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Lorraine Gomez

“I brought fresh food, jobs, and a community space to my neighborhood.” 

According to Lorraine,

The most important thing Citzens Planning Institute taught me is to organize, organize, organize.

She continues, “Organize your block. Start there. One voice is great, but if you have fifty voices, it’s even better. If we organize ourselves, block by block, we can make ourselves so much stronger.”

From blight to movie night

Lorraine Gomez saw an opportunity to use the vacant lots on her block for something good. She knew she couldn’t do it alone, so she and Citizen Planner Joyce Smith co-founded the Viola Street Residents Association to rally neighbors together.

Viola Street Residents Association worked with Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to beautify the lots, transforming them from potentially dangerous eyesores to a thriving community space. The beautified lots are now used at least once a week for neighborhood gatherings and events!

  • viola street lots before 2009
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  • viola street lots after 2016
  • viola street lots after picnic 2016
  • viola street lots after playing checkers 2016
  • vsra zoning meeting greenspace

Getting a permit to shut down neighborhood streets takes time and effort. Now neighbors can easily set up meetings and parties in the lot instead!

In the summer, Lorraine’s neighbors and their families use the lots to watch movies under the stars.

Lorraine told the story of this success and teach others how to do it by instructing on building an effective team through leadership and recruitment for a  CPI class on Community Engagement.

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A connector trail between East Parkside & Mantua

Lorraine's passion for parks and green space extends beyond Viola Street!

Through her job as Neighborhood Advisory Committee Coordinator for Mount Vernon Manor CDC in Mantua, she is part of the parternship (which includes the City Planning Commission!) creating the Mantua Greenway.

The Mantua Greenway will be a bike and walking trail between Mantua Avenue and the Amtrak tracks. The designs for the Greenway will be completed in 2019, which is an important step towards building it.  

  • lorraine gomez mantua greenway
    Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Manor CDC
  • greenway renderings
    Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Manor CDC
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    Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Manor CDC
  • mantua greenway map from phila2035
  • lorraine gomez yoga saturday s on mantua greenway

The trail will meet up with other trails in the region. In other words, the trail is a connector just like Lorraine!

If you're going to have a trail, you need bikes!

Once the Mantua Greenway is constructed, neighbors will already have a way to hit the trail on a bike!

A station of Indego Bikes, the City's bikeshare program, was installed in East Parkside in 2016. Lorraine helped neighbors learn how to use the bikes and get comfortable with them. 

  • lorraine gomez indego adult bike ride in east parkside
  • lorraine gomez indego new e bike launch
  • vsra fresh food fest indego

First comes the Residents Association, then comes the CDC

When Lorraine and other VSRA members realized they had reached the limits of what they could accomplish without funding, they began to dream bigger.

In 2015 Lorraine helped found the Centennial Parkside Community Development Corporation (CDC) along with Citizen Planner Joyce Smith, and 8 other neighborhood advocates. Lorraine is a trustee on the Board of Directors. 

  • centennial parkside cdc
  • leitia house 2016 catalina jaramillo planphilly 350 263 s
  • lorraine gomez centennial parkside cdc jazz and harvest party

Centennial Parkside CDC hit the ground running! They have:

  • Rehabbed the historic Letitia House as their office space
  • Brought new swinging benches and landscaping (and a new job!) to Fairmount Park along Parkside Avenue (working with Fairmount Park Conservancy, Knight and William Penn Foundations)
  • Started the Parkside Fresh Food Fest with Reading Terminal Market
  • Been selected as co-developers for the Schuylkill Yards project

Feeding and employing neighbors

Since graduating from CPI, Lorraine has set up a VSRA food buying club in partnership with local farms. For $50, residents can buy into the club to receive fruits and vegetables for 6 weeks. Neighbors who did not manage to sign up also can purchase leftover produce.

  • parkside fresh food fest
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Lorraine helped Centennial Parkside CDC hire a neighborhood ambassador for East Parkside (funded by the Knight Foundation). The neighborhood ambassador cleans the streets and reporting issues to 3-1-1.

They also make sure that properties aren’t being used illegally, meaning in ways that their zoning does not allow.

“In some of our communities,” Lorraine said, “we have these detail and car wash places, tire change places—they want to house hundreds of tires. Next thing you know, you have a dump in your neighborhood.”

The neighborhood ambassador monitors these places to make sure that these places stay compliant with city regulations.

Teaching and learning from other neighborhoods

Lorraine participated in the Citizens Planning Institute Neighborhood Exchange, teaching Strawberry Mansion residents how East Parkside got affordable home repairs for their historic houses, and learning how Strawberry Mansion did their own DIY home repairs.

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And so much more!

Lorraine participated in the Philadelphia2035 public meetings for the West District Plan, attended the Age-Friendly Row Home Summit, and went to the Asian American Festival with Citizen Planner and then-colleague Jenny Chen!

  • lorraine gomez age friendly row home summit
  • lorraine gomez jenny chen the asian american festival 2018
  • lorraine ariel phila2035 west public meeting

Lorraine’s Dream: free home repair for everyone

If money and time were no object, Lorraine wishes she could provide free or affordable home repair for everyone who needs it. 

“People can afford to pay taxes,” she said, “but they can’t afford upkeep.” Lorraine is especially concerned for elderly residents and those who physically cannot do repairs themselves.

She believes that if enough preventative maintenance could take place in these homes, then many homes would never reach such a high rate of disrepair.

Lorraine's parting advice?

I always tell people who live in challenged neighborhoods—stop seeing what you’re seeing and visualize. It all starts with a dream.

  • lorraine gomez headshot
Fall 2016
Neighborhood: east parkside