big plusses in any home. Even better when you’re on a corner and located across the street from a huge park, pool and rec center that will never have anything tall built on it to block any of that precious light or air. Plus you don’t have to leave your living room to catch a local ball game. Just pull up a chair and grab a tasty chilled beverage from your fancy fridge with a separate glass door made for easy access to your favorite fridge contents (more on that soon).

4. Quality & Efficient Living on less than 4 Levels

We love a good 3-story townhome with finished basement. Don’t get us wrong. But there is something liberating and just so easy about living on one or two only. We’ve still found room for double height cutouts like we put in the big homes and don’t forget about the light, air and views mentioned above. In a town of stairs and narrow, shotgun floorplans, consider something different…

OK, enough of us yammering about why we love this building and these units so much. Let’s get into the details. Or at least the floorplans.

Unit B

At 1,427 Square Feet, this is the largest unit in the building. It is the one that just came back on the market. It’s also the only one on the ground floor with it’s own private entrance and it’s own small back patio. To round out the exclusive features, it is the only unit with access to storage in the basement and it is fully accessible on the first floor with an ADA compliant full bath on the first floor. You could literally live on the first level only and rent out the top floor if you were into that sort of thing.

Unit C

The only one bedroom. The smallest unit. Our lowest price home built to date. That’s this guy. He’s sold. Not shocking.

Unit D

Chad’s favorite unit. The top floor bi-level corner unit. Amazing light and views and one of our classic double height spaces that impress friends, family and those attractive folks you’ve recently met that fit in neither category, but you’re really hoping will soon.

Unit E

The neighbor to the D unit. Not a corner, but still quite nice with big windows and that double height space. What you’ll lose in windows from the corner you’ll gain in lower utility bills. Just slightly.

There you have it. The latest listings at Folsom. We’ll have more posts soon highlighting lots of new options available in these and all of our units soon. For now, check out the project and take one of the units for a test customization run. It’s fun and it’s free.

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Duplexcellence II – Construction Fence Graffiti Art for Kensington South

February 17, 2015

An urban renewal is quickly hitting Kensington south and the Howard/Hope St. area between Kung Fu Necktie and El Bar seems to be the epicenter.  With 20 new homes going up at the other end of the block, one across the street, our 8 units  and 8 more lots recently cleared and soon to be [...]

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Project Update: Folsom Powerhouse

February 5, 2015

The corner of 18th and Folsom had long been home to construction vehicles and storage sheds as Phase I of our Folsom Powerhouse project set 11 units in the ground. Now that those homes are home to actual people the construction vehicles have moved up the road to Phase II and we anticipate improved street [...]

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Project Update: Awesometown

January 29, 2015

The goings on thus far at Awesometown can really be summed up into two categories; excavation, and pouring foundations. They may be two of the less visually exciting parts of construction but they are very critical. As it turns out pouring foundations in the dead of winter is a less than convenient time to start. [...]

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Project Update: Duplexcellence II

January 27, 2015

An urban renewal is quickly hitting Kensington South and the Howard/Hope St. area between Kung Fu Necktie and El Bar.  With 20 new homes going up at the other end of the block, one across the street, our 4 homes and 8 more lots recently cleared and soon to be underpinned, we estimate at least [...]

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