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North Philly Peace Park is crowdfunding to build a school

North Philly Peace Park's new location at 22nd and Jefferson streets. November 22, 2016 Category: FeatureFeaturedFundingMedium
The idea of ethical redevelopment, to many, is still just an idea.

That was discussed in last month’s panel on the topic where people like Little Giant Creative’s Tayyib Smith said it’s “still a question mark yet to be answered anywhere in the country.” 

And Maya Thomas, a recent University of Pennsylvania graduate in historical preservation, more or less echoes this sentiment. She said too many developers “have no idea what it looks like.”

But she, along with Libby Bland and Kat Engleman, both currently grad students at Penn, are working with the North Philly Peace Park to design and build the second part to a two-phase plan that involves the “human-centered design” Thomas feels ethical redevelopment is all about.

It’s called the Sala Nkrumah Institute for Creative Labor, a space that will host free after-school enrichment programs and a STEM-based curriculum on cooking, gardening, entrepreneurship and product development for children and adults in the Sharswood and North Philadelphia neighborhoods. Thomas and the NPPP started an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign early this month for the school building.

"What design influence can we bring that is culturally significant so that people can take ownership of the architecture and the space in that neighborhood?"
Maya Thomas

With the first landscape designing phase completed this past summer — the rebuilding of the park at 22nd and Jefferson after being forced out of its original location by the Philadelphia Housing Authority — Thomas and her colleagues continue to ask themselves the important question:

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“What design influence can we bring that is culturally significant so that people can take ownership of the architecture and the space in that neighborhood?”

A major influence has been from Diébédo Francis Kéré, a West Africa-born architect who took the training he received in Germany back to his hometown in Gando to build a primary school back in 2001. The idea of taking education and resources you couldn’t find in that initial neighborhood and bringing it back to help was inspiring for Thomas, who said working with NPPP has been her first big project after graduating in May.

“I needed to find my own way of how I could really help and be impactful with this education I’m receiving,” she said.

Recalling that “human-centered design” mission, the team has been dedicated to including community members in the design process by getting their feedback and input through a number of meetings where they would show pictures and discuss what might work best.

The visual representation of the Sala Nkrumah Institute for Creative Labor

(Photo by Albert Hong)

Even when the school does get built, it doesn’t end there — Thomas and the team want to make sure NPPP will be able to hold onto their current location for good this time, as well as helping replicate the entire process in other neighborhoods throughout the city.

Pili X, the director of community partnerships for NPPP, said that he met a volunteer at a recent harvest party who is currently trying to set up a peace park in his own neighborhood at 23rd and Somerset streets, which sounds a lot like NPPP co-founder Tommy Joshua’s Peace Town plan in action.

But what if the ambitious $20,000 crowdfunding goal isn’t met? (It’s something the Media Mobilizing Project learned from earlier this year.)

Both Thomas and Pili believe they’ll be able to meet it in time for next spring, but even without it, Pili said they’ll find other ways to finance, like selling what they’ve grown in their upcoming farmer’s market or hosting Earthship workshops. His role as director of community partnerships has even led him to a collaboration with Riot Alliance, a handmade jewelry maker that will donate 10 percent of its proceeds made between November and January to NPPP’s efforts.

If worst comes to worst and they don’t have a building ready, Pili says they’re still prepared to go ahead with the curriculum sometime in March or April.

“The children in the neighborhood, in Philadelphia still need the program,” he said. “The families still need the program.”

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