Represent! Education Policy in Pennsylvania

BY SYLVIA PALMS

Why is PGDG interested in education policy in Pennsylvania? Public Education is a cornerstone of Community Development. Friday morning, Danielle and I sat amidst nearly a hundred attendees at a gathering organized by Represent! PAC to learn more about current issues in education policy and how we progressive women in Philadelphia can work to turn it around. The roll call of statistics presented a dire situation. But the panel discussion moderator, Christine Jacobs, founding board member of Represent! (impromptu stand-up comedian), pointed out that a banquet table of donuts were provided to keep us engaged. We fed ourselves while listening to the FACTS (remember those?) and eventually starting to understand how crucial it is to PLUG IN NOW if we hope to shift the tide toward support of public education in PA.

Represent! is not one, but actually TWO political action committees (a state PAC and a federal PAC) formed to increase the number of Democratic women elected in 2016 to representative office in Pennsylvania and from PA to DC. So here the sad statistics begin. A century ago, Pennsylvania women led the way for representation in public office, but today only 17% of the PA General Assembly is women. Now here’s how Represent! will change that: already, a full 75% of democratic women currently in the State House of Representatives are Represent! endorsed candidates.

And the first call to action—support Represent! now, for the 2017 election cycle, so Represent! can support more women, identified for their capacity to WIN.

Following the rally cry of introduction to Represent!’s mission and impact, Christine shifted our attention to today’s Breakfast Briefing topic. The guest panel to address education policy in PA included Represent!-endorsed State Representative, Maureen Madden, along with Deborah Gordon Klehr of the Education Law Center, and Ebony English of Partners in School Innovation, and Claire Roberson-Kraft, PhD, Director of ImpactED. Each of these impressive do-gooders described her path to her current work, each informed by extensive training and broad experience in the fields of education and public policy.

Deborah brought the payload of bad news (reminder: go to donuts). Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the country for state education funding. They use a formula for apportioning funding that is based on history not need. PA ranks DEAD LAST (and by that I mean FIRST) in disparity of funding for the poorest versus richest school districts. Last year there was a TEN MONTH delay in delivery of funding from the state to our schools. Here’s the good news. Legislation was passed last spring to change the apportioning model. Deborah stresses that the new formula is important in that it "takes into account poverty, number of ELLs, tax effort, tax capacity, etc. It’s just that [PA only sends] 6% of the state’s basic education funding through that formula. It’s the other 94% that is sent out not through the formula but rather based on history not need. A formula is only as good as the dollars sent through it."

Claire is a passionate researcher who started as a teacher and worked in policy development before launching ImpactED at UPenn’s Fels Institute of Government. From that three-pronged foundation, she advocates for informing education policy through research—the research representing the perspective and experience of on-the-ground practitioners (read teachers and school administrators). It is the practitioners who know from their direct experience the impact of policy on the children and communities they serve.

Ebony’s work is in the realm of these practitioners, consulting at schools that are most impacted by state funding policy. With a background in public school teaching at the middle school level, to kids with autism, and in the Head Start program, she now trains teachers and staff how to transform the learning experience for kids in public school as well as English learners. Through her work, she hopes to change the narrative about public schools in support of school equity. And no, the answer is not vouchers. Great things are happening in public schools, and those victories are drowned out by proponents of alternative school system models.

Representative Madden urges we must anticipate the new federal administration’s policy that compromises the public school system. With foresight, she has already introduced legislation to protect transgender and LGBT kids’ rights at school including House Bill 303. With regard to funding, she described the new “Fair Funding Formula” as not nearly enough to make up for a twenty year policy called “Hold Harmless” which promised not to decrease funding to school districts even while they lost population, as well as the gutting of school funding during the Corbett years. Hold onto your hat, this is because the new formula would only be applied to six percent (6% !) of the overall funding—not enough to make a dent in the current pattern of inequity.

So what’s the answer? How is a small pie divided to resolve school equity? Perhaps the pie should grow. Pennsylvania is the ONLY STATE with natural resources that does not have a severance imposed. In Texas, there is a tax of 8-9% on resource profits to benefit its population. Education funding MUST come, not from property taxes, as property values decline, but from a natural gas tax of at least 5%.

What else? ADVOCATE for what is important to you. Implementation on-the-ground matters. Volunteer at your local public school, write letters to the editor of your local papers, write blog posts! And VOTE! Every election matters. There is an election THIS MAY where progressive Democratic dames can make more headway. Check out what Represent! is doing to support candidates positioned to make change. Madden declares DT (aka, the Administration) is “the gift that keeps on giving” —in that every time he opens his mouth, he rallies THOUSANDS.

On my way out of the Represent! breakfast briefing, another attendee confirmed that Deborah (and the Education Law Center) is both an authority on the statistics (however dire), and the BEST source for talking points to engage your elected officials. Representative Madden says, don’t talk to those in our camp, talk to (call, post-card, rally) the representatives who have been there too long, voting the wrong way. Apparently her office can offer some ideas of where/with whom to start (so give them a call first).

So let’s get started, EH? After all, we are NOT moving to Canada. We are staying here, to Represent!

Tackling Poverty: One block, rowhouse, and wall at a time

BY KATE RUTLEDGE

Recently we sat down with three members from the 2017 Cohort of Philly Girls Do Good to discuss their roles in community development— Valerie Gay, Executive Director of Art Sanctuary; Jill Roberts, Executive Director of the Healthy Rowhouse Project; and Joanna Winchester, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC). The women quickly bonded over their common goal of eradicating poverty in Philadelphia. They identified universal themes of cultivating ownership and empowerment, and also shared individual success stories from the neighborhoods in which they work. These three women are committed to equipping people with tools and identifying resources that will continue to strengthen communities throughout Philadelphia.

Joanna described NKCDC’s innovative programs and partnerships with organizations to offer wraparound services and expand current offerings to residents. She emphasized that art is not just ancillary, but rather an important thread that runs through the NKCDC’s work. Valerie agreed that culture is present in everything she does and helping community members find their voice is key. Art Sanctuary carries out its mission to use Black Art to transform communities by reaching out to makers and training them to teach local children. Valerie joyfully clarified, “You don’t have to be Black to appreciate Black Art!” Art is present in all neighborhoods, and artists are everywhere. By arming the artists with employable skills, it serves both our communities and the artists themselves.

Valerie’s holistic approach extends beyond her job. Recently she moved back into her childhood home and connected with her neighbors through a spontaneous art project: creating a neighborhood-built mosaic on an existing wall. This transformed an eyesore into a gathering space as neighbors collected broken, discarded items and added them to the collaborative art piece. A street corner which once was a dumping ground for trash has become a beautiful, clean place in which neighbors feel invested and proud.

Jill emphasized ownership and homeowner support as part of a broader effort to stabilize neighborhoods. The Healthy Rowhouse Project recognizes that creative financing is needed for homeowners to make critical home repairs in order to maintain safe and healthy homes and stabilize neighborhood blocks. The Project collects data to understand the gap between currently available funding sources and what types of new products could be offered to homeowners for preservation of Philadelphia’s iconic rowhouses. The whole conversation group recognized that the poor “health” and condition of a rowhouse can contribute to long-term and chronic diseases such as asthma and lead poisoning. Jill declared that a home is personally symbolic, and for a homeowner to say “I own this house” provides grounding to his/her family and supports them to pursue other goals as well.

All three women agreed that the aim of their work is to treat the root causes of poverty instead of just the symptoms. Often residents are told about the weaknesses and deficiencies in their communities. So instead, focusing on a community’s strengths can be transformative and powerful. Joanna spoke about a program which identifies and empowers block leaders to take on a project and enlist their neighbors to get it done. Instead of looking at it as a scarcity problem, it celebrates the people and resources that are already there to champion a solution. Jill pointed to how important it is for design solutions to be unique to each neighborhood and block and not cookie-cutter. Positive change will be longer lasting when initiatives start with listening to residents from within their own communities.

Valerie wrapped up our conversation by sharing her belief that gathering a disparate group of people around a table and attacking a problem together can lead to a stronger and more creative solution. In this case, poverty can be addressed from multiple approaches that neither supersede nor separate from each other. We could not have said it better ourselves, while the aim of Philly Girls Do Good is to connect women who are already tackling challenges on their own and to strengthen their efforts by exchanging ideas and working together. Thank you to Valerie, Jill and Joanna for sharing your thoughts, and we look forward to learning more about your ongoing good works! 

PGDG Marches in Philly and DC

BY MARGARET DUNN

On Saturday, January 21st, the Women’s March brought together millions of people across the United States and in cities around the world in a non-violent movement to advocate for human rights.  Much has been said about the march – of its origin, the massive number of people who attended, its challenges with diversity and inclusivity, the tremendous grass-roots action it has inspired, the passionately-witty homemade signs, and serious questions about how it will translate to long term action on behalf of the millions who attended. Among the crowds, some clad in pink pussy-hats, were several PGDG women – who no doubt will shape the implementation of the Women’s March principles in their communities moving forward.

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Sara Pevaroff Schuh, principal of SALT Design, said the experience was “exhilarating.” She marched with her daughter for “equality, for genuine social justice and to defend the rights of those who cannot or are unable to speak up for themselves and their needs. I can't quit my day job,” she said, “but we have to find a way to channel our energy into action.”

PGDG Co-founders Sylvia Palms and Danielle DiLeo Kim marched in DC together. "As women business owners we marched for women's equality in the workplace, particularly around equal pay and benefits. As women designers in a still male-dominated field, we marched for equal opportunity and representation on projects. As owners of a firm that designs for vulnerable communities, we marched for those threatened by urban injustices."

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In keeping with the many bright pink signs declaring, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” the Women’s March embodied a broad platform of values that moved beyond what many consider to be traditional women’s issues including: Ending Violence, Reproductive Rights, LGBTQIA Rights, Worker’s Rights, Civil Rights, Disability Rights, Immigrant Rights, and Environmental Justice.

It’s a platform that connects deeply to the mission of Philly Girls Do Good – "to do good to all, all the time." The women of PGDG march for human rights every day in their daily professional and personal commitment to improving the public realm, advancing social and environmental justice, and facilitating the success of local communities and businesses.

And while people across Philadelphia stand together to create a more just and equitable world, the PGDG folks have formed a sisterhood to support each other’s actions. As another popular sign from the march says, “I’m with her, and her and her and her.”

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PRACTICE BEYOND THE OFFICE

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The 2016 class of Philly Girls Do Good! is here! We continue our tradition of hosting conversations between small groups of the new PGDG members on specific topics throughout the year. For our first PGDG! conversation of 2016, we sat down with Sara Pevaroff Schuh, founding principal of SALT Design Studio, Soha St. Juste, a Design Principal at Jacobs, and Fon Wang, Director of Historic Preservation at Ballinger. These job titles reflect just one of many different hats they wear as design professionals making a difference in Philly. The focus of our discussion was the work they do outside of their day jobs, including extra personal and professional activities like volunteering, teaching, and serving on various committees or boards. We discussed the motivation behind getting involved and how they selected opportunities in which to get involved. We learned not only how their professional skills translated into their volunteer work, but also how those leadership roles positively impacted their design work in return.

All three women agreed that the main goals of their extra-curricular work are related to community. Sara recognized a need in her own neighborhood and founded the Bala Cynwyd Farmer’s Market in order to connect her community with local agriculture. As a landscape architect, Sara values a connection to place and wants to help others strengthen that bond by highlighting the link between the landscape and the local food and energy economies. Having a degree in Historic Preservation and feeling committed to calling Philly her home, Fon serves as a board member of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia and is the liaison to their Young Friends group (YFPA).  She recently taught a historic preservation studio course at Penn that was focused on Sharswood, an architecturally rich north Philadelphia neighborhood where a large-scale public redevelopment plan has been proposed by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. In addition, Fon helped start a Mandarin playgroup while working towards establishing a Mandarin immersion program at a neighborhood school. Soha also graduated locally from Drexel University’s architecture program, and has stayed involved by previously teaching at Drexel’s summer program for high school students and evening program for architecture. She enjoys staying connected to the Philly design community by serving on the AIA Board of Directors and as Chair of the Host Committee for the AIA National Convention which will be held in Philadelphia, May 19-21.

When asked how they decided whether an opportunity was the right one to add to their plate, they discussed several factors they used to evaluate potential roles, including how strongly they felt about the work and whether it was a long vs. short-term commitment. As Fon explained, “some opportunities are important enough that you can stretch to do it.” Sara makes a conscious decision to only serve on two boards at a time and to consider what the tangible results will be after committing her time to a project. Soha pointed out that different phases of one’s career can call for different types of extracurricular activities. All of the women agreed that in addition to community, education is a major goal of their work outside of the office. However, educating peers, mentors, or community members may come in different forms than just teaching in a classroom.

The group also agreed that their work universally improved when they were involved in a variety of projects both in and outside of the office. Soha always makes it a point to be involved in an extra-curricular activity while working and continues to perform at her highest level when she fills multiple roles simultaneously. For the upcoming AIA Convention, there are many moving parts and teams that require communication and quick decision-making skills which she has honed over the years. Sara and Fon both agreed that adding extra work about which you are passionate makes you more focused and apt to use your time wisely.

Another advantage of taking on new and different tasks, Fon explained, is that one can try out new skill sets before applying them in a professional day job. For example, serving on a volunteer committee can make a person become more familiar with a leadership position and comfortable stepping into a new role elsewhere. Sara mentioned that outside activities feed her design work and result in new ideas that may not have otherwise arisen. She finds that she is more thoughtful after pursuing other creative explorations and returning to the work with a new perspective.

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We appreciate Sara, Soha, and Fon for sharing their experiences with us and inspiring us to invest in our own communities outside of the office. We look forward to keeping up with what they do next! Stay tuned for more updates and conversations with the Philly Girls Do Good! Class of 2015-16 as they continue their exciting work around our city.

—Kate Rutledge

PGDG! Positive Social Impact

This is the first 2015 installment in an ongoing series of posts highlighting the amazing contributions of the PGDG! Class of 2014-2015.In mid-February Sylvia Palms, of Locus Partners, a  nd I met with three members of the 2014- 2015 PGDG! Class to chat about their personal trajectories and their role in fostering Positive Social Impact in Philadelphia: Yael Lehmann, Executive Director of The Food Trust; Carmen Febo San Miguel, Executive Director of Taller Puertorriqueño; and Jane Golden, Executive Director of the Mural Arts Program. Throughout the past 20 + years The Food Trust, The Mural Arts Program and Taller Puertorriqueño (now 40 years old) have become vital non-profits in Philadelphia; their impact reaching beyond the city into the national and international realms.

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I decided to begin the discussion with a basic question; Why Philadelphia? As a non-native Philadelphian I was interested in understanding how each of their paths brought them to the city, and why they decided to stay.

 ‘Philadelphia wasn’t even on my radar’

Yael Lehmann, Executive Director of The Food Trust, never thought that Philadelphia would become her home. A native of San Francisco and a graduate of U.C. Berkeley Yael had spent her entire life on the West Coast, living and working in the midst of the HIV/AIDS crisis, experiences that Yael says had a ‘huge impact’ on her. She had always had an interest in the relationship between social justice and public health and decided to move to the East Coast, thinking she would be here for only a few years. A former supervisor recommended a position at The Food Trust, and Yael took a leap across the country. She is quick to acknowledge that after meeting Duane Perry, the founder of The Food Trust, she never looked back. She now calls Philly home and is passionate about the topic of food. She noted that although Philadelphia is a great city, there are serious issues of social justice and abandonment. She sees these challenges as opportunities with food access and education as one component that can help create change within the city.

‘I wanted to elevate mural art’

Anyone meeting Jane Golden for the first time cannot ignore her infectious vibrant energy. Jane Golden the Executive Director of the Mural Arts Program came from an art & business oriented parents who inspired her to study Fine Arts and Political Science at Stanford University. After Stanford Jane moved to Los Angeles a city that she describes ‘felt like another world.’ She notes how she had always been interested in capturing history, creating a sense of place, and engaging with communities through her work. She also talks about how looking at books on 1930’s murals while growing up inspired her to paint murals. While in LA she combined her interests and with a grant from the Social and Public Art Resource created Ocean Park Pier’ in Santa Monica; a 20x100ft mural that was named a historic landmark in 1984.

While in LA, Jane founded the Los Angeles Public Art Foundation. Soon afterward, however, she decided to move back to Philadelphia to be closer to her family.

Once in Philadelphia Jane says she saw an opportunity to harness the energy of graffiti artists and redirect it for positive social change. Jane saw the graffiti artists as ‘natural muralists’ and thus combining her passion for murals and interest in art as an agent of change founded the Mural Arts Program as a part of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network.  Today the Mural Arts Program is internationally recognized and serves as a model for cities throughout the world.

 ‘I wanted a place with a large Latino community in need of services’

Carmen Febo San Miguel M.D., is the Executive Director of Taller Puertorriqueño, came to Philadelphia looking for opportunities to help the Latino community through social outreach and her work as a physician. A native of Puerto Rico, Carmen talks about how her family always emphasized the importance of tradition and heritage ‘understanding where you come from.’ Through her medical practice in Philadelphia she learned about the work of Taller Puertorriqueño and became involved, serving as Board Chair prior to becoming Executive Director in 1999. Her passion for cultural dissemination however, extends beyond her work with Taller. Carmen served on the Mayor’s Commission of Arts and Culture during the Goode Administration and is currently a member of the Advisory Council on Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy.

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The mornings’ conversation quickly moved away from each woman’s personal story and focused on discussing some of their shared values. Jane, Yael, and Carmen agree that each organization stemmed from a similar desire to empower communities and positively affect change.

To Jane the ‘process is as important as the product.’ Jane notes that at the time the Mural Arts Program began, muralism was considered an ‘underdog’ in the art realm. Her goal through the Mural Arts program is to elevate mural-making as an art form, meanwhile giving communities a sense of engagement and stewardship over their neighborhoods. Jane and Carmen discussed how the Mural Arts Program worked with Taller Puertorriqueño on one of the first murals. This collaboration has helped transform the Taller and surrounding neighborhood. To Jane, expanding the scope of impact of the organization is important because she feels that art allows people to ‘change perspective of their environments’ which can positively affect their core health and life quality. The initiatives of the Mural Arts Program now extend into juvenile center outreach programs, afterschool services, and apprenticeships programs, among others.

For Carmen, opportunities for positive social impact are deeply rooted in tradition – ‘a cultural focus.’ Through Taller Puertorriqueño Carmen works to empower communities by creating links to their origins. Educational outreach, human rights programs and social advocacy are some of the initiatives that she has developed as Executive Director of Taller. Taller provides cultural exploration programs, art programs, lectures, gallery exhibits and outreach programs focused around Puerto Rican and Latino heritage.  Carmen also talks about the biggest project to date – the construction of a new Cultural Center. Designed by local architecture firm Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) the new Cultural Center will allow Taller to expand their facilities and increase the diversity of their programs. For Yael, positive social change starts with connectivity. She notes that many communities lack many basic services such as adequate public transportation which leads to ‘personal isolation and neighborhood isolation.’ She talks about food as one contributor that positivity impacts a neighborhood. In her work with The Food Trust Yael helps connect lower-income communities with affordable healthy foods and nutritional education through schools initiatives, community centers, corner stores, and farmer’s markets etc. She has helped the Food Trust become a model nationwide, extending their initiatives throughout the country, most recently working in Wilmington Delaware to extend the Healthy Corner Store Initiative to their neighborhoods.

In listening to Yael, Jane, and Carmen’s stories it is easy to see why their work has had such a huge impact in the city. Although they come from diverse backgrounds, their shared passion for social change, dedication to communities, and ‘can-do’ attitude has helped change the social landscape of Philadelphia.

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—Fátima Olivieri

Social and Environmental Justice in Philly

Early one beautiful summer morning Sylvia and I sat down at the Greenline Cafe in University City for our Philly Girls Do Good June conversation around Social and Environmental Justice in Philly.”  The PGDG! members we brought to the table were Ann Karlen, Executive Director of Fair Food, Jamie Gauthier, the new Executive Director of the Sustainable Business Network (SBN), and Maitreyi Roy the new Executive Director of Bartram’s Garden.I kicked off the conversation by asking, “What is going well in your overlapping communities of engagement with nature, local economy and food access, and sustainability?”

Ann Karlen is encouraged by how much the field of local food has grown, “everything from new organizations over the last five years that are coming into the field, in addition to new organizations that have entered into the food space.”

Ann Karlen, Executive Director of Fair Food

Jamie Gauthier echoed Ann’s enthusiasm and acknowledged the essential role Fair Food and SBN’s founder, Judy Wicks, a sustainability and local economy champion, played in establishing this movement.

Both Fair Food and SBN play vital roles in Philadelphia’s blossoming sustainability scene. Jamie said that while in the beginning “[SBN was] one of the few groups focused on education around the triple bottom line… I don’t think that is a new idea any more.” Moving forward, Jamie sees the future of SBN as the go-to place to cultivate the full potential of aspiring triple bottom line entrepreneurs.

Jamie Gauthier, Executive Director of SBN

There is clearly a tight knit bond between these change-making women. This stems both  from hours of conversation around organizational collaboration, as well as from shared values and goals. At one point in our coffee hour, when Ann announced that she had accepted a part-time faculty position at the University of Vermont, Maitreyi jolted forward with alarm, “Are you leaving!?” Luckily, Ann calmed our fears, “No, no, no!” The course is distance-learning and online, so Ann will remain at her post at Fair Food. An audible group sigh of relief was released. These are Philly Girls—just spreading their good works far and wide.

I asked Maitreyi what her goals for Bartram’s Garden look like in the long-term. She said that she sees the garden becoming a real anchor—both within the immediate and broader community—as an outdoor classroom and “a place for beauty in the southwest,” something sorely needed.

Maitreyi Roy, Executive Director of Bartram's Garden

Bartram’s residential neighbors are increasingly interested in opportunities for outdoor adventure and learning, Maitreyi explained. The key to capturing that spark and turning it into return visitors and engaged horticulturalists is meeting them at their interests. “If I say come and garden with me, or come and learn—bring your kids and let’s learn how to fish or get on a kayak—that is relevant, and people get excited,” she said.

In order to build interest in science, history and art­—a door to open opportunities—Maitreyi is diligently learning about her community. “I am trying to figure out what those connections are that are relevant to their lives. There are many places to go now,” she said. Murmurs of agreement echoed around the table.

I wrapped up the conversation asking these remarkable leaders, “Who inspires you?”

What I realized only then in that moment was that I was sitting with some of the women who most inspire me and my work. Ann Karlen, Executive Director of Fair Food, has taken the local food movement light years beyond where it was when she began 14 years ago. Jamie Gauthier is poised to take this already essential and innovative organization at SBN to the next stage by serving mission-focused entrepreneurs (like me!). And Maitreyi Roy is connecting Bartram’s Garden, in all it’s rich history, with a community that has for too long been deprived of nourishing environments and stimulating relationships with nature. 

Maitreyi, deeply focused on the people in Bartram’s neighborhood, talked about the inspiration she draws from visitors to the historic site—she called them her “small, everyday inspirations”—as well as the “the big and bold and scary ideas” that keep her going. She said both have their place.

“There was a kid who came from a daycare across the street and they were harvesting carrots and the sheer delight of this little kid’s face pulling the carrot out of the ground …it was absolutely breathtaking!” she shared. Just the other day some kids came out of their kayaks after being on the river for the first time, with big smiles. “Those [smiles] validate what you are doing,” she concluded.

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Appropriately enough, Maitreyi also draws inspiration from the past; Bartram’s family’s past to be specific. Apparently John Bartram’s granddaughter, Ann Carr, was a botanist in her own right. In addition to serving as “a resource in this region for people who wanted to learn about how to grow plants, she was also an artist who did beautiful illustrations.” Clearly the incidence of strong Philadelphian women leaders in the sustainability and design scene is not a new trend.

In answer to my question, Jamie saw her father as one of her main sources of inspiration. He raised her to value community and social activism above personal profit. He is a lawyer by trade, but made it his life’s work “to stand up for what he thought was right: helping people in the community, …equality in education, and civil rights.” Jamie acknowledged the deep impact his strong principles had on her, recalling her decision to leave a steadier accounting career for one of service.

Likewise, Ann also indicated her father, but added, “the person, in terms of professional life, who inspires me the most, is a guy named Michael Rosin (President of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State). The reason he inspires me is he has the ability to explain very complex things in really simple and relatable ways.” The importance being, communicate the mission clearly, in order to broaden its potential impact.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that I wasn’t the only one inspired by Ann’s leadership, Jamie said that she too looks up to Ann, “She’s so strong and resolute.” All of the women of Philly Girls Do Good are examples of strong leaders dedicated to their communities, but I can’t help but say these women are some of my favorites*.

* This is just my view, but PGDG obviously admires them too!

—Morgan Berman

Morgan Berman is a Philadelphia based sustainability designer and entrepreneur. She is the Founder & CEO of MilkCrate, an app to help people live more sustainably.

PGDG! Design Advocacy

This is the third installment in an ongoing series of posts highlighting the Good Works of our PGDG! Class of 2013-14.

On a rainy Friday morning in May, Danielle DiLeo Kim, Sylvia Palms, and I sat down with three members of Philly Girls Do Good! to talk about design advocacy in Philadelphia: Hilary Jay, Founding Director of Design Philadelphia and first Director of the Philadelphia Center for Architecture; Kiki Bolender, Chair of the Design Advocacy Group (DAG); and Nancy Goldenberg, Chief of Staff of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). 

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The work of Hilary, Nancy, and Kiki are rooted in design advocacy, so I thought I would kick off our conversation with the most basic question; Why? Why is design advocacy so important to the development of a city? Each woman brought her own background as a lens to focus her response.  

“People don’t know what design is.” – HJ.

Hilary’s work leading Design Philadelphia, and now with Center for Architecture, is based on promoting architecture, design, and art in the city. She was quick to acknowledge the importance of just talking about the issues. She pointed out that people have a hard time understanding the value of design and the process associated with it, and that there needs to be a venue for conversation and dialogue to occur.

“Who else will do design advocacy if we don’t?” – KB.

Kiki, both as Chair of DAG and principal of Bolender Architects, has centered most of her professional path on the topic of civic engagement and design advocacy. She said that according to Jeffrey Otteau, of the real estate firm Otteau Valuation Group, companies are relocating to cities with public amenities—cities with beautiful spaces.

Beauty is about civility.” – NG.

Nancy, who previously held the position of Vice President of Strategic Planning for the Center City District, emphasized the importance of good design in the city as a tool for civic engagement. Nancy suggested that good design should be something that everyone can like and appreciate—that design has the capacity to foster beautiful spaces, bring neighborhoods together, and act as an economic development tool. Beauty, she noted, is important at the scale of the home and at the scale of the city. Nancy proposed that “beauty,” within the context of the urban fabric, means civility.

Interestingly enough, the idea of beauty, one often shied away from particularly in the design fields, became a focus of our conversation. All three women agreed that beauty does not have to be seen as a passing trend or as something simply fashionable. The concept of beauty, although it can mean different things to different people, revolves around creating and being surrounded by environments that activate the senses to promote the well-being of its inhabitants. They also agreed however, that in the United States there seems to be a cultural lack of understanding and appreciation for design (and beauty). This is how design tends to shift to a lower priority, and is missed in conversations regarding things such as economic development, both at local and national scales.

It is this lack of appreciation and understanding that pushes Hilary, Nancy, and Kiki to advocate for design in their daily lives. They agreed that a huge part of advocacy is education, and the women spoke about how their current work promotes design through educational efforts.

Nancy sees her work with PHS as “advocacy via education.” PHS dedicates much of its program offerings to educate and engage people about the environment. The PHS pop-up garden is installed with the intent of transforming an underutilized space in the city into an engaging environment. It brings people to look at that particular site in a different way and to understand the value of the landscape within the urban context. Additionally, the Philadelphia Flower Show, the world’s longest and largest indoor flower show, serves as a vehicle to show off local designers to both a local and international audience. At a larger scale, PHS is also working with university campuses to develop more sustainable and organic practices, both for the care of their own landscape environments and to advance the development of healthy food growing systems. 

Through her leadership with DAG and in her professional practice, Kiki works on “education at the smaller scale.” At DAG, now in its 11th year, she fosters a conversation surrounding design and advocates for design excellence. Through her architecture practice, she guides non-profit clients, such as Philabundance and the Women’s Humane Society, to create better neighborhoods and richer spaces.

“Design is the thread that moves through everything.” For Hilary, the educational impact of Design Philadelphia, now celebrating its 10th year, and the Center for Architecture is far-reaching. She believes Philadelphia has a lot of design talent, and the goal of Design Philadelphia is to showcase the talent of designers, architects, and creative individuals. In gathering this talent into one event, Design Philadelphia can shape the view people have of Philadelphia and its local design culture—both at a national and international level. Additionally, Hilary wants the Center for Architecture to become the “hub where people go to learn about design in Philadelphia.” The integration of Design Philadelphia into Center for Architecture has allowed it to expand its tour base through 1,000 meetings and 13 exhibits each year.

We concluded our morning chat by touching on how Philadelphia design culture has changed over the last decade and what may be in store for the next 10 years. The three recalled that at the time DAG and Design Philadelphia began, there lacked a process for design review within the city. Kiki noted that in addition to the many design-focused entities that have been established in the last decade, there is a new influx of design professionals—a “millennial” generation promoting planning, the environment, and design—who are investing themselves in the city of Philadelphia. Nancy added that advocacy groups are looking beyond their traditional partners to form new teams: PHS working with the Water Department, for example. Advocacy has filtered into city government, the results of which can be seen in Philadelphia2035 and with some of the city-sponsored development moves such as Sister Cities Park. People now coming to Philadelphia are surprised by the amount of activity and vibrancy that has erupted.

Nancy also pointed out that advocacy necessarily extends beyond Philadelphia and into the national discourse. “We have to be aware of the larger context outside our realm.” Cities are looking to Philadelphia as a model for green infrastructure and vacant-land use, and local advocacy groups have gone to Washington, D.C. to promote various initiatives. The City Parks Alliance, for example, recently went to Capitol Hill to advocate for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

This brings me back to the point that Hilary had made earlier about “design as a thread.” Nancy, Kiki, and Hilary agree that the design discourse is at a better position now than it was 10 years ago, and that the next years are about elevating the conversation of design. To them, design advocacy is not about a narrow focus on a singular concept, “design”, but rather an expansive composite of those ideas peppering our conversation: Beauty, Creativity, Innovation, Civility, Education, Talent, Culture, and of course, Design.

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—Fátima Olivieri

Creative Community Development

This is the second installment in an ongoing series of posts highlighting the Good Works of our PGDG! Class of 2013-14. Last Friday, April 11, PGDG! co-founders Danielle DiLeo Kim and Sylvia Palms (today’s blog writer) enjoyed an early happy hour conversation with Donna Carney of Citizen’s Planning Institute (CPI), Beth Miller of the Community Design Collaborative (CDC), and Leah Murphy of Friends of the Rail Park.

Donna Carney

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Leah Murphy

You can click on their images here and logos of their organizations below to learn more about their organizations. We asked them about the experience, highs, and lows of being leaders in Creative Community Development. Here are excerpts from the evening.

As we sat down, Donna generously identified her other two PGDG mates that night as having contributed to her own success. Donna directs CPI for the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC), engaging citizens in the City’s ongoing planning efforts by giving them the tools to be planning leaders within their own communities. Leah had been a panelist and Beth an instructor for CPI.

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This spring’s CPI class started on April 9, and was already off to a great start with over thirty participants selected from 85 online applicants and participants deferred from earlier sessions. Donna re-vamps the course every session, and she describes each and every group as “the best class yet!” Her success? Donna attributes it to the participants themselves and says the current group is a “bunch of over-accomplishers”. She states quite simply that really, anyone can run it, but it is “so successful because I care about it. I give it everything. I visit their neighborhoods…” Donna is completely immersed in her work and admits that running everything on her own, it is hard to know where to set limits. That point was immediately taken up by Beth and Leah.

We asked them each how they keep life in balance. The response began with rolling eyes. Balance? Maybe, not quite. Leah’s response: “Get a dog! I take my dog to work every day. My dog is in planning magazine!” From there, the conversation devolved to a cat calendar, until Danielle put us back on track by turning to Leah with, “ I know you’re pretty maxed out. What are other efforts are you involved with?” Leah replied that in addition to her day job with Interface Studios and her position as President of Friends of the Rail Park, she is also a board member of the South Kensington Community Partners and Chair of their Planning and Zoning Committee.

The three women recognized that there are so many worthy Community organizations out there always looking for leaders, but Donna stated that it is really important to “set limits by choosing one group, doing it well, and letting the rest go.”

Leah agreed with the wisdom of committing to one community—working within her own neighborhood having led to her association with the Rail Park. She described her volunteer efforts as carefully directed, but still evolving beyond her expectations.

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The Rail Park work became much more intense after an organizational rebranding last year followed by an official merger with the Reading Viaduct Project in the fall. “Doing a [combined] fund raiser last year made it clear we should be one organization,” each party bringing a lot to the table for an expanded vision. Since then she has moved from advocating for the vision (on her own schedule) to coordinating with a staffed organization. She is now focused on fund raising for actual implementation of the “spur” section of the raised rail line in partnership with the Center City District.

Beth pointed out that many non-profits must carefully navigate the transition from all volunteers, to part-time staff support, to a full time staff and Board. Beth and Leah’s organizations are examples of having developed “organically,” as the need and support developed, and players fell into place.

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National urban renewal grants in the 70’s spawned a design collaborative in Philadelphia that became the Architects Workshop and eventually evolved into the Community Design Collaborative. Steadfast commitment by core volunteers was rewarded with a major grant from the William Penn Foundation to support its ongoing work. Most other non-profit design centers are university based, supported primarily through internal funding, and without the broad volunteer involvement that is the core identity of the CDC.

Donna interjects that CPI started, not as a standard volunteer organization, but as the “education and outreach” arm of PCPC supported by a volunteer Board of Advisors. At the helm since the 2010 pilot program, Donna has also involved volunteer lecturers in the content development.

Now the Citizens Planning Institute is reviewing its own brief history. “We are still pretty tiny, but we are looking forward”—by asking the dedicated instructors and volunteers “what should CPI look like?” There are no obvious organizational models to emulate, as CPI is breaking new ground, a premier model itself. She notes that CPI is recharged every season through its participants, so part of the plan is to stay flexible in order to respond fully to what each class of “citizen planners” have to offer.

CPI has already been recognized for its unique contribution to the current planning process of Philadelphia2035. The City of San Antonio recently invited Donna out to Texas to lend her insights and inform the approach to their own comprehensive planning effort. They are interested in CPI’s approach of “embedment in the community” to directly engage citizens in leading their own planning efforts.

Beth predicted the CPI model will take off as other cities see its success and want to replicate the powerful tool Donna has developed here in Philly. She describes it as “more educational than project design, as a tool for organizing.” It provides citizens with a resource to make ongoing contributions. Donna points to the fact that it provides real and invaluable “access to Citizens.”

Continuing this train of thought, Beth wondered why other cities really have not done this yet. Donna counts fewer than twenty models of citizen engagement focused specifically on planning (mostly in California and Colorado). Beth put forth the concept of a “Citizens Institute on City Design”, similar to the Mayors Institute on City Design.

It is clear to us that Donna, Leah, and Beth are a “bunch of overachievers” themselves, whom we might all try to emulate. To these three professionals, Creative Community Development happens through deep personal commitment, direct engagement with the community, partnering, looking to both models and participants for lessons learned, and setting high standards of achievement.

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To wrap it up, Danielle asked the three for their preliminary nominations to our 2014-15 class of PGDG! They were all ready with names and high regard for their fellow leaders in Creative Community Development. We know so many great women who have come before us, but who are the up-and-coming women who will spearhead the next great civic design projects and community engagement models?

The conversation was far more rich and intense than we can describe in one blog entry (thanks for reading this far!). Over the next few weeks we may follow up with a bit more of the banter and input we continue to gather from Beth, Leah, and Donna. Please tune back in next month for notes from our conversation with a few more of our amazing Philly Girls Do Good! class of 2013-14!

In the mean time (zoom in), words of wisdom shared by Donna:

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—Sylvia Palms

The Future of the Design Profession

Karen Blanchard

julie bush

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Over the next few months, the PGDG Blog will feature engaged conversations from gatherings of 3-4 Women from the Philly Girls Do Good! class of 2013-14. To kick things off, PGDG co-founder, Danielle DiLeo Kim, and I met with four of the PGDG design professionals for morning coffee, to get their views on work-life balance in the profession today and in the future. They are:Karen Blanchard, AIA LEED AP/BD+C Julie Bush, ASLA Erike de Veyra, Assoc. AIA Nicole Dress, AIA, LEED AP

We wanted to begin by discussing your experience with the working environment for women in the profession. What were some issues you faced when you entered the profession, and what do you think are issues that the latest generation faces?

Julie Bush presented an example of a firm that is very supportive of women designers. In 1991, when Peta Raabe and Anita Lager began their landscape architecture firm, Lager Raabe (now LRSLA), they defined the firm culture to be supportive of its employees and their family life. When Julie had her first child, they not only gave her time off, but allowed her to ease back into work when she came back. Julie is frequently the only woman in meetings about projects, but by representing the role of Landscape Architect, she generally feels that she is a welcome and respected colleague.

However, design firms that are supportive towards employees with family are not necessarily the norm. It feels like there is a stigma towards taking time off work for family in this profession. This isn’t just a problem for women, but also for men. How can the design profession be flexible, that is client-based and deadline driven?

To compare with a different profession, Erike de Veyra shared that co-workers at her former job in government were not only given six months of maternity leave, but also were allowed to work part-time or from home. They were seen as being more efficient with their time, not delinquent. And yet, with design professionals, this is frequently seen as a bad work ethic. Nicole Dress wondered if with the immediacy of social media, there is an expectation that everyone should be readily accessible at all times. Karen Blanchard observed a different point, that with the recession, deadlines are much more demanding than they used to be, and architects are trying to make up for lost time. With so much competition, people often feel powerless to push back against unrealistic project schedules.

Julie, from her position of leadership, feels more comfortable pushing back against demanding schedules, but has mixed results. Anita and Peta had decided from the get go that Lager Raabi (LRSLA) would embrace comfortable work hours. For example, if someone comes in early, they are not penalized for then leaving early. They established a work culture supporting a healthy work/life balance.

Erike, you are one of the most active young professionals we have ever met. Tell us about why you decided to get involved in the professional community.

Erike described how people of her generation (myself included) feel the need to get involved with the profession in a non-traditional way because of the pressures the recession imposed on us. For example, she felt pressured to take a job that wasn’t directly in the architecture field because jobs were scarce when she graduated. However, this then led to her feeling disconnected from the design world. Getting involved with professional organizations was her way to reconnect. Also, she was always very involved with her design community at school, so it was a natural step for her.

As an example of the value of her networks, Erike’s efforts in organizing the Monthly Meetings with AIA Associate Committee resulted in me first encountering Danielle, a co-founder of Philly Girls Do Good. She encouraged everyone in attendance there to take our Architectural Registration Exams as soon as we could, and I wouldn’t have started (or finished) without her “lean-in” directive.

Back to the group. If you felt pressure to join professional organizations, did you have any mentors suggesting it, or was it all just personal initiative? I know for example, that mentors played an important role for Karen to get involved in the professional community.

Karen explained she did not always have a professional mentor. It wasn’t until she began working at WRT that Antonio Fio-Silva began asking her all of the important questions such as: why aren’t you registered yet? What about LEED? WRT was also helpful in giving her time to study for exams towards licensure. It was Antonio who suggested that she try getting involved in the professional community and emphasized that it was ok and even encouraged to not always be working at the office. For Erike, it actually was all her own amazing personal initiative. She found a creative way to stay involved with the professional community even while facing the challenges of the economic climate.

Julie then posed an excellent question for all of us: did we find that being registered as a WBE/MBE/DBE hurts or helps a firm?

Nicole strongly felt that it is a useful designation. It gives minority owned businesses the exposure that they otherwise wouldn't get. As someone within a large firm working on projects that require minority participation, she has of course had mixed success with these companies — as with any. She believes that without the additional incentive to partner with them, her firm would not have had the benefit of many valuable introductions.

From Danielle’s perspective as partner of a new design firm, Locus Partners will benefit from becoming WBE (in-process!) in that it will improve their potential to work on larger projects or team with larger firms that otherwise might over-look the start-up. Women-owned start-ups are looking like the wave of the future.

Reflection

A recurring theme in this conversation were the ripple and ongoing effects of the economic recession upon the design profession. Firms are asking their employees to work longer hours for shorter deadlines; the younger generation is still recovering from having to begin their design careers later than their predecessors. And yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, we are still recovering from the economic recession, but we can still practice excellent design and expect or provide a supportive employee environment.

An issue related to work/life balance concerns maternity and paternity leave. Maternity leave has been gaining traction in recent years, but paternity leave is still catching up. In “How Do I Make the Most of My Paternity Leave?” Michael Roston writes that only about 15 percent of companies offer paid leave for fathers, though many don’t take it within the competitive workplace. With the economic downturn and slow recovery, companies are probably even less inclined to consider measures that hurt their productivity. However, to adjust perceptions of gender roles, paternity leave is crucial.

Amidst the struggles resulting from the economic recession, our youngest generation is turning hardship into an opportunity to benefit the design community. Erike could have simply left the design profession altogether. Instead, she chose to step in through roles of leadership that enrich connections between older and younger generations of designers. Thank you Erike for your good work! May we all learn from her and the other hard-working women of PDGD! Thank you Karen Blanchard, Julie Bush, and Nicole Dress for a wonderful conversation about a complex topic within the design profession!

—Sophia Lee