"This is really a unique time in Philadelphia for public space" — Knight Foundation's Patrick Morgan - Generocity Philly

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Feb. 24, 2016 12:49 pm

“This is really a unique time in Philadelphia for public space” — Knight Foundation’s Patrick Morgan

Philly’s program director offers an update on the “Reimagining the Civic Commons” initiative, which he'll discuss at Friday's PHENND Conference at Philadelphia University.

Patrick Morgan.

(Courtesy photo)

Editor's note: Generocity is serving as a media partner of PHENND's conference.
Now is a good time to live in this city if you’re interested in coexisting with others in the great outdoors.

That’s according to Patrick Morgan, who became the Philadelphia program director of the Knight Foundation in January. He previously served as chief of staff in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Environmental and Community Resources.

As program director, the Philly-area native acts as Knight’s local arm to support and make investments in new ideas and leaders in Philadelphia — “namely, those new ideas and new leaders working to attract and retain talent for the city, advancing economic opportunities for neighborhoods, creating robust environments for civic engagement, and using place as the lever for all three of them,” he said.

Morgan is the keynote speaker at Friday’s PHENND — Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development — Conference, to be held at Philadelphia University. This year’s conference theme is “Green schools, green communities, green campuses.”

One major focus of Morgan’s speech will be the three-year “Reimagining the Civic Commons” initiative, an $11 million investment made by Knight and the William Penn Foundation (and matched by the city) surrounding five civic assets:

  • Development of the Reading Viaduct into a green, public space
  • Construction of Bartram’s Mile Trail, a trail and greenway project, along the lower Schuylkill River
  • Development of the Centennial Commons in West Fairmount Park into a playspace
  • Renovation and expansion of Lovett Memorial Library and Park in Mt. Airy
  • Development of The Discovery Center, an education program in East Fairmount Park

The Bartram’s Mile Trail and Discovery Center projects broke ground last year; the other three will begin this year.

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These physical investments come with investments in nonprofit and public sector leaders, too: Partners involved in the planning of these projects are a part of the Civic Commons network, which offers them leadership and capacity development training, trips to other cities doing similar work and learning exchanges with other leaders.

“We’re trying to extend the ambition and reach of these assets” to create a unified network of parks and public spaces, Morgan said.

The initiative is being piloted in Philadelphia and will soon be launched in other cities. Philly was chosen to be first because of its dedicated investment in civic assets, Morgan said. 

“This is a really unique time in Philadelphia for public space, and the investments that have been made in public spaces,” he said. “If you look at the Greenworks plan, the Green 2015 action plan, William Penn’s public space initiative — there is so much momentum in Philadelphia.”

It helps that there are so many millennials sticking around: “What they expect is high-quality civic space,” he said.

Much of Knight’s work focuses on helping talent “thrive” in Philadelphia. In last year’s Knight Cities Challenge, seven national awards went to residents, the most of any other city. The resulting projects are making Philly “a city where you go for innovation, and that attracts talent,” Morgan said. This year’s winners will be announced this March; several finalists are based in Philly.

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