Schoolyards and parks as a community-building tool in Philly

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    The Knight Foundation has awarded $5 million in grants to community organizations across the country as part of the Knight Cities Challenge.

    Seven of the 32 grants will go to Philadelphia-based groups working on projects, including one aiming to transform a vacant lot into an urban tree nursery. Another intends to create pop-up experiences at city pools, and a third will attempt to reinvent schoolyards throughout the city.

    Carol Coletta, vice president for community and national initiatives at the Knight Foundation, says the program seeks projects that address talent, engagement and opportunity.

    “We’re looking at talent attraction and retention in cities; on opportunity, we’re looking at places that attract people with different incomes to share space together, as well as entrepreneurial opportunity,” she said. “And on engagement, we’re looking at how people can take charge of their community and help it to improve.”

    The Philadelphia projects all have something in common.

    “I think there was a theme in Philadelphia, taking public spaces that today are underused, that are primarily neighborhood spaces, and introducing new uses, new life, new vibrancy to those places,” said Coletta. “I think, not only in hopes they would serve the immediately surrounding neighborhood, but they would attract attention and even investment in those neighborhoods from outside the neighborhood. So watching how those experiments go will be very exciting to Knight.” Anuj Gupta, executive director of Mount Airy USA — one of the recipients of a Knight Cities Challenge Grant — has written on the idea of uniting neighborhoods through the grooming of shared public spaces, especially schoolyards.

    “Groups of people are increasingly separated by income level, race, age,” he notes. “These are some of the true communal gathering spaces that we have. But these spaces can bring communities together across racial spectrums, across income spectrums, across neighborhoods.” 

    He discussed the ideas with WHYY’s Brad Linder.

    On May 4, at the Center for Architecture, the Community Design Collaborative and the Philadelphia Water Department will present their new how-to guide for community groups, called “Transforming Philadelphia’s Schoolyards.”  

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