Ideas for Reactivating Vacant Schools

by Linda Dottor — November 24th, 2014   |   Charrette, Schools


For decades, public schools have anchored Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. They are places where you meet other parents, make lifelong friends, and expect to send your children and grandchildren. So, when the School District of Philadelphia recently closed 30 public schools throughout the city, many felt the loss acutely.

How can vacant schools be reactivated and become part of their neighborhoods again? And what happens to vacant schools that do not find immediate buyers and reuses? On November 14, the Community Design Collaborative, the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Philadelphia, and AIA Philadelphia posed these questions to over 100 design professionals, developers, city agencies, and community members. Read Full Story

Erica Sollberger: Many ways to get involved

by chrism — November 18th, 2014   |   Clients, Volunteers

By Andrew Halt


Erica Sollberger, sitting in the beautiful and newly renovated Twentieth Century Club, laughs when asked about what she does as director of Parks and Recreation for the Borough of Lansdowne. “Sorry I’m laughing, because it’s like everything! Even this morning, I’m still itching from cutting shrubs over at the library.”

Erica assures us that her job is usually not this hands-on, and that most of what she does consists of managing the borough parks, which range from over three acres to little pocket parks. She’s also responsible for events at the 20th Century Club, which is a community center that holds everything from weddings to Zumba classes to Arts and Crafts festivals. Part of her job in managing the parks is making improvements, which is how she first started working with the Community Design Collaborative.

“We Don’t have to Settle for a Port-A-Potty Anymore”

Hoffman Park is the largest and most used park in Lansdowne. When improvements were needed to the park’s Mid-Century Modern pavilions, Lansdowne Parks and Recreation and the local Boys and Girls Club teamed up and enlisted the help of the Collaborative.
Both the organizations and the community are very pleased with the final design. Erica loves how, “It helped them to think outside of their box and look to the outside community and say, ‘Oh look, we don’t have to settle for a Port-A-Potty anymore. We can really think bigger.’ I think it’s a really great part of the process.”


Now, just a year and a half after the Collaborative designs were completed, Erica and her team have received a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant, along with matching funds from the Lansdowne borough. They were able to put out a Request-for-Proposals, choose a consultant, and are currently in the process of conducting group site visits. With the help of their Collaborative road map, Erica and her team are well on their way to revitalizing Hoffman Park and achieving their goals for the space.

A Good Answer for Bainbridge Green

While coordinating this project, Erica, a registered landscape architect, wanted to get even more involved. “Working with the Collaborative volunteers, I was like ‘This is fantastic, I should do this. I should give back.’ After the Hoffman Park project had finished I knew they were looking for another landscape architect for Bainbridge Green, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring.”

As the lead volunteer for the Bainbridge Green project team, Erica worked with Friends of Bainbridge Green and the South Street Headhouse Square Special Services District on a design to add more green space and gathering places for people along Bainbridge Street between 3rd and 5th Street.

Erica enjoyed the challenge of “coordinating all of the desires of the community… people for parking and for no parking… people for seating and those against it.” She notes, “It’s about dealing with competing interests… So often it’s easy to end up with a mediocre answer because you want to make everybody happy. We tried to come up with a good answer.”

Fresh Eyes on Spring Gardens

After finishing up Bainbridge Green with a presentation to the community at a local bar, Erica switched roles again. She’s a member of the steering committee for The Spring Gardens, a community garden in Fairmount. When debates began among gardeners about the future of the space, Erica knew that the Collaborative was the perfect organization to help.

“We have some construction materials that have been amassed over time, like Belgian blocks and metal fountains, but the question is how we use them and what is appropriate for our garden. We haven’t been able to agree… having someone with a fresh eye take a look, someone who hasn’t seen the garden every day for the last ten years, and give us advice is going to be super helpful.”

Erica has now been an implementer, volunteer, and client of the Collaborative. What really stands out to her is how the community is involved in the design process and how smart design helps them think differently about places they see every day.

“Their projects are not just community at the beginning and community at the end, there’s community in the middle.”


Give on #GivingTuesdayPHL to strengthen #Philly neighborhoods through design

by chrism — November 11th, 2014   |   At the Collaborative, Giving, Volunteers

The Community Design Collaborative works all year long to strengthen neighborhoods through design.

Our proven process matches community-minded volunteer design professionals with neighborhood groups that have a vision but need help putting it on paper.

Your support of the Collaborative enables us to keep up this good work—all year long!

Photo of Danielle Parnes, program assistantIn the last year, we’ve hired Danielle Parnes as program assistant, and we tasked her with strengthening and deepening our volunteer engagement. Danielle creates workshops and programs where volunteers can meet each other and hone their community design skills. She also assists with special projects, including design charrettes and stormwater management design services. After hours, you’ll find Danielle enjoying the benefits of Philly’s strong nonprofit network, whether it’s learning how to repair a bike or exploring Philadelphia’s parks and trails.

Giving Tuesday logo

Do you know about Giving Tuesday? Or #GivingTuesday, as it’s known on social media. It’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (and Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday). It falls on December 2 this year.

Giving Tuesday is a nationwide day to encourage people to give back to the community through volunteering and giving money to their favorite nonprofits.

This year, Giving Tuesday falls on a day when our Project Review Committee meets. A key part of the Collaborative’s process is peer review of preliminary designs by this committee.

So this year, for Giving Tuesday, we’re highlighting the fact that our volunteers contribute their time two Tuesdays a month, all year long.

Since 2001, our volunteers have contributed over 79,000 hours of services, valued at more than $7.5 million to communities all across the Philadelphia region.

Please give to the Collaborative so we can keep up this good work two Tuesdays a month, all year long.

Thank you!

Elizabeth K. Miller
Executive Director

Tavis Dockwiller, volunteer landscape architect for the Collaborative

Lou Johnson, volunteer cost estimator for the Collaborative

Nod to Knoxville

by Linda Dottor — November 3rd, 2014   |   At the Collaborative


Mary Holbrook, ETCDC Board President,; Keynote Speaker Beth Miller, Executive Director, Community Design Collaborative; Greg Usry; Honoree David Dewhirst;  and Mary Linda Schwarzbart, ETCDC Interim Executive Director

Mary Holbrook, ETCDC Board President,; Keynote Speaker Beth Miller, Executive Director, Community Design Collaborative; Greg Usry; Honoree David Dewhirst; and Mary Linda Schwarzbart, ETCDC Interim Executive Director

In October, The East Tennessee Community Design Center (ETCDC) invited Beth Miller to be the keynote speaker for its 2014 Awards Celebration. Celebrating over 40 years of community service, our Knoxville, TN counterpart provides pro bono design services to nonprofits in the East Tennessee region.

ETCDC’s method for delivering pro bono design services sounds strikingly similar to the Collaborative’s. Beth Miller explains why. “It was an honor to serve as keynote and celebrate our mutual Philly roots. This community design center was established in 1970 after a visit to Philadelphia’s Architects Workshop, and has been going strong for 44 years! It’s an inspiration and one the oldest centers in the U.S., up there with Baltimore and Pittsburgh.”

Collaborative Honors, City Acceptance for Project Reclaim

by Linda Dottor — November 2nd, 2014   |   Design Grants, Housing, Open Space, Preservation

Project Reclaim offers multiple strategies for revitalizing five blocks: new and renovated housing, green street improvements, and a bigger community garden.

Project Reclaim offers multiple strategies for revitalizing five blocks: new and renovated housing, green street improvements, and a bigger community garden.

Every year, the Collaborative recognizes the volunteer team and client of one pro bono project for excellence in design, collaboration, and community impact with its Community Design Award. This year’s Community Design Award went to Project Reclaim, a block and neighborhood revitalization plan for Viola Street Residents Association (VSRA).

VSRA had already been working to reclaim their historic blocks in East Parkside—establishing a community garden and carefully maintaining their homes. Our plan will take them far further and Viola Street is already getting started.

This summer, Viola Street set the new plan in motion, working with Habitat for Humanity of Philadelphia to restore windows and porches on historic homes and with the Neighborhood Garden Trust to expand their community garden.

In October, Project Reclaim was unanimously accepted by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission as a neighborhood plan—a big step for Viola Street and a first for the Collaborative.

Congratulations to Viola Street Residents Association and the Collaborative volunteer team!

Joyce and Randy Smith of Viola Street Residents Association
Paul Vernon, RA and Joy Mariama Smith of KSK Architects Planners Historians
Dan Chong, AIA
Andrew Dobshinsky, AICP
Brian Johnson
Christine Miller Cruiess
Leah Rominger
Kate Rutledge
Lucious Johnson, CPE of International Consultants, Inc.

Project Reclaim was one of three Community Design Award finalists this year. See 2014 finalists Starfinder Foundation and Friends of the Rail Park.

Philly Facade Fanatics

by Linda Dottor — November 2nd, 2014   |   Commercial Corridors

Hard to pick just one! Valley Green Bank won Best Overall.

Hard to pick just one! Valley Green Bank received our Best Overall award.

At our recent Storefront Challenge awards celebration, The Merchant Fund’s Patricia Blakely likened a new facade to a new dress that “looks good and gets you noticed.” The Collaborative’s Robin Kohles confessed that she’s a storefront fanatic. And Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger sensibly reminded everyone that small businesses are essential to Philadelphia.

The Storefront Challenge was created by the Collaborative and the Commerce Department to praise successful storefront facade improvements in the city and set the stage for more. This year’s challenge attracted 80 nominations and presented awards to 18 store owners and one “Corridor Catalyst.” For the full winners’ gallery, see Next City’s  Before & After Photos: Pretty Philly Storefront Makeovers.

Alexis Stephens of Next City noted the serious business behind these facades, “It wasn’t uncommon to hear the kinds of ooohs found at a successful fashion show… But the mix of people present—CDC staffers, Commerce Department higher-ups, store owners, architects, artisans, and so on, was constant reminder that more was happening here than style.”

Ashley Hahn of Plan Philly caught the spirit of change and revival in the crowd, “a great storefront is a vote of confidence—in a quality business, in a block, in a community.” See Fresh Faced: 2014 Storefront Challenge honors.

Dan Geringer of the Philadelphia Daily News focused on just one facade renovation story, Dumpster Door Inspires Powelton Makeover. And we see a sampling of some of the 15 storefront renovations facilitated by Corridor Catalyst Alex Balloon along Tacony’s Torresdale Avenue Commercial Corridor.

One of the over 100 people at the Storefront Challenge Party? Find your photo on Flicker!

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Welcome Danielle Parnes and Alexa Bosse

by Linda Dottor — October 28th, 2014   |   At the Collaborative

On their minds: How can we design better public and play spaces?

On their minds: New tactics for greening communities and a more playful city.

The Collaborative is pleased to introduce our two newest staff members, Danielle Parnes and Alexa Bosse. Here’s your chance to meet them (if you already haven’t) and hear what they have in mind for greening communities and creating better play spaces in Philadelphia. Read Full Story