July 2012 – Scenic Philadelphia, the Public Voice for Public Space, partnered with Philadelphia Futures to create a three-week summer academic program for local high school students. Philadelphia Futures is a city-wide college success program that seeks to prepare low-income students for college. Through personalized college guidance, financial programs, and supplemental academic courses, Philadelphia Futures has helped 98% of its student body enroll in college. The intensive class, which culminated in a final research paper and PowerPoint competition, was taught by Sam Quinney, a Villanova grad who began his career in education through Teach for America.
The curriculum, which Quinney developed in concert with Scenic Philadelphia, asked students to tackle issues integral to Scenic Philadelphia’s mission-those of blight and urban renewal. Wrangling with this question of urban change, a subject that is often nebulous and subjective, participants were forced to look at their own communities with a more acute eye. The final project, which required students to propose a plan to revitalize a space, challenged kids to analyze and scrutinize their environments; to understand which places they liked, which they disliked, and why-tough questions for any city resident, let alone a high school student. Through class discussion, field trips, and lectures by guest speakers, the class learned about important urban issues-from redlining, to zoning laws, to sustainable design-and how they, as residents, can better their own communities.
The superb lineup of guest speakers, arranged by Scenic Philadelphia, helped to flesh out the content of the curriculum for the class. Within the first week alone, Kellie Patrick Gates, a reporter for PlanPhilly, gave students a tour of the recently renovated Race Street Pier. Professor Amy Hillier, at the University of Pennsylvania, enlivened the class with her discussion of historical housing practices as well as her current research into the content of corner store signage. Our own Mary Tracy, along with Bonita Cummings, of the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, spoke to the power of passionate, community-based efforts to promote change, while a visit to the New Kensington Community Development Corporation served to exemplify the tangible results of a dedicated local organization. By week two, the discussion transitioned from pre-existing urban issues to how students might effect change. Scenic Philadelphia Staff Attorney, Stephanie Kindt, spoke of the legal process and zoning issues an individual must face when attempting to alter the urban landscape, while Robin Kohles, from the Community Design Collaborative, hosted an interactive discussion about design and its impact on our space.
After several days dedicated to editing and finalizing their work, students presented their refashioned spaces to a panel of judges. The final ceremony was held the next day, Friday July 29th at the Philadelphia Bar Association, during which the students with the top three projects presented their work for a prize. In front of their peers, family, and friends, Patrick Reddick, Brianna Zepp, and Tiana Blackson presented their work. Though each project was distinct-from Patrick’s plan for a local library, to Brianna’s vision for a recreation center, to Tiana’s strategy to clean up an overgrown cemetery, each proposal was marked by the student’s sense of ownership and pride over their space, a sense of vested dedication necessary to enact change. The panel of judges, after a long period of deliberation, awarded Brianna first place for her proposed recreation center to be built in Juniata. Brianna’s project was standout not only for its vision, but likewise for the breadth of its program, which in addition to providing some history of her space, likewise proposed a thoughtful plan to actually carry out the program. Brianna’s prize was a brand new Nook, the perfect tool to help her continue her studies.
Scenic Philadelphia would like to congratulate our Philadelphia Futures students for their work. We’d like to thank all the speakers-Kellie Patrick Gates, Amy Hillier, Mary Tracy, Bonita Cummings, Stephanie Kindt, and Robin Kohles-for helping contribute to the program, as well Holly Brown for filming the final event. We’d also like to thank the New Kensington CDC and the Philadelphia Bar Association for hosting the group. To use a quote Mary Tracy shared with the class, “One generation plants the seed, another gets the shade.” Through a three-week intensive curriculum, young people learned the profound wisdom of this sentiment and how their actions alter not only their own lives, but likewise the life of their community.