By Willa Granger
This past July, SCRUB, the Public Voice for Public Space, partnered with Philadelphia Futures to create a three-week summer academic program for local high school students. Philadelphia Futures is a city-wide college success program that seeks to prepare low-income students for college. Through personalized college guidance, financial programs, and supplemental academic courses, Philadelphia Futures has helped 98% of its student body enroll in college. The intensive class, which culminated in a final research paper and PowerPoint competition, was taught by Sam Quinney, a Villanova grad who began his career in education through Teach for America.
The curriculum, which Quinney developed in concert with SCRUB, asked students to tackle pressing urban issues—those of blight and renewal. Wrangling with this question of urban change, a subject that is often nebulous and subjective, participants were forced to look at their own communities with a more acute eye. The final project, which required students to propose a plan to revitalize a space, challenged kids to analyze and scrutinize their environments; to understand which places they liked, which they disliked, and why—tough questions for any city resident, let alone a high school student. Through class discussion, field trips, and lectures by guest speakers, the class learned about important urban issues—from redlining, to zoning laws, to sustainable design—and how they, as residents, can better their own communities.
The lineup of guest speakers, arranged by SCRUB, helped to flesh out the content of the curriculum for the class. Within the first week alone, Kellie Patrick Gates, a reporter for PlanPhilly, gave students a tour of the recently renovated Race Street Pier. Professor Amy Hillier, at the University of Pennsylvania, enlivened the class with her discussion of historical housing practices as well as her current research into the content of corner store signage. Mary Tracy, Executive Director at SCRUB, along with Bonita Cummings, of the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, spoke to the power of passionate, community-based efforts to promote change, while a visit to the New Kensington Community Development Corporation served to exemplify the tangible results of a local non-profit. By week two, the discussion transitioned from current urban issues to how students might effect change. SCRUB Staff Attorney, Stephanie Kindt, spoke of the legal process and zoning issues an individual must face when attempting to alter the urban landscape, while Robin Kohles, from the Community Design Collaborative, hosted an interactive discussion about design and its impact on our space.
After several days dedicated to editing and finalizing their work, students presented their refashioned spaces to a panel of judges. The final ceremony was held the next day, Friday July 29th at the Philadelphia Bar Association, during which the students with the top three projects presented their work for a prize. In front of their peers, family, and friends, Patrick Reddick, Brianna Zepp, and Tiana Blackson presented their work. The projects, which ranged from a plan for a local library, to a proposed recreation center, to a strategy to clean up a historical cemetery, were marked by each student’s sense of ownership and pride over their space. The panel of judges, after a long period of deliberation, awarded Zepp first place for her proposed recreation center to be built in Juniata. Zepp’s project was standout not only for its vision, but likewise for the breadth of its program, which in addition to providing some history of her space, likewise proposed a thoughtful plan to actually carry out the program. In following with the course’s academic thrust, SCRUB awarded Zepp a Nook to help further her studies. The program, which was in its inaugural run, equipped students with not only necessary academic skills, but likewise with the foundational knowledge to act as future city leaders. SCRUB hopes to continue its relationship with Philadelphia Futures as well as to further its educational outreach throughout the city.
For more information please visit www.publicvoiceforpublicspace.org or call SCRUB at 215-731-1775.