Designed for Visitability: Ways to create a truly inclusive city, one new house at a time.

The Community Design Collaborative, the City of Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development and the Philadelphia Visitability Committee are partnering to focus attention on ways to change Philadelphia into a truly inclusive city, one new house at a time. They will host a design charrette, Visitability for Urban Neighborhoods, on October 22 at the Center for Architecture, 1218 Arch Street, Philadelphia (Public Presentation 4 to 6 pm).

For a home to be “visitable” it must have a zero step entrance; accessible first floor half-bath; and doorways and pathways that can accommodate a wheelchair, according to Bruce Connus, President and CEO of Liberty Housing, Inc.

The day will begin with a keynote on the history and timeliness of the issue by Eleanor Smith, the founder of the visitability movement in the United States. A design charrette will follow, with four teams of architects collaborating with specialists in housing and community development, aging, and health and human services. The design teams will have four and a half hours to come up with workable designs for “visitable” new, single-family homes that can be incorporated into Philadelphia’s rowhouse neighborhoods.  From 4 to 6 p.m., the designs will be presented, followed by discussion by a panel of experts.

“The point of the charrette is to raise awareness about visitability within the design community and to actively engage architects in addressing the issue,” said Elizabeth Miller, Executive Director for the Community Design Collaborative, the “matchmaker” bringing the design community together with the other players.  She said the concept of visitability may be where the idea of sustainability – now a key component of any new building design— was 15 years ago.

“Sustainability has engendered a different approach to architecture, integrating environmental responsibility into designs,” said Miller.  The hope is that considerations of visitability will become equally important. Some communities, including Bolingbrook, Illinois and Atlanta, Georgia, have adopted it as a requirement of new construction. But, she said, nationwide, even many 55-plus communities have failed to incorporate the concept in their building designs. 

As the Baby Boomers age, Susan Klein, Housing Director for Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, predicts increasing demand for visitable homes, but said the need is not limited to the elderly or people with disabilities. “People can be affected by mobility problems throughout their lifetime. If you’re buying a place, you want to know it’s going to be easy for your parents to visit – or to get a stroller in and out of the house.”

Currently, subsidized housing in Philadelphia is required by most funding streams to be visitable, but the same does not apply to market rate housing. Elizabeth Miller said the charrette is aimed at raising awareness of the possibilities.

Philadelphia’s rowhouse neighborhoods will present a challenge, Miller said. In collaboration with the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, an actual site has been chosen to serve as the setting for the exercise.  Considerations will include the physical footprint, the cost of construction and the surrounding neighborhood.

The discussion panel will include Brett Altman, Allied Construction; Cecil Baker, AIA, Cecil Baker + Partners; The Honorable Jannie L. Blackwell, Philadelphia City Council; Bruce Connus, Liberty Housing Development Corporation; Alan Greenberger, City of Philadelphia ;The Honorable Curtis Jones, Jr., Philadelphia City Council; Eleanor Smith, Concrete Change; Lisa Yaffe, Philadelphia Housing Finance Agency with Deborah McColloch, Director of the Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development moderating the discussion.

Available for Interview:

Eleanor Smith, Concrete Change

Elizabeth Miller, Community Design Collaborative

Bruce Connus, Liberty Housing, Inc.

Susan I. Klein, Philadelphia Corporation for Aging

Deborah McColloch, City of Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development.


Community Design Collaborative

The Community Design Collaborative is a community design center that provides pro bono predevelopment design services to nonprofit organizations, offers unique volunteer opportunities for design professionals, and raises awareness about the importance of design in community revitalization.

Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD)

The Office of Housing and Community Development is the City of Philadelphia’s housing policy agency.  It strategically aligns housing and community development resources and programs through effective and innovative policy development, direction and implementation for the benefit of low- and moderate-income residents, supporting affordable housing development, community revitalization projects and foreclosure prevention activities.

Philadelphia Visitability Committee

The Philadelphia Visitability Committee is an ad-hoc coalition formed with participants representing by Liberty Resources, the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC), the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), and the City of Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD). 


Linda Dottor, Program Manager
Community Design Collaborative
1216 Arch Street, First Floor
Philadelphia, PA  19107

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal