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Since the 2015 launch of Reimagining the Civic Commons, Philadelphia has embarked on historic investments in its public spaces, allotting hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for its parks, libraries, and recreation centers through the Rebuild initiative. Focusing on three neighborhoods bordering multiple Rebuild sites, Philadelphia Civic Commons has a unique opportunity to deepen civic engagement with on-the-ground city staff and neighborhood partners. Here we see the greatest promise to influence and inform neighborhood revitalization efforts, public investment and where civic spaces can be the common ground in diverse neighborhoods.
Philadelphia Civic Commons will focus on connecting and collaborating with three neighborhoods: Strawberry Mansion, East Parkside and Southwest Philadelphia. Each neighborhood shares several commonalities, including historic disinvestment, growing development pressures, missing or crumbling public infrastructure, and challenges around environmental justice and civic space access. All are near critical watershed and riverfront systems, upcoming Rebuild investments and downtown Philadelphia. The partners in these communities have demonstrated a willingness to learn, collaborate and innovate around locally-led public space projects through the Reimagining the Civic Commons pilot.
Together, Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation will test elements of both organizations’ recently completed strategic plans. The Reimagining the Civic Commons work inspired Philadelphia Parks & Recreation to think about engagement in new ways, shifting as a City department from transactional interactions with residents to more transformational community impact. Philadelphia Civic Commons will support Philadelphia Parks & Recreation to test a new way of working in these three neighborhoods—going from a bureaucratic model of staffing a building to a community service area model based on research and understanding community needs.
Fairmount Park Conservancy will continue its work to fill in the gaps between what the City can do and what our parks and communities need. The Conservancy will build upon its community engagement efforts in East and West Fairmount Park, working with the neighborhood CDCs to reimagine the park as a campus for the community by developing a multi-modal accessibility strategy, expanding activation efforts, improving city connections and building an informed and active coalition of partners.
Down river from East and West Fairmount Park, Bartram’s Garden has become a community anchor for the neighborhood. A committed participant in the Commons pilot, Bartram’s Garden will be empowered through Philadelphia Civic Commons to expand its role as a supporter of nearby schools and public spaces, connect and collaborate with newly resourced and trained City staff, and continue building community-led coalitions as drivers of resident change and resiliency.