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Lorraine Gomez

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


December 19, 2018


East Parkside


Fall 2016

The most important thing Citizens 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!

Overgrown grass and weeds on a vacant lot.

The Viola Street lots before Lorraine and VSRA cleaned them

Two people playing checkers at a table outside.

Neighbors play checkers in the Viola Street Lots

The lots on Viola Street are now a neighborhood gathering space.

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.

A woman stands in front of a table of people listening to her.

Lorraine shared her success and experience as an instructor for a CPI class on community engagement.

A woman speaks at a podium while holding a microphone.

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 partnership (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.

Top left to right: The memorial garden planted by Ms. Bessie Washington to honor her parents helped inspire the proposed Mantua Greenway. Bottom: Renderings of what the Greenway could look like.

A map of the proposed Mantua Greenway from the Philadelphia2035 West District Plan

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.

Three people set up a table at an outdoor event.

Lorraine brought Indego to Viola Street to talk about using the bikes.

A woman with a helmet is riding a bike in an urban school yard

Lorraine at the Indego adult bike ride in East Parkside

One woman helps another woman with her bike.

Lorraine at the launch of Indego's electronic bikes (e-bikes)

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.

A woman stands outside at night.

Lorraine at the Centennial Parkside CDC Jazz and Harvest Party

A group of people both standing and sitting at a table pose for a picture.

Members of the Centennial Parkside CDC that two citizen planners helped start; Lorraine (2nd from left, back) and Joyce (center)

A historic home sits with its windows shuttered.

Historic Leitia House in Fairmount Park is the future home of the Centennial Parkside CDC

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

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.

A green banner hangs from a tree.
Many plates of shrimp sit on a table.

The launch of the food share program that Lorraine helped set-up through VSRA

Two musicians perform on a stage.

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.

Residents of East Parkside visit Strawberry Mansion during Neighborhood Exchange

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’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 and Elhadji Nyidae from the City's Division of Housing and Community Development at the age-friendly rowhome summit.

Lorraine and fellow Citizen Planner; Jenny Chen at the Asian American Festival

Lorraine and CPI Program Manager, Ariel Dilberto at a public meeting for Philadelphia2035 West District Plan