Clark Park in West Philadelphia is a hub of social activity and community interaction. Flickr/aarongstock

Five projects are trying to transform public spaces and bring city residents together.

Philadelphia is up there with the most segregated cities in America, but one organization is going to test whether redesigning some of the city's public spaces can change that.

The Philadelphia-based Fairmount Park Conservancy has just received an $11 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the William Penn Foundation to repurpose urban spaces and redevelop civic assets, such as libraries. The conservancy's goal with the projects is to engage community members and answer the broader social question posed by its executive director, Kathryn Ott Lovell, in a blog post on the initiative:

Can urban parks once again become democratizing agents that create not just equity, but connection, to each other and to our natural habitat?

The money will go toward five projects, described below, with the overall aim of attracting more people to the city and creating equitable spaces for current residents:

The Reading Viaduct runs through a blighted industrial corridor. (Courtesy Robert Hakalski)

I asked a friend who lives in Philadelphia what she thought about the projects. Sophia Bessias is a public health professional, and says the the Discovery Center project is planned near where she works.

"I can see the potential of public parks as a force for desegregation, but I'm not sure their mere existence will achieve that," she says. "How will the new Discovery Center reach out to young people in the adjacent Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, for example?"

Despite these concerns, Bessias is interested to see how plans unfold for the different sites.

"Lots of possibilities, for sure," she says.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A pupil works on a cardboard architectural model at a Hong Kong primary school.

    The Case for Architecture Classes in Schools

    Through the organization Architecture for Children, Hong Kong architect Vicky Chan has taught urban design and planning to thousands of kids. Here’s why.

  2. A photo of shoppers in the central textile market of downtown Jakarta.

    How Cities Design Themselves

    Urban planner Alain Bertaud’s new book, Order Without Design, argues that cities are really shaped by market forces, not visionaries.

  3. The Metropolitan Opera House in New York

    How Urban Core Amenities Drive Gentrification and Increase Inequality

    A new study finds that as the rich move back to superstar cities' urban cores to gain access to unique amenities they drive low-income people out.

  4. A photo of a person looking at train information on the split-flap sign at 30th Street Station in 2009.

    Philly Won't Give Up Its Amtrak Flip Board Without a Fight

    Amtrak’s 30th Street Station was slated to lose its iconic “split-flap” display. But Philadelphians had other ideas.

  5. Passengers line up for a bullet train at a platform in Tokyo Station.

    The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations

    The nation’s famed mastery of rail travel has been aided by some subtle behavioral tricks.