Last week I traveled to Philadelphia to participate in a community forum on Arts & Parks sponsored by the Fairmount Park Conservancy, who recently received a “Community Development Investment” grant from ArtPlace America. Mayor Nutter provided opening remarks about the value of parks in the city followed by a panel comprised of Carol Coletta from the Knight Foundation, Jamie Bennett from ArtPlace America, local artist Lily Yeh and me. The discussion explored how non-arts organizations can make arts central to their operations, how art can become a valuable tool for community engagement and the need to think about equity and inclusivity early when building great civic spaces. It was a privilege to participate in this thought-provoking public program.
A wonderful example of this intersection between arts and parks was a new space at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Train Station called the “Porch.” Funded through a 2012 ArtPlace America grant, this intervention transformed a neglected and barren parking lot into a delightful and welcoming spot for weary travelers arriving to the nation’s second busiest train station. Following what Project for Public Spaces would call a “lighter, quicker, cheaper” approach, this new civic space features planters, chairs and tables creating a series of approachable outdoor rooms. The organization behind this successful work – the University City District – recently added a series of swings providing a wonderful whimsy and joy to this urban space. On the evening I was visiting, I saw a couple canoodling on a double wide swing, a young woman gently rocking while reading a book and an older gentleman channeling a younger self swinging his legs wildly into the air.
As we move forward with planning our temporary “Anacostia Beach” next summer establishing our own place-making interventions, we can learn much from our colleagues in the city of Brotherly Love. Sometimes a simple Adirondack chair, an outdoor table, small patch of grass – or even a swing set – can establish those lovely little spots that brighten our day and make the city a little more special.