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Philadelphia: Community Engagement 2.0

Monday, May 22, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Amy Seasholtz
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Reimagining the Civic Commons began in Philadelphia in 2015, as an investment by Knight Foundation and William Penn Foundation in five civic assets and an effort to foster civic engagement, connection between people of different backgrounds and better communities. This work spurred an even bigger investment in neighborhood parks, libraries, recreation centers, playgrounds and other public spaces called Rebuild, which raises $500 million for more than 400 sites throughout the city.

With Rebuild, Philadelphia is doing more than creating great places for people to gather and connect—they’re also reinventing how cities build and maintain meaningful relationships with communities and residents. Working side-by-side with local residents on planning and implementation means increasing numbers of people who act as stewards for the improvements in their own neighborhood. The results of this innovative approach: enduring stewardship, meaningful civic engagement among neighbors and a stronger local democracy.

Mike DiBerardinis, managing director of Rebuild, put it this way in a recent interview with  PlanPhilly:

“We’ll try to engage citizens at that level of a real relationship—it is emotional, it has passion, it has trust, it has expectations. In fostering these relationships, many of them brand-new ones, the administration’s hope is that they’ll inspire residents to think more imaginatively about their public facilities, building trust, and helping forge relationships with the city to realize those aspirations.”

In forming these deep and meaningful relationships with residents as places are transformed, you can begin to see how the outcomes of Reimagining the Civic Commons are more than just placemaking.

The ongoing engagement between community organizations and the city has created cross-organizational teams that continue to evolve as the project continues. According to Parks and Rec Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell, this new model of partnerships has changed the way teams on the ground work on creating better public places that foster neighborhood outcomes:

“The Civic Commons Initiative has helped our thinking around Rebuild, in terms of how we will work with partners, and the whole concept around investing in existing infrastructure.”

As Rebuild moves forward, we’re excited to see the threads of community grow stronger—and to take lessons from Philadelphia on growing investments in the civic commons to nurture local democracy and improve lives.