Craig Totaro, Creating a Campus for Arts and Entertainment

by Linda Dottor — March 2nd, 2015   |   Clients

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What do Brazilian music, weddings, piano lessons, arts festivals, and Zumba classes have in common? They all take place at the Twentieth Century Club in the heart of Lansdowne.

Located on a leafy section of Lansdowne Avenue, the Twentieth Century Club was originally built in 1911 as “a center of thought and action among women.” The Borough of Lansdowne acquired the club in 1979 and the handsome, cream-colored Tudor Revival building has served as a community hub for arts programming and special events ever since.

In 2007, a house on a half-acre of land adjacent to the Twentieth Century Club went up for sale. For Lansdowne Borough, purchasing the property represented a rare opportunity to grow a proven community amenity within densely-developed Lansdowne.

One of the leaders in buying the 20 Lansdowne Court was Craig Totaro, Lansdowne’s Borough Manager and a board member of the Lansdowne Economic Development Corporation (LEDC).

“The borough purchased the building because it was next to an existing building that we already owned, and it really filled out a more sensible campus area. Then we were like, ‘So what do we do now with that?’ It was kind of a backwards thing.”

The borough needed a plan to make the most of the newly-combined properties. Craig first heard about the Community Design Collaborative while working at The Reinvestment Fund, and thought that it was a perfect fit for developing a conceptual master plan for the expanded Twentieth Century Club property. So the Borough applied for a design grant from the Collaborative.

A Chance for People to Be Heard

From the very beginning, Craig was impressed with the Collaborative’s work, especially when it came to interacting with the community.

“I think that the community is always very interested and appreciative of being involved. It’s always a big deal for people to be heard…The Collaborative addressed the community’s input and memorialized it into the document.”

The conceptual design by the Collaborative team focused on site improvements and the reuse of the newly-acquired house and an outbuilding. The plan adds much-needed parking to the site, with porous pavers and plantings to manage stormwater, and relocates the formal lawn and pairs it with a teaching garden and a meadow.

The house, vacant for some time but found to be in remarkably sound condition, will be reconfigured inside to provide new meeting spaces and offices for the Twentieth Century Club. An elevator will be added for accessibility.

“I was amazed about how professional the report and the process were, especially considering it is only conceptual design,” says Craig. “The sketches and cost estimate are just fantastic. I was surprised it was so thorough and detailed.”

Not Just a Crazy Idea

Not content to let the project sit on a shelf, Craig began applying for grants, referencing the report’s valuable background information, renderings, and even using parts word-for-word in applications. It paid off.

“We used it to write a grant and an economic impact study for transforming what is now a community center into an arts and entertainment campus, really raising the profile of it. The report helped us secure a $1 million grant to fund the work,” says Craig. “It allowed me to talk about the feasibility, fiscally and engineering-wise too. With the knowledge of the report in hand it wasn’t just a crazy idea anymore.”

With this grant money, Lansdowne recently sent out a Request for Proposals for the completion of the project, and he hopes that the physical work can start by next spring. Though he knows that construction will pose challenges, Craig is excited about how upcoming work goes beyond basic systems repairs.

“It’s been fun exploring the design work that will turn into something that is very tangible and visible, not just something like a new boiler. And that’s what we’ve had to do over the last couple of decades, new boilers and air conditioning units and heating. Now we get to do the fun stuff.”

Small Businesses, Big Impact

by Linda Dottor — March 2nd, 2015   |   Commercial Corridors

Two refreshed storefronts on Torresdale Avenue. Photo courtesy of Plan Philly's Ashley Hahn

Two refreshed storefronts on Torresdale Avenue. Photo courtesy of Plan Philly’s Ashley Hahn

When I walk down a commercial corridor like Torresdale Avenue in Tacony,” says the Collaborative’s Robin Kohles, “I’m struck by its character–from businesses like Bull’s Eye Darts to the art deco Torresdale Chiropractic Center.”

Robin Kohles recently wrote an op-ed for Plan Philly about how the efforts of small business, community groups, and corridor funding programs make the difference between a dying street and an economic magnet.

She should know! Working closely with the Philadelphia Commerce Department, she has linked over a dozen corridors with pro bono design services from the Collaborative for storefront facades, streetscapes, and special touches that celebrate their history. She also organizes a biannual awards ceremony for great storefront facade renovations and workshops for corridor managers.

Robin gave a shout-out to several of the corridors we’ve worked with who have seen success, including Torresdale Avenue, North 5th Street, and Frankford Avenue’s Frankford Pause.

 

Starting Philly’s New Land Bank

by Linda Dottor — March 2nd, 2015   |   At the Collaborative

A page from the land bank strategic plan explaining how vacancy can develop over time.

A page from the land bank strategic plan explaining how vacancy can develop over time.

The pro bono preliminary design work done by the Collaborative is often linked to the reuse of vacant buildings and land. We and the communities we serve share the same goal as Philly’s new land bank—getting vacant property back into productive use.

That’s why we invited John Carpenter, Deputy Executive Director of the Philadelphia Land Bank, and Scott Page, Principal of Interface Studio, to brief our volunteers on the land bank’s first strategic plan.

Putting Vacant Land into Focus
The city has long been bedeviled by a large, scattered inventory of vacant buildings and land—over 32,000 in total. They are spread among several public agencies and thousands of private owners. The Philadelphia Land Bank will bring this chaotic mix of vacant properties back to life in a consistent, strategic, and transparent way.

Over 8,000 vacant properties owned by public agencies will go into the land bank. But there are 24,000 privately owned properties that can also gain a second life through the land bank. That’s the real game-changer. ”The strongest aspect of the land bank is its ability to repurpose privately-owned tax delinquent property,” said Carpenter.

Seven Big-Picture Goals
Interface Studio, Real Estate Strategies, and V. Lamar Associates created the land bank strategic plan for the city. Carpenter and Page reported that the team met with over 80 agencies and interest groups ranging from realtors associations to community development corporations prior to writing the plan. They mapped vacancy and tax delinquency, market trends, and demographics. They drilled down further to scan sample blocks to illustrate common patterns in the size, configuration, real estate markets, and neighborhood conditions of Philadelphia’s vacant land.

Their legwork led to seven big-picture goals for the reuse the vacant properties. These range from finding the sweet spot for affordable housing to promote equitable communities, making community gardens and urban agriculture a permanent part of the city, and supporting retail reinvestment on neighborhood commercial corridors. See the plan for all seven goals, plus implementation details like decision trees for deciding the future of different types of vacant land and proposed land disposition policies.

Scott Page and John Carpenter presented the plan to Collaborative volunteers in February 2015.

Scott Page and John Carpenter presented the plan to Collaborative volunteers in February 2015.

Rolling out the Land Bank
 “2014 was dedicated to planning for the land bank. 2015 will be the year of design and implementation,” said Carpenter. What’s the biggest challenge for Philly’s new land bank? “Big expectations.”

In its first year, the land bank will acquire only a modest number of properties—roughly 300—and focus on testing its decision-making process and policies. “This will be dynamic plan,” Carpenter said. “It will change annually… Over time, we want the scale of the land bank to match scale of the vacant land inventory in Philly.”

“Don’t do it!”
Speaking informally to a room full of design consultants, John and Scott riffed a bit on the client/consultant experience. The many, many meetings, the effort that went into stitching together data from different sources, the fight to find patterns and present the bigger picture.

But one of their most striking discoveries came at the beginning of the process: other cities with land banks aren’t doing strategic plans. Scott Page started the project by calling cities with established land banks to get copies of their strategic plans. But there were no plans to share. One actually advised, “Don’t do it!”

“They were wrong,” said Page, “There was a lot of value, a lot of learning that came out of putting this plan together.” Carpenter added, “It was a learning experience for everyone on many sides of the conversation.”

Engineering a Greener City: Collaborative Volunteer Dan Meier

by Linda Dottor — February 2nd, 2015   |   Volunteers

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“You cringe… there’s not an inch of green!, “ says civil engineer Dan Meier about some of the schoolyards he’s seen as a Collaborative volunteer, “ It’s just this big paved thing. It’s a school in a parking lot. The kids don’t have access to a lot of green space as it is, and then they head to school and they’ve got nothing.”

“I would love to think Mayor Nutter’s dream of making this the greenest city in the country becomes a reality,” he adds.

Dan is a civil engineer with over thirty years of experience in environmental engineering, specializes in stormwater management at Duffield Associates. He sees his involvement with the Community Design Collaborative as a step in the right direction.

When working on a Collaborative project, Dan is involved the entire way through. He gives advice on city regulations, costs, and how to best integrate stormwater management into a design. Since he started volunteering with the Collaborative in 2011, he has participated in everything from projects, design charrettes, and our Soak It Up! design competition.

Making Plans for Meredith
One of Dan’s most memorable projects was with Meredith Elementary School, which plans to transform its uninviting asphalt schoolyard into a green schoolyard.

To start, like any Collaborative project, community input was given by parents, faculty and students. Dan thinks this involvement by everyone using the space is vital, but a long-term perspective is important too. “For something like a school… one year of kids and parents are going to set this trend. You develop the design that this group wanted that is going to end up being there for twenty years, so it’s important for the faculty to be involved too.”

At the meeting with parents, faculty, and students, “We talked about safety and entertainment, and what was going to keep being fun, so they didn’t play with it for a couple days and then be burned out on it.”

Kickball Rules!
What was the hardest part when formulating the design? Not input from the parents or faculty, but kickball! “There was a ferocious kickball league going on every day, and so we were trying to balance keeping this paved area for the [kickball players], versus creating these greener play spaces for the younger kids.”

Dan and the Collaborative’s volunteer design team came up with a design to green the schoolyard without interfering with the sacred kickball or basketball games. A generous area of paving is preserved in the conceptual plan—and kickballers will be playing near a beautiful bioswale and tagging bases made of painted pervious concrete.

Dan’s favorite part of the project? The overall amount of stormwater that will be managed through greening. “Stormwater always comes into play for these projects.”

Dan is currently volunteering with us to help North Light Community Center in Manayunk green its playground and parking lot.

Welcome Ethan Blades

by Linda Dottor — February 2nd, 2015   |   At the Collaborative

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Please welcome Ethan Blades to the Community Design Collaborative! Ethan joined the Collaborative this month as resource development manager. Ethan brings a strong commitment to the nonprofit world with him, as well as an appreciation for entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation.

Before coming to the Collaborative, Ethan served as a case manager and senior development associate for ActionAIDS, which works in partnership with people living with HIV/AIDS to sustain and enhance their quality of life. He got his introduction to nonprofits there, counseling HIV-positive people from ActionAIDS’ field office in North Philadelphia.

“In my senior year at Skidmore College, I took a course about HIV and AIDS from an American Studies perspective… how the community responded in the ‘80s and ACT UP’s role in establishing good service. It was fascinating, something I hadn’t thought about before,” Ethan says. “When I was looking for my first job, I applied for a case manager position at ActionAIDS It turned out to be a really amazing experience that gave me a new understanding of people, system, and city.”

Ethan’s primary goal was to help people live with HIV in the most positive way. “I had to meet them where they were,” whether that meant setting up an intricate system of medical services or getting a client to see a doctor for the first time. After four years as a case manager, Ethan became Senior Development Association at ActionAIDS, managing key fundraising events like Dining Out for Life and donor relations, website, and social media.

In his off hours, Ethan became closely involved with marketing and communications for two small businesses. He has helped sister Jessa develop the branding and website for Blades Natural Beauty, an online natural beauty products store. He is also involved with Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, which offers tastings of small batch distilled spirits in a showroom of carefully curated local products like perfume, clothing and jewelry. “It puts me in touch with makers, it has a very hyperlocal focus… it’s a great way to meet new people, be part of a new industry.”

Ethan grew up in Chestnut Hill. After graduating from college, he chose to return to Philly. Living in Center City feels entirely fresh, he says, “a new place to explore.” Along with long city walks with his black lab, Ethan loves to try out new Philly restaurants. Recent favorites are High Street, Lolita, and Juniper Commons.

When you meet Ethan, recommend your favorite restaurant. And look out for him as he rolls out his first fundraiser for the Collaborative—Leverage 2015!

The Science of PLAY: Inspiring Ideas for Designing Play Spaces

by Linda Dottor — January 20th, 2015   |   Play Space

A good play space allows kids to take these small steps: climbing a little higher, moving a little faster, getting a little closer to something that could be dangerous like a ledge or a fire pit… or disappearing from view and hiding.

A good play space allows kids to take small steps: climbing a little higher, moving a little faster, getting a little closer to something that could be dangerous like a ledge or a fire pit… or disappearing from view.

How can designers, educators, and parents join forces to create enriching play spaces that build strong communities, and allow children to thrive and grow in an urban environment?

Last week, the Collaborative kicked off an inquiry into the design of play space for Philadelphia with a presentation by Susan G. Solomon on her new book, The Science of Play: How to Build Playgrounds That Enhance Children’s Development.

“This book was born out of frustration,” Solomon began. “We say, ‘let the kids play’ but we’re not giving enough information to the patrons and designers of playgrounds to make that happen.” Instead, she said, most new playgrounds are built on the “KFC” model – kit, fence, and carpet. Often, Solomon added, play equipment is placed so low that it encourages parents to interfere, robbing children of the chance to collaborate and change the environment.

Solomon traveled to Europe and Asia to find alternatives to the constraining play spaces she regularly sees in the U.S. She also showed examples of American play spaces that have pushed past the formula.

Scary Stats Hide a Safer Reality: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports 200,000 injuries to children on public playgrounds each year. But only four percent require hospitalization, and the statistics cover everyone from fourteen months to twenty-one years.

Scary Stats Hide a Safer Reality: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports 200,000 injuries to children on public playgrounds each year. But only four percent require hospitalization, and the statistics cover everyone from fourteen months to twenty-one years.


Risk-taking isn’t reckless
The uninspiring play spaces in the U.S. are the result of fear over playground injuries (and liability). But it’s not like this everywhere. Solomon shared examples of play spaces in The Netherlands, Spain, and Japan that are places of risk-taking and discovery. What’s more, many of them are open 24/7, effectively making them community spaces as well.

“Kids need to take risks”, said Solomon. To develop cognitively, “they need to fail, succeed after trying, and keep many things in their head at one time.”

But risk-taking doesn’t mean being reckless, Solomon points out. “Children are born with innate fears, and risks help them take small steps to overcome them, to move beyond their comfort zone.”

A good play space allows kids to take these small steps: climbing a little higher, moving a little faster, getting a little closer to something that could be dangerous like a ledge or a fire pit… or disappearing from view and hiding.

Sling Swings: Even standard play equipment can be a source of adventurous, improvisational play. A cluster of bucket swings placed at different heights in Amsterdam become a place to swing and climb.

Sling Swings: Even standard play equipment can be a source of adventurous, improvisational play. A cluster of bucket swings placed at different heights in Amsterdam become a place to swing and climb.

A knitted climbing structures in Japan and Italy made it on Solomon’s “best-of” list for 2014. Watch kids at play form the "knitted wonder space" in Rome.

Knitted climbing structures in Japan and Italy made it on Solomon’s “best-of” list for 2014. Watch kids at play in Rome’s “knitted wonder space.”


“As safe as they need to be”
Will these new models for play spaces presented by Solomon in her book penetrate the US? Solomon reports that the United Kingdom, which closely resembled current US attitudes about play spaces just a decade ago, has “done a U-turn away from an ultra-safety stance.” The UK’s current policy is “playgrounds should be as safe as they need to be, not as safe as they can be.”

“Being aware of what’s happening elsewhere” is an important start.

Meg Wise of Smith Memorial Playground, Susan G. Solomon, Sharon Easterling of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC)  and Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop with Collaborative board member Paul Vernon of KSK.

Meg Wise of Smith Memorial Playground, Susan G. Solomon, Sharon Easterling of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC) and Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop with Collaborative board member Paul Vernon of KSK.


Panelists on Play
Local leaders in play, early childhood education, and participatory design joined Susan for a quick exchange after her talk. Moderator Paul Vernon posed the question, “The fear of liability is a big constraint in designing play spaces. How can we overcome that?”

Maybe that day is not so far away, said Meg Wise, who led a recent redesign of the Smith Memorial Playground. Adventure playgrounds are the future… There are place in the US where true adventure play is happening.”

Sharon Easterling of DVAEYC saw a strong link between child development and quality play space. “Most of our kids are being raised [in part] outside the home. How do young children learn? Do they learn because we tell them things or because they get to discover?”

Alex Gilliam of The Public Workshop cited a particularly adventurous play space in Berlin. “Some of the safest playgrounds in the world may be the most dangerous.” He added that having a code of behavior in place helps to build a culture of responsibility. Sharon Easterling agreed, “It’s not always a safety problem, but a supervision problem.”

Six New Design Grants

by Linda Dottor — January 5th, 2015   |   Design Grants

Design consultations will support storefront facade improvements on the Wyoming Avenue Commercial Corridor.

Design consultations will support storefront facade improvements on the Wyoming Avenue Commercial Corridor.

The Community Design Collaborative is proud to announce six new Design Grants supporting schoolyard greening, commercial corridor revitalization, and community-based health and human services.

The Collaborative’s Design Grants program offers grants of preliminary architecture and landscape architecture services to up to 30 nonprofit organizations in greater Philadelphia each year. Design Grants respond to the unique needs of each nonprofit grantee by preparing a customized scope of preliminary design services and assembling a team of volunteer design professionals. Grants provide between $15,000 and $35,000 in donated preliminary design services.

Two public elementary schools in North Philadelphia will receive conceptual design services for schoolyard greening: Blaine Academics Plus, in partnership with the Philadelphia School Partnership, and Dr. Tanner G. Duckrey School, in partnership with Community Ventures.

Tioga United will also receive preliminary design services to evaluate community and economic development opportunities on North 17th Street between Venango and Ontario Streets.

The Collaborative will conduct a programming and site feasibility study for expansion to The Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation, which provides medical, social and educational services for Korean immigrants and others at its Old York Road facility in Oak Lane.

Finally, two Philadelphia community development corporations will receive pro bono preliminary design services through the Collaborative’s rStore program. rStore provides design consultations to store owners who are planning storefront façade improvements and preparing grant applications. The goal of rStore is to spur multiple façade improvement projects within one neighborhood commercial corridor.

rStore will assist Nueva Esperanza Housing and Economic Development and store owners on the Wyoming Avenue Commercial Corridor in Upper North Philadelphia and Wynnefield Overbrook Revitalization Corporation and store owners on the 54th Street Commercial Corridor in West Philadelphia.

Apply for a Design Grant
Do you know a community development corporation or community-based organization that is seeking early design assistance and help engaging their community in improvements to their facility or neighborhood? The Collaborative’s Design Grant program can help!

Our easy, informative application process includes an application form, an interview, and a site visit. The Collaborative reviews applications on a rolling basis and selects Design Grant recipients four times each year.