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Behind the Design Challenge: Community Task Force Meetings

Joshua Castaño begins Asset Mapping with the Zion Baptist Church community task force.
Imagine… a culinary incubator for “foodie-preneurs,” affordable housing with a day program for seniors, a Night Market showcasing healthy food and live music, a women’s self-defense training center, or a basketball clinic where both kids and adults can raise their game.

These are just some of the ideas that came out of three community task force meetings hosted through Infill Philadelphia’s Sacred Places/Civic Spaces. The goal? To envision community-oriented programs that can co-exist alongside—and actually enhance—the worship spaces, administration offices, and Sunday schools typically found in sacred places.

Big response to a design challenge
Sacred Places/Civic Spaces—a partnership between the Community Design Collaborative and Partners for Sacred Places—was created to get Philadelphians talking to each other about how historic sacred places can support civic engagement, social cohesion, and neighborhood equity.

Historic sacred places are places of beauty, reflection, and community service within Philadelphia’s neighborhoods—but there is space and the capacity to do more. Through Sacred Places/Civic Spaces, the Collaborative and Partners issued a Design Challenge to inspire new ideas and models for growing sacred places as civic spaces. They invited congregations, community groups, and design firms to apply.

Heidi Segall Levy, Director of Design Services for the Community Design Collaborative, says, “We were really excited about the number of sites and designers that responded. Their enthusiasm demonstrates that congregations are open to new approaches—and designers are intrigued by the possibilities.”

Sites and designers were selected, matched as partners, and announced in June 2018. They began work together with in-depth tours of the sites, gathering important information for the next step in the design process.

Asset Mapping
In July, Sacred Places/Civic Spaces brought together leaders and members of the congregations, neighborhood residents, community-based nonprofits, architects and design real estate professionals, and public agencies for community task force meetings. Over fifty people attended each meeting.

The meetings began with a site tour and conditions assessment to give everyone a basic grounding in the sacred places. Then attendees broke into Asset Mapping groups led by Partners for Sacred Places.

Asset Mapping is the engine behind Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). Unlike traditional planning, ABCD focuses on the good things already in place, the gifts and talents of the people in the community, and the stewardship of relationships between them.

Joshua Castaño, Director of Community Engagement Services for Partners for Sacred Places, explains, “Asset Mapping is a group exercise with people from different walks of life and interests. Their common bond is that they each have something to offer—their perspective, enthusiasm, connections, support, curiosity, and creativity. They work together to identify specific strengths and resources within the community.”

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A Sense of Discovery
Asset Mapping encouraged participants to venture beyond the concrete (organizations, institutions, infrastructure, and buildings) to identify their own gifts – of knowledge, skills, and heart – and to tell stories that shed light on each community’s unique history and capacity. 

Assets were called out, written down on post-it notes, and put up on the wall. The second step was to rearrange these assets to reveal new ways they could be connected or combined into a program and project that bore the unique stamp of the community.

As each group shared their ideas, the power of Asset Mapping to foster original thinking was clear. Each group’s proposals for programs and projects reflected a deep sense of place and community. Bob Jaeger, President of Partners for Sacred Places, says, “I love this approach. There’s a sense of discovery. You see people making connections—between each other and the assets their community has in place.”

"Working from the asset mindset has been an essential step in the Design Challenge.” adds Beth Miller, Executive Director for the Community Design Collaborative. “This work will yield ideas and models for sacred places as civic spaces both citywide and nationally.”

“The next step will be for the designers to take these ideas and see how they might work for the spaces each of the sites has to offer. That will shape the first design concepts for transforming these sites into community hubs,” says Heidi Segall Levy, Director of Design for the Community Design Collaborative.

This article is part of an ongoing series sharing the progress of our Sacred Places/Civic Spaces Design Challenge. The final designs will be presented at a public reveal on December 4, 2018.
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