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Neighborhood Preservation: Not Just About Real Estate

  • More than just a coloring book: Community heritage projects funded through small grants from the DC Community Heritage Project are yielding big results, and might be a model for Philadelphia.

One of my favorite places in Philadelphia is a brick archway between two houses in East Falls with a narrow driveway of blue-gray glazed bricks that leads to a work yard. When was it built? What was it used for? Each of us has a neighborhood place, whether modest to grand, that we're curious about and want others to appreciate. Philly preservationists are trying to tap into that feeling.

Patsy Fletcher Community Outreach Coordinator for the DC Community Heritage Project,  offers up a good model for getting people to dig deeper into their neighborhood histories and heritage. Fletcher recently visited Philadelphia as keynote speaker for the Preservation Alliance’s A Sense of Place: Preserving Philadelphia Neighborhoods conference.

The DC Community Heritage Project is a program of the Humanities Council of Washington, DC. Since 2005, the DC Community Heritage Project has been offering $2,000 grants to community groups for modest projects like oral histories, neighborhood brochures, and research for historic designations. Each project must be completed within five months, have a scholar participating, and be presented at a public symposium.

“Preservation comes in all forms. It’s not just about real estate,” said Fletcher, “$2,000 can do a lot.” Fletcher showed off the products of the mini-grants, which include community brochures, landmark nominations, a place on the DC Heritage Trail website, even a coloring book. She noted that the skills and knowledge gained through these “entry level” projects have had big results: an increase in grassroots-generated landmark nominations, a new slant in DC tourism, and higher capacity to advocate for historic resources in the face of development pressures and as part of large-scale community planning efforts.

As part of the conference, the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia sponsored the Neighborhood Preservation Project Competition, a pilot program that attracted grant proposals from twelve neighborhoods. Four mini-grants were awarded for preservation projects in Germantown, Kensington, Baltimore Avenue, and Powelton Village.
  • Neighborhood Interfaith Movement: Germantown Speaks, an intergeneration history project exploring Germantown’s 20th century history
  • New Kensington CDC: Delaware River Lost and Found Scavenger Hunt
  • Vineyard Community Church: Baltimore Avenue Venue Menu, a brochure mapping community meeting spaces in Baltimore Avenue churches
  • Powelton Village Civic Association: Powelton Village Sesquicentennial Celebration, seed money for banners designed by local artists


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