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.”