Standing in Mt. Airy's Pleasant Playground on Thursday morning, Anuj Gupta was presented with a $100,000 check to help aid neighborhood-wide transformation over the next 10 years in Mt. Airy.
Gupta, who is executive director of community development corporation Mt. Airy USA, said the location of the morning news conference was particularly symbolic in light of the grant. The playground recently benefited from a $3 million overhaul that was years in the making.
"This site symbolizes what can happen when a vision comes together, when leaders initiate action, when a consensus is drawn on what we want as a community." he said. "[The playground] is reflective of that."
The grant, which was awarded by the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, allows for MAUSA, along with six other community partners — East Mt. Airy Neighbors, West Mt. Airy Neighbors, Mt. Airy Business Improvement District, the 6300 Block Alliance, Weavers Way Co-op and Chew and Belfield Neighbors — to spend the next year conducting surveys, collecting data, and talking to residents and business owners.
The planning process will include community forums, focus groups and property-by-property analysis. A group of four urban planning and economic development companies will compile a final report on the findings.
Based on the results of that planning process, the community will be able to delve into a 10-year plan for neighborhood revitalization.
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Among other things, Gupta hopes to see the effort go toward solid pre-K and child care options as well as turning around blighted areas of the neighborhood.
The group will also look at outdoor and recreational amenities, access to public transportation and the area's ability to attract new business. In short, all the "major quality of life issues," according to Gupta.
Elayne Bender, executive director of East Mt. Airy Neighbors, is excited that the grant allows for changes that will extend past just the neighborhood's commercial corridor along Germantown Avenue.
"This process will address areas beyond the 'Avenue,'" she said. "Sometimes, we have a tendency to forget that Mt. Airy is not entirely made up of beautiful tree-lined streets dotted with great, big houses and beautiful gardens. There are many parts of the neighborhood that are going to benefit."
The grant is the effort of a monthslong application process. About 15 groups applied from throughout New Jersey, Delaware and the eastern half of Pennsylvania
"From their application it was clear they had the capacity to go through this process," said Denise McGregor Armbrister, director of the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation.
State Senator Art Haywood, who was on hand for Thursday's check presentation, said now was the time for the community to engage in plans for the future of their neighborhood.
"None of this work can be done alone," he said. "Take this grant as a clear opportunity to do much more."