Andy Toy is the new policy director at the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC), where he will share best practices with community leaders and advocate for communities on issues like affordable housing.
Toy moves into this role after serving as the community development director at SEAMAAC for more than five years. At SEAMAAC, he was instrumental in multi-million dollar community development and revitalization projects, including Mifflin Square Park, Vendor Village, SoPhiE Food Truck and the 7th Street Commercial Corridor.
Prior to joining SEAMAAC, Toy served as the managing director at the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation for the Eastern Tower Community Center. Toy and others collaborated on development of the Chinatown community center, which is part of the nearly $80 million mixed-use development at 10th and Vine streets called the Crane.
Toy has been working in community development and civic engagement in Philadelphia for decades. As he settles into his new position, we checked in with Toy to talk about the experiences that have prepared him for this role and the work he will do now as policy director.
This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.
Generocity: When you reflect on your time at SEAMAAC, what work are you most proud of?
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Andy Toy: I would say that the community development work that we really focused on and got rolling. We did a major planning and implementation project for Mifflin Square Park, where there was no attention being paid before by the city. It was an under-resourced park for many years, and we were able to help by really engaging the community in a deep way and building partnerships.
We started the process by working with a planning firm and the city and other partners to develop a really in-depth plan to look at what was needed at the park and what kind of capital improvements would really make sense. Along with that, there’s a programmatic side, so we’ve always wanted to engage people in the process and also engage people in the park, so that’s how the food truck, SoPhiE, came about. Some of our small construction projects that were early action really helped people see what the park could be.
Generocity: How has the work you’ve done with SEAMAAC prepared you for your new role at PACDC?
Toy: It basically was the hands-on work of a CDC that we’ve been doing, in addition to all the other work that SEAMAAC does. PACDC represents all kinds of CDCs so everything from organizations that do a lot of housing, but also organizations that do arts and culture or use the commercial corridor as their main focus. SEAMAAC fits pretty well into that structure, as well. It is a member of the PACDC, actually. My previous work prepared me for what I’m doing now, as well.
Generocity: In this new role, what policy areas do you plan to focus on?
Toy: Because we are a member organization, a lot of it is up to the membership. I know affordable housing is and continues to be a major focus of the organization, and the commercial corridors are a lot of the work, as well. We did a lot of that at SEAMAAC, as well.
"We want to make sure we elevate equity as important to the overall framework of whatever work we are doing."
Those are two of the major focuses of the community development world, as well as the broader issue of equity and inclusion, as neighborhoods are very diverse places. Many of them are low-income. Most of them are places where people of color are the majority, as well. We want to make sure we elevate equity as important to the overall framework of whatever work we are doing.
Generocity: How has your work in Chinatown impacted you as a development professional?
Toy: Sometimes we’re not in agreement with what the powers that be, or the city might want to do, for example, putting a stadium in Chinatown. We’re not always going to be in agreement and we’re going to have to fight for what we think is right and figure out strategies.
Also, in the work that I did raising money and working on the community center project, I learned it’s also about building infrastructure, like how do you raise a lot of money from the beginning from the ground up? There was no community center, no place for kids to really play for many years, and the city wasn’t about to build that, so it became a project for the community to do. Sometimes you have to take the project into your own hands.
Generocity: What transferable lessons have you learned from the Philadelphia Commercial Corridor Redevelopment Initiative that you worked on as a program officer with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)?
Toy: The overall lesson is that we learn from each other. Always be looking around. Find out what other people are doing and what’s working, and basically try to imitate those and use those in your corridor and don’t be afraid to try new things. Find ways to keep business involved, and the first part of that is making sure you have a trusted relationship with the businesses.
People respond to what they see, so if you can demonstrate success early on, it’s really important because people trust that you’re doing the right thing.
Generocity: Why are community relationships important in your work?
Toy: I think it’s at the heart of everything. You can’t say you represent the voice of the community if you’re not really reaching the community. It’s a challenging process sometimes because communities are not monolithic. Different people have different viewpoints. There are different ethnicities and languages.
"You can’t say you represent the voice of the community if you’re not really reaching the community."
It’s really important to reach people where they are. Sometimes you have to go out on a Saturday or a Sunday to meet people. You have to make sure you have the language. You have to meet them where they go. People have busy lives, so you have to figure out ways to make them feel like they can participate.
So that’s part of the planning process, and part of my role at PACDC will be to help people utilize best practices and find the resources that they need to be successful.-30-
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