How do you infuse energy and culture into an historic site that’s an island among neighborhoods in the midst of slow revitalization? Here’s how: you make it the next piece of the Schuylkill River trail. And add art. Drexel’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation has garnered the vision for Bartam’s Garden, and is now seeking the funding to bring it to life.
I had the pleasure of editing this intensive 28-page proposal, which spans history, urban planning, and some of the best landscape-based art installations in the world.
You might not know: John Bartam (1699–1777) was a pioneering North American naturalist and devoted Philadelphian. His home and grounds are lovely—well worth a visit the next time you’re headed down 95 past the airport or on a trek into deep Southwest Philly. (Head over in the spring and summer for some dreamy and free kayaking and canoeing on the Schuylkill.)
Last year I wrote a report about an annual gathering of some of the most prestigious names at the forefront of arts and innovation. Americans for the Arts convenes an impressive group each year at Park City’s Sundance Institute (where Robert Redford joins them) for a weekend of sessions of brainstorming and discussion.
Throughout the summit artists, entrepreneurs, and policymakers—many of the talented individuals are all three—presented TEDx-style on initiatives and outreach that are cutting new paths for public art. It was exciting to showcase these new ways to engage audiences around the country.
Highlights from the 2014 event directly addressed the issue of community:
Ben Folds and his manager talked about the viral social media campaign to save an historic RCA Victor recording studio in Nashville—at one time the home to Elvis, Dolly Parton, and the Beach Boys and among the first to record African American artists. Folds’s heartfelt outreach via his 1.5 million followers on Facebook and 840K Twitter following—while he was on tour in Europe—started a wave of support to ultimately #SaveMusicRow from demolishing and development. But it also built a community of activism and preservation in the city and beyond.
ARC took an intensely technical research document, broke it down into digestible pieces, and translated it into a format that a layperson could begin to understand.
The model does not represent the actual flow of products through the supply chain, but rather identifies economic relationships that would minimize the distance that meat must travel from farms to processors—at multiple stages—before it is distributed to wholesale and retail outlets. The report covers a test area of agriculturally significant portions of Greater Philadelphia. The goal of the document was to help TRF identify new objectives for lending and technical assistance that would have a direct impact on how a local industry sources its products.
It was fascinating to become intimately acquainted with the excellent research capacity at TRF and its potential breadth of impact.
LEVERAGE showcases 20 projects that reflect the strong work the Collaborative has done over the past two decades to help neighborhoods and organizations transform themselves in three dimensions, through planning and design services that are entirely pro bono. A series of essays offer national and local perspectives on the impact the organization has made through this good work.
This year I had the pleasure of working with Tom Burns of Urban Ventures Group, Paul Brophy, and the talented folks at NeighborhoodsNow on a unique report. They were making the case to Philadelphia City Council that now’s the time to invest in the city’s “backbone”: its vital neighborhoods—those middle-income areas that don’t always get the attention (or the resources) they deserve. And yet they constitute the city’s tax base, and are filled with devoted residents who choose to stay, send their kids to local schools, and know the people on their block.
It turns out there’s a precedent for smart city planning that, rather than just throwing money at the blight, invests modestly in neighborhoods that are currently stable, but right on the edge of being at risk. This sures up these areas, insulates them from the possibility of deterioration and decay in future decades. Don’t we wish we’d made a small investment years ago that could have helped stabilize the neighborhoods in Philly that now most need our help?
Mayor Nutter spoke at the Girard College event when the report was presented back in March, and on the way there I was struck by that beautiful campus and all that surrounded it. What will the decisions made now, in the wake of the financial crisis, mean for how the city looks in 10, 20, 50 years? This report, which I edited, takes a good hard look. It was an honor to help get the message out.