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A Network of Public Space Innovation

Tonnetta Graham and fellow Learning Network members at the recent Studio in Macon, Georgia. Image credit: Leah Yetter

Across the country, people are transforming local public spaces in ways that create local value, bring diverse people together and promote sustainability. From Macon’s democratized public planning process to Akron’s collaborative strategy of knitting together formerly disinvested and isolated places, cities are approaching their public spaces from unique angles — and learning valuable lessons that could inspire people working on similar challenges elsewhere. Since 2016, the Civic Commons Learning Network has brought practitioners with a wide variety of expertise together to learn from one another and see what’s happening on the ground beyond the boundaries of their hometowns. Attendees at Civic Commons Learning Journeys and Studios tour the host cities, hearing from members of that city’s Civic Commons team and other community members about the impactful work on the ground. They also hear from innovative thought leaders working in related fields, further breaking down disciplinary silos.

Beautifying neighborhoods, creatively Tonnetta Graham, Strawberry Mansion CDC, Philadelphia I love to use the Civic Commons Studios and Learning Journeys to “steal ideas,” and one that I’m happily taking back to Strawberry Mansion is the idea of beautifying neighborhood crosswalks. Many cities in the Civic Commons Learning Network have beautified crosswalks to create a sense of place and encourage engagement, connection and creativity among neighbors. I saw one inspirational example of this at the intersection of Walnut Street and Clayton Street in Macon, Georgia.

Tonnetta Graham, the Amber Art & Design team and a =concept design for 32nd Street and Dauphin Street. The design incorporates feedback to reflect the creativity and magic in the hands of school children and the vibrant spirit of the community. Images courtesy Strawberry Mansion CDC and Amber Art & Design.

Reimagining the Civic Commons has reinforced how important the SMCDC’s partnerships are for achieving our community’s goals. This insight inspired the volunteer workday held in May at the Strawberry Mansion Green Resource Center, a community garden located at a busy intersection that leads into the park. The SMCDC partnered with Fairmount Park Conservancy, Braskem and the Philadelphia Eagles on a clean-up effort that drew 40 volunteers to plant and weed, collect trash and add four new benches to this community garden that has long needed attention and investment. A second phase of the work in October will focus on leveling the garden, creating new garden beds and installing additional benches. Drawing inspiration from travels to sister cities in the Civic Commons Learning Network, the Strawberry Mansion CDC is bringing beauty, safety and a sense of place to the connections between East Fairmount Park and the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.

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