Mantua: People’s Emergency Center involves local residents in neighborhood planning

By Christine Fisher and Kara Savidge
For PlanPhilly

With the help of a $100,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, People’s Emergency Center has embarked on “Make Your Mark,” a yearlong neighborhood planning process in West Philadelphia. Throughout October, PEC hosted several “Make Your Mark” open house events to gather input from those who will be impacted.

Nasha Taylor stood outside of the Lancaster Avenue venue where the “Make Your Mark” open house events were held.

This current work focuses on the Mantua, Mill Creek and Belmont neighborhoods, and is an extension of the neighborhood planning work PEC did in West Powelton and Saunders Park in 2004. The expansion of the project began in June, when the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation awarded PEC the grant funding.

These open house events mark the beginning of the neighborhood planning process and initial information gathering stage.

Each open house was held in a formerly vacant storefront church at 39th Street and Lancaster Avenue, a space that PEC and Interface Studio, the design studio collaborating on the planning process, revitalized for this project. The space features large neighborhood maps and interactive stations. At each of the open house events, residents were encouraged to “make their mark” by highlighting areas on the maps where they see a need for improvement, writing postcards to future neighborhood residents and more.

“We’re interacting with people a number of ways,” said Paulette Adams, community outreach and planning coordinator at PEC. “People can mark on the map over there where they live, where they work or play or how they’re engaged in the neighborhood.”

In addition to the open houses, PEC volunteers are currently going door to door surveying residents in each of the three communities to find out how they feel about the neighborhood and what they would like to see change. Additional survey teams are looking at the physical and geographic spaces in the three neighborhoods.

Syeeba Stevenson and Andrea Smith, two People’s Emergency Center interns, waited to sign guests in at a “Make Your Mark” open house.

“Our philosophy is that planning is resident driven,” said Scott Page, the founding principal at Interface Studio. “It’s helpful to get the input from the community. We know the neighborhood, but we could never know it as well as the residents do.”

Yashidda Byrd, a lifelong resident of the area, attended one of the open house events and said that while the neighborhood has improved in the past few years, she would still like to see improvements such as fixed sidewalks and closer relationships between neighbors.

“It’s my home, and I don’t think I’m going anywhere [any] time soon, so I [have to] make the best of it,” Byrd said. “This part of the city is really growing again, and it’s good to see that.”

Byrd said she is glad to see the work PEC is planning.

“We need that here,” she said. “A lot of change needs to be done around here.”

Once the initial information gathering stage is complete, PEC along with Interface Studio and community partners will move forward into implementation phases.

“We don’t have any preconceived notions,” Adams said. “We just want to see where everything leads us. Then [we’ll] work together with people who live behind the doors and help them frame what their priorities are, come together and make some real concrete changes and improvements in their neighborhood.”

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