Saturday, June 22, 2024



How Philly’s 4 Emerging City Champions are reimagining public space for social change

8 80 Cities 2018 Studio in Toronto. August 7, 2018 Category: FeaturedLongPeople
Can $5,000 transform public space to increase mobility and civic engagement?

This May, Knight Foundation and 8 80 Cities, the national urban accessibility nonprofit with a mantra that “if everything we do in our cities is great for an 8 year old and an 80 year old, then it will be great for all people,” announced the 20 young leaders who made it into their 2018 Emerging City Champions fellowship program.

Each fellow is receiving $5,000 to execute a project that aims to improve public spaces, transportation and civic engagement in their communities over the next year.

Four 2018 champs hail from Philadelphia. We asked each one what they have planned for their fellowship; here’s what they said. (Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

Dena Ferrara Driscoll — South Street Action Tank

Co-chair of 5th Square, an urbanist political action committee

Dena Ferrara Driscoll.

What is the problem you are trying to solve during your Emerging City Champions fellowship?

Working toward an equitable and resilient Philadelphia isn’t easy. We understand to promote good planning, better transportation, and good governance through an urbanist lens we must develop the leadership of individual advocates and build coalitions with other organizations within diverse communities working toward the same goals.

From our Partners

People across the city want to engage on these issues. We shouldn’t talk about housing or development only after a proposal is made or about safer streets only after some dies. We need to be collectively thinking of ways to improve our city before those moments.

How will the fellowship funding be used?

We are in the process of developing a temporary storefront to serve as an “action tank” to explore persistent challenges Philadelphia faces, and build relationships with allies.

The storefront on South Street will be a public space that allows visitors a place to incubate ideas, talk through problems, and emerge as advocates for issues they care about. We’re not selling a product but focusing on research, public engagement, education and advocacy around issues like safer streets for walking and biking, improving public transportation, and changing the conversation on planning and housing.

What is your goal? Short- and long-term?

Having “eyes on the streets” has long been a mainstay of the urbanist toolkit, an idea that aids in a vibrant street culture and neighborhood safety. However, as our city continues to change and grow our hypothetical “stoops,” as urbanists, we must grow, too. We need public spaces to bring people together from across the city, across the political spectrum, and across races/cultures to develop realistic solutions to grow a vibrant city that works for us all. Short-term, we hope to:

  • Provide a forum for urbanist conversations in Philadelphia.
  • Promote civic engagement through open access to urban research and information; any good advocate needs the tools to better address issues. Folks may spend five minutes or five hours at the space but they will leave feeling ready to advocate for issues important to them.

Long-term, we hope this will:

  • Open the conversation about a permanent urban “action tank”; that would work to hold the city accountable on issues about walking and biking, public transportation, and planning and housing and help spur change.

 How do you plan to extend the work you’re doing over the next year beyond the fellowship?

We hope this seed funding will provide us the roots to build a permanent action center after we test the concept.

Hanae Mason — Lovett Park

Community program manager for Mt. Airy USA, a community development corporation that aims to better the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood

Hanae Mason.

What is the problem you are trying to solve during your Emerging City Champions fellowship?

Can public space be a conduit for greater community cohesion and integration? The Lovett Park Project is about using community-generated programming to deepen the bonds amongst residents, the spaces they share, and each other.

How will the fellowship funding be used?

Fellowship funding will be used to produce a series of public events and meetings, pay stipends for performers and volunteers, and to market and document events/the process.

What is your goal? Short- and long-term?

The short-term goal is to activate an underutilized public space, Lovett Park. The long-term goal is to create a collaborative community culture in Mt. Airy in which everyone has equity and agency to make the changes they want to see in the public and shared spaces of their neighborhood.

 How do you plan to extend the work you’re doing over the next year beyond the fellowship?

The hope is that throughout this year, the creation of committees and other foundational organizing can lead to sustainable and replicable processes that can be applied to other spaces and neighborhoods.

Kyree Holmes — Onyx Valley

Founder of Onyx Valley, a company that specializes in preparing diverse talent for the tech industry

Kyree Holmes.

What is the problem you are trying to solve during your Emerging City Champions fellowship?

Philadelphia has witnessed dramatic growth over just the past few years, including the revitalization of public spaces. These improvements have brought new transplants to the city, but many native Philadelphians are unaware of these improvements. Onyx Valley wants to help make the new Philadelphia a place for both old and new Philadelphians.

How will the fellowship funding be used?

We will be using the 8 80 ECC grant to fund crowdsourcing research to find ways to make public spaces welcoming and accessible to everyone. The first of which is Spruce Street Harbor. After polling the public, Onyx Valley students will prototype the final solution they came up with and present it to the public.

What is your goal? Short- and long-term?

Our short-term goal is to bring more awareness to the new attractions at Penn’s Landing and show people the value of public outdoor space. Our long-term goal is to get more voices and representations from communities in the building of future spaces in neighborhoods with less developed public spaces.

How do you plan to extend the work you’re doing over the next year beyond the fellowship? 

There are lots of other spaces in the city that could benefit from inviting people from all walks of life. We plan to continue to tackle more of these spaces.

Gabriela Sanchez — Theatre en Las Parcelas

Founder of Power Street Theatre Company, a Womyn-of-Color-led, multicultural theatre company that strives to empower, inspire and engage marginalized communities through performing arts and theater

Gabriela Sanchez.

What is the problem you are trying to solve during your Emerging City Champions fellowship?

My art for social change project will be to produce Theatre en Las Parcelas, Power Street Theatre Company’s annual spring and summer program series in partnership with Norris Square Neighborhood Project (NSNP). Set in Las Parcelas, a sacred cultural garden space in the heart of El Barrio, Theatre en Las Parcelas will feature:

  • #NEWWORLDMATRIARCHY: Womyn of Color POWER Slam, centering the voices of womyn and girls of color — preserve our herstories, defend our womynhood and share culture, through art for social change!
  • Comedy Night
  • Open Mic Garden Party: The series will create culturally resonating performances in a garden space in North Philadelphia through celebrating and honoring the intersectionalities of themes like womynhood, while fostering intergenerational dialogues and amplify multi-disciplinary (visual art, theatre, comedy, storytelling, poetry, dance, singing and live music) experiences. All series will explore specific themes and include rain dates.

Growing up in North and West Philly, I never saw theatre — especially not in community gardens. Theatre en Las Parcelas will be an incubator in which to normalize theatre and multidisciplinary art in public spaces in North Philadelphia and beyond.

How will the fellowship funding be used?

The fellowship funding will be used to cover all of the expenses to produce a three-part series, which includes fees for staff (fiscal sponsor, producer, marketing assistant, photographer, stage manager and house manager), local multidisciplinary artists (20 to 24 performers total for the series), master of ceremony, DJ, as well as marketing and production cost (garden rental).

There are many administrative and artistic roles that are critical to make this series an intentional and successful community event. I am seeking more funds and in-kind donations to bring Theatre en Las Parcelas to its full potential.

What is your goal? Short- and long-term?

The primary community audience members PSTC serves are residents of West Kensington and North Philadelphia communities, a geographic region of Philadelphia largely characterized by Latinx cultures, diverse histories of migration and People of Color. Through collaborative outreach with partner organizations, PSTC will target youth, elders, young professionals and families.

Theatre en Las Parcelas addresses public space, mobility and civic engagement by extending a platform for artists and youth from historically marginalized communities to create and excel in performance spaces; offering a pay-what-you-wish model; and building meaningful partnerships with community organizations. Theatre en Las Parcelas will employ an art for social change theme utilizing multi-disciplinary art to portray dynamic, inspirational stories of past, present and future, and in doing so, reclaim cultural empowerment.

I want to redefine who gets to opportunity to produce theatre and enjoy it.

How do you plan to extend the work you’re doing over the next year beyond the fellowship?

Theatre en Las Parcelas will be produced between spring and fall of 2019, allowing stakeholders a full year to fundraise and organize together. Theatre en Las Parcelas will amplify PSTC and NSNP’s organizational history and legacy of social change and impact in the Norris Square neighborhood. It is PSTC’s goal to give back to NSNP and the families it serves by highlighting the meaningful work of NSNP and encouraging community support of the organization.


Norris Square Neighborhood Project

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