REFLECTING ON WOMEN IN ARCHITECTURE & UNCONSCIOUS BIAS

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On Thursday, February 25, 2016, the Executive Dean of Philadelphia University’s College of Architecture and the Built Environment, Barbara Klinkhammer, held a roundtable at the Specter Center for Public Service called, “Unconscious Bias: Women in Architecture”. The panel included Karen Blanchard, President of Women in Architecture Philadelphia; Cecilia Dengre, Senior Director of Architecture, Temple University; Marguerite J. Anglin, Project Architect/Manager, Temple University and the former President of NOMA Philadelphia and Susan I. Frostén, Associate Provost Philadelphia University, RA, LEED AP BD+C and Vice President of PA ACE Women's Network Planning. Philadelphia University students Breanna Sheeler, Ashley Cummins and alumna Belinda Daisey, also participated.

Barbara opened the talk with a fascinating remark. She explained that when graduating in 1991 from the RWTH Aachen University in Germany, her class was the first to complete with 51% women graduates. Apparently, at the conferring of degrees, the dean said something that really left her baffled. While acknowledging her class’ gender achievement, he “guaranteed” that half of the distinguished female graduates would leave the profession in less than 10 years.

Looking at the panel’s impressive mix of women, all of whom have multi-dimensional experience within the world of architecture, one would assume that Barbara’s old dean’s comment was outdated and flat out wrong. As the talk continued however, she shortly discovered that the dean’s obnoxious prediction was correct. While 43% of students enrolled in architecture are female, only 15% (far less than half) go on to practice as licensed architects. Barbra confirmed, that while she was initially offended by the callus remarks, years later, after looking at her own pool of female architect friends, more than half had indeed left the profession early.

As the panel continued, the panelists attempted to grapple with questions such as why are women leaving the profession in much higher numbers than men? What challenges do they face in a male-dominated office culture? What changes need to occur to increase the number of women and minorities in the profession?

As Barbara and the panelists tackled disparaging statistics that confirm underrepresentation of women in the field in almost every arena, they began to discuss their own experiences maneuvering in the professional architecture world after college. Throughout the discussion, each woman gave accounts of projected bias, their reaction, and reasons as to why the numbers are low. Cecelia, for example, recalled how her equally experienced architect husband, ascended much more quickly than her in hierarchical office environments. Many panelists agreed that when evaluated for advancement, management often chose men for promotions based on their “potential” for success. Women, they argued, often had to achieve more in a longer period of time, for their work to be deemed worthy of promotion. In Ceselia’s case, it took leaving her firm and being asked back to advance into a management position.

As challenging as it is for Caucasian women in architecture, minority women in the field often face significantly more challenges. Marguerite, who is an African American woman, recalls being overlooked in meetings with clients and constantly having to reaffirm herself as an Architect. She recalls, I had a meeting with a client and a developer, the client was praising the architects work and comprehension of the drawings. The developer then turned to the client and asked when does the architect get here. The client, then red in the face, tells the developer she's right here (pointing to me). If I was a man, or had a different ethnicity, he may have seen me as an architect.”

African American women make up only 0.2% of registered architects, which means that in the United States there are only 355 registered African American women architects. It was this stark reality that pushed Marguerite to success in her field. She knew that she would have to work harder, faster and smarter than her male and Caucasian counterparts to be counted among the few black architects in America. This lesson was reinforced in her second year of college when asking a professor she respected how to obtain an architecture internship, to her dismay her professor responded: “Don’t worry, you may not go through with architecture”.

This kind of bias within architecture educational settings is not uncommon, Breanna, a current Philadelphia University architecture student, says that she encounters micro-aggressions during her critiques to the consistently white male panel in her department. She explains that often, evaluations from the panel are uncharacteristically patronizing towards female student work. She believes that this type of behavior destroys the aspirations of young women who seek licensure. Susan agreed by adding, “When bias is constant and persistent it becomes oppressive”.

If bias in schools and work environments have this kind of negative impact, what then could be created by positive reinforcement and encouragement? Susan recounted her first day in a Columbia University architecture program. On the first day of class, the professor promptly turned to the male students and stated, “There is not a single woman here to fill a quota. You better watch out!” This set a positive tone for Susan and the other women in the class leading them to excel in their careers. Belinda, an alum of Philadelphia University’s architecture program, feels that positivity in school is important. She reflected on how equal treatment and recognition from her male counterparts was empowering to her and gave her the confidence to push through challenges within the male dominated classroom.

In the end, one is left to wonder, is the architecture world doing enough to retain women and minorities in the workforce? Are we doing enough to push back against the implicit and unabashed bias that these populations face? While one panel can’t solve these issues, it is clear that we, as women architects, must continue to create platforms where conversations like this can continue. We must also continue to guide and support each other, and if nothing else, make sure that at least we believe that we deserve to be here.

—Chanelle Hurst

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

WHO IS DOING GOOD IN PHILADELPHIA NOW?

Philly Girls Do Good is seeking nominations for our PGDG class of 2015-16! We want to know who YOU would recommend. We know you know her! She's a leader in community development. She is making waves in the Philly design community. Tell us about her, we'd love to meet her and introduce her to our network of excellent women.Please download THIS FORM and save to your computer, fill it out, and return it to PGDG@locus-partners.com.

We thank you for participating and supporting PGDG. Good for you!

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PINK SKIES AND PYNK BEER

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Thank you Kathryn Ott Lovell for hosting a lovely happy at The Oval. It's our favorite Philly pop up beer garden!

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Last night a small gathering of PGDG members got together at The Oval over Yards Pynk Beer for socializing and enjoying an evening out under a pink setting sky.

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Happy Hour 2015

A few notable tidbits and announcements that were shared last night:

Prema Gupta will be rejoining PIDC as Senior Vice President of Navy Yard Planning and Development in September 2015. Woohoo!

Jessica Baumert shared that The Woodlands Masterplan is complete. Check their website soon for the plan.

Donna Carney, CPI Director, has hired Ariel Diliberto as a Program Associate to manage grassroots community outreach and community development efforts for the Citizens Planning Institute. Stay tuned for the new Fall 2016 Course Application to be available on August 24th.

Sylvia and Danielle welcomed a new architectural designer to Locus Partners, Natalia Quinteros-Guevara. We were pleased to introduce her to the PGDG group on such a lovely evening. Special thanks to PGDGD blogger, Sophia Lee, for tweeting and posting as always!

As you can see, we had a great time!

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Overcoming "Pinch Points" in the Architectural Profession

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[PGDG Conversation on June 16, 2015]

The week before our PGDG conversation, I had the good fortune to attend TEDx Philadelphia 2015 with the theme: “And Justice for All.” As part of the speaker series, Rosa Sheng of the Equity by Design (EQxD, a Committee of AIA San Francisco) came to describe The Missing 32% Project which asks the question: if only 18% of the architecture profession are practicing women, where are the other 32% that graduate from accredited architectural programs?

Alesa Rubendall WRT Denise Thompson AIA Philly Danielle DiLeo Kim

Joining our PGDG conversation was Alesa Rubendall, the Co-Chair of the Philly chapter of Women in Architecture (WIA Philly - a committee of AIA Philly); Denise Thompson, the President Elect of the Philadelphia chapter of AIA (AIA Philly); and Danielle DiLeo Kim, Co-Founder of Locus Partners and Philly Girls Do Good!

Using Rosa Sheng’s TEDx Philadelphia talk as a springboard for our discussion, I began with presenting the “pinchpoints” that EQxD’s research identified in the architectural profession where women tended to leave:

  1.     Hiring and Retention
  2.     Paying Dues (Internship)
  3.     Licensure
  4.     Caregiving
  5.     Glass Ceiling

Assoc of Collegiate Schools Architecture Women

[Link to ACSA Article]

Infographics Social Media.ai

   [Link to EQxD Research]

With Rosa Sheng’s ringing call to action echoing in my ears, I posed the question to our panelists: “Through your leadership positions, how have you addressed the pinch points women (and men) face in the architectural profession?”

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Alesa with WIA Philly – “Pinch Point Zero: Entering College”

Alesa got involved with WIA with her co-chair, Karen Blanchard (PGDG class of 2013-14). Nicole Dress (PGDG class of 2013-14) who revived Philly’s branch of WIA a few years ago, saw their talent for leadership and passed them the baton. Alesa and Karen decided the mission of WIA should support the next generation of architects by cultivating female high school students entering college for degrees in architecture and design. This is pinch point zero because so much talent never even gets to go to college to pursue architecture. Alesa and Karen received support from the WIA steering committee, and it was full steam ahead!

Through only the last three years of WIA leadership, Alesa helped to establish a speaker series whose proceeds would go towards the WIA Scholarship for the Charter High School for Architecture + Design (CHAD). Looking forward, Alesa hopes to improve the effectiveness of targeting pinch point zero by beginning a Big Sister mentor program that pairs a woman architect with a female CHAD student. Alesa recognizes that mentoring in the formative years is key to helping shape a young designer’s career. I admire Alesa’s persistence in rebuilding the face of the profession, one student at a time.

Denise with AIA Philly - “Pinch Point 3: Licensure”

Leadership came naturally to Denise, who often served as captain of sports teams in high school. She has held a string of leadership positions in the PA and National architecture scenes, having represented PA on the National Associates Committee and the National Young Architects Forum. Denise also restarted the local Philly YAF group, served on the Board of Directors for AIA Philadelphia and the Center for Architecture, and she is currently the President-Elect for AIA Philadelphia.

While she was leading YAF Philly, Denise began the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE) Study Group because she observed that licensure was decreasing and increasingly difficult for women and men alike. After identifying the problem, she developed a solution by arranging a support group with the professional resources at her command. It is currently going strong into its fourth round of leadership. (Success story: I myself began studying for the ARE’s by attending a couple of these study sessions. They were very helpful!)

Opportunities Flourish in Philadelphia

Over the next year and a half, there are number of international and national events that will be held in Philadelphia, such as:

Denise is very excited to be leading AIA Philadelphia when AIA Convention 2016 is here next spring. She will have an opportunity to promote the design community’s accomplishments since the last AIA Convention was here in 2000 such as the amazing public and private developments that have brought Philadelphia national acclaim as a city with tremendous public spaces and a thriving Center City and surrounding neighborhoods.

I am thrilled to see that the architects of Philadelphia have elected Denise to this position based on her merits and her proven track record of leadership that she painstakingly built for herself. She also happens to be a woman, but it is not her defining feature as a practitioner, rather, an interesting detail.

Architecture and Architects – "Pinch Point #4: Caregiving"

While discussing the fourth Pinch Point, Caregiving, we all agreed that flexibility in a demanding, deadline-driven, architectural career is a systemic problem for both women and men. Alesa, Denise and Danielle are all navigating pinch point #4 with aplomb. Alesa manages childcare scheduling challenges with a flexible schedule supported by her employer, WRT, as well as a solid partnership in parenting with her husband. Denise opted to have children later in her career because of the benefit of flexibility that comes with seniority. Danielle was also able to successfully negotiate a part-time scenario while at a firm during the birth of her children, and now benefits from establishing her own schedule as a partner at Locus Partners. It should be noted that architects leaving the profession to seek a better lifestyle (and pay!) is not just an issue for women. Plenty of men leave as well for increased salary and more manageable work hours.

Alesa and Denise both agreed that pressures from clients seem to have increased since the recession, with demands for faster design and construction processes. Architects often jump to meet those unreasonable demands by accepting our “starving artists” role. In turn we do a disservice to our families and often have poor life-work balance. Denise suggests that part of the solution is educating our clients: showing clients the added value of architects, such as AIA National is doing with the “Look Up” Outreach Campaign. One method she finds effective is bringing the design process to the meeting–solving problems in the room with clients via animation and three dimensional technical software that illustrates the issues at hand.

Epilogue

As Rosa Sheng began her talk at TEDx Philadelphia, she acknowledged that the lack of women in leadership positions is not limited to architecture. Sheryl Sandberg is of course a trailblazer in encouraging women to “lean in” to take and create a leadership role. Recently, the science world was blazing against nineteenth century attitudes towards women scientists. Thousands of women scientists around the world unleashed a skeweringly witty #distractinglysexy Twitter campaign against Tim Hunt’s sexist remarks. The uproar was so loud that he eventually resigned his position as Honorary Professor at the University College London. The great thing now is that women have a voice.

I have a deep gratitude towards all the women architects before me who have worked so hard to prove that gender has no bearing on ability. I know that I walk on roads paved by their hard labor, and I do not take it for granted.

Thank you so much to Alesa, Denise, and Danielle for a wonderfully inspiring conversation!

—Sophia Lee

Neighborhood Transformations!

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Last week Danielle DiLeo Kim of Locus Partners and I sat down for a conversation with two members of this year’s PGDG class, Karen Rohrer and Joyce Smith. We chose to speak to Karen and Joyce as a pair since these women are each leading positive changes within their own Philadelphia neighborhoods. Karen is a co-founder and co-pastor at Beacon, a faith community and shared neighborhood space in Kensington. Joyce is a co-founder and Community Development Coordinator for the Viola Street Resident Association (VSRA) of in East Parkside. We heard about their goals and what drives them to champion priorities for the communities in which they live. Karen and Joyce also shared their challenges and strategies for adjusting their sails when necessary to keep the positive momentum going.

Karen and Joyce share a “calling” to represent the unheard voices within their communities who share the goal of making their neighborhoods great places to live. Beacon and the Viola Street Residents Association were each formed because neighbors identified the value of a place that already existed. Karen explained that Beacon formed as a “start-up” in 2011 to revitalize the existing, dwindling congregation and to provide creative secular programing as well as worship to the transitioning neighborhood. Joyce’s East Parkside neighborhood struggles with vacancies and absent property owners. Long-term residents hold strong to positive aspects of each neighborhood that are worth protecting and strengthening. These two PGDG members work in creative ways to amplify that message and convince others to recognize the value as well.

At Beacon, Karen offers a place for community members to tell their own stories, and to hear the stories of their neighbors who may have a totally different experience. In particular, Beacon strives to engage the children of the neighborhood and provide a positive community and safe space in their lives.  Beacon offers art and writing studios with drop-in hours to encourage young people to share their stories. As the children grow up, the learned skills of supporting one another will be repeated on a larger scale.

The Viola Street Residents Association works to preserve and improve the neighborhood for both the long-time residents and future generations. Joyce acknowledged that changes may be imminent, so residents are working to solidify their vision for the neighborhood so they can be active participants in that change. Joyce and the VSRA worked with the Community Design Collaborative to create a resident-driven neighborhood improvement plan, “Project Reclaim,” that was approved by the City of Philadelphia Planning Commission. Joyce spearheads the effort to seek partnerships that will make the plan a reality.

Both PGDG women spoke about the challenges of communication and perceptions. East Parkside has been considered a less than desirable place to live; for Joyce, this is a negative identity that must be overcome. With many vacant properties, the first impression of Viola Street may be one of neglect. She answers the question of “why move to East Parkside?” by improving her own block to affect a ripple of change into the surrounding blocks. "I am committed to helping to create a sustainable, equitable development plan in East Parkside so we can preserve housing for indigenous residents while supporting an economically diverse neighborhood. So, long term affordability is the end goal and not just a transitional phase in an appreciating neighborhood. "

In Karen’s neighborhood, the communication challenge is inviting people to connect with each other and build a broader community. Her mission at Beacon is to create a safe space for people to share their stories, listen to others, and empathize. The changing demographic of residents brings with it the unknown, and a natural hesitation to trust. Given this, sometimes it is harder to perceive the commonalities among spiritual and human needs and aspirations. To forge connections and mutual understanding, Karen makes it a practice to be present with children and adults, to help navigate the latest challenges, and to participate in the trust and empathy she seeks to share with the broader community.

Karen and Joyce are both relative newcomers to the neighborhoods for which they advocate, each having lived there for less than ten years. To credit their own strengths in communication, they have each been entrusted in this short time to advocate and represent their neighborhoods’ interests. Joyce’s natural curiosity is one of her secrets for getting things done. She asks questions and seeks information until she finds the right people who have the answers. Karen listens to others and moves conversations beyond where they started. Her strategy is to allow people to be vulnerable and then provide an avenue for them to support one another.

Karen summed up what she and Joyce do best: invite the people in, communicate there, and then move outwards. We are inspired by their efforts to improve Philadelphia, one neighborhood at a time. Philly Girls Do Good!

—Kate Rutledge

WHAT’S UP, PGDG? Let’s Get the Word Out!

Today's post is your one-stop-shop for all current events in the work of Philly Girls Do Good! We took a quick survey of the latest ventures of PGDG women, and came up with some tidbits, links, news-worthies, and updates. If something catches your eye, please click the URL provided to connect and get more information!In no particular order:

Donna Carney of Citizens Planning Institute has posted an RFQ to hire a program assistant. The CPI program increases the capacity of citizens and civic organizations to participate in planning their communities and the city of Philadelphia. CPI has become a national model for civic involvement in an engaged planning process. Apply TODAY(!) Applications will be accepted through May 5th (Cinco de Mayo!) http://citizensplanninginstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/RFQ_CPI-Associate-Position1.pdf

Lois Brink, Chief Strategist of The Big Sandbox, won the coveted Knight Cities Challenge Grant on behalf of the Philly newbie (2014) non-profit. The Big Sandbox “strives to mobilize urban communities around green infrastructure and produce meaningful community spaces: schoolyards, urban parks and other places.” This will give them some cash to implement the green dream! http://www.knightfoundation.org/grants/201550701/

Pamela Zimmerman, civic volunteer extraordinaire, would like to shout out an official “Save the Date!” for Park(ing) Day 2015 as the the summer light wanes. Start your 10X20-foot public realm planning to build it (and take it down, and have a party) on Friday, September 18, 2015. http://www.parkingdayphila.org/.

Did I say “extraordinaire”??? Of course there is way more news that Pam wants to SHARE: Have you been to“Leverage”, the Community Design Collaborative (CDC) event? http://www.cdesignc.org/leverage2015. It is a great way to see how the CDC (E.D. Beth Miller, PGDG 2013-14) supports worthy design efforts throughout Philadelphia and learn how YOU might get involved. There will be another CDC event about transformational schoolyard design on May 4: http://www.cdesignc.org/transformingschoolyards. Pam also wants you to know about an amazing group called Mercy Neighborhood Ministries. They have been providing social services in the Tioga neighborhood for over 25 years and now celebrating the opening of a Head Start classroom, which will expand their offerings in the community: http://www.mercyneighbors.org/news-media/. We may have a PGDG nominee coming out of MNM for class of 2015-16.

 Nancy Goldenberg became a PGDGer as Chief of Staff at the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society (GREAT Flower Show this year!!), but she’s JUMPED! She is now making a big difference every day in Center City Philadelphia as the Vice President of Planning, Development & Research AND ALSO the Executive Director of the Center City District Foundation. It is great to see her profile at the top of the CCD org chart! http://www.centercityphila.org/

This year’s class member of PGDG, Joyce Smith of Viola Street Residents Association was celebrated last night (!) at the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC) 23rd Annual Gala and Awards Ceremony at the WHYY Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons. She was the STAR of the evening, winning PACDC's 2015 Community Leader award. http://pacdc.org/

The Fairmount Park Conservancy, with PDGDer Kathryn Ott Lovell at the helm, just celebrated their HUGE NEWS: The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and William Penn Foundation are investing $11 million in an initiative led by Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Conservancy to test the idea that green and civic open space can be reimagined to make cities more successful. “The initiative will explore whether reinventing and connecting these public places as a network of civic assets will help cities attract and keep talented workers, advance economic opportunity, encourage residents to become more engaged in shaping their communities, and begin to level the playing field between more affluent communities and those in need.” The institutions and projects selected to benefit from this initiate are The Discovery Center in East Fairmount Park, the Reading Viaduct Rail Park (Board President, Leah Murphy, PGDG 2013-14), Bartram’s Mile trail project along the lower Schuylkill River, Lovett Memorial Library and Park in Mt. Airy, and Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Centennial Commons in West Fairmount Park for the Parkside community. Kathryn Ott Lovell rocks the public realm! http://myphillypark.org/news/in-the-news/

But that’s not all! We park geeks think it’s pretty great that the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust are now ONE—as the Conservancy since January 1 this year. They will “jointly steward and enhance the park’s rich and related natural and cultural resources”. Please read more about it on PlanPhilly: http://planphilly.com/articles/2015/04/20/fairmount-park-advocates-unite

Now if we could only get these (and other!) amazing PGDG women together for a conversation, we could look at their paths to inspire our own.

Oh, wait! That’s what we do through this BLOG!

Stay tuned for next month’s conversation curated by blogger Kate Rutlege about Making Change—on the ground and in the neighborhood.

And please learn more about each of the wondrous women of PGDG and how they SERVE Philadelphia with the great work they DO through the organizations they LEAD! CLICK HERE: PHILLY GIRLS DO GOOD!

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

Sustainable Design in Philly: How Education Builds Our Community

Last week we continued our Philly Girls Do Good conversation series, and for the very first time, we welcomed a live audience to join the experience. The women of PGDG have so much good information to share, and we want to make their insight as accessible as possible. My fellow blogger, Sophia Lee, hatched the idea, organized the event, and led the moderated discussion. The panel included three dynamic members of the this year's PGDG class:

Morgan Berman

Morgan Berman, Co-founder and CEO of MilkCrate

Lois Brink

Lois Brink, Co-founder of The Big Sandbox

Fern Gookin

Fern Gookin, Director of Sustainability at Revolution Recovery and Founder of Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR)

We brought together these three women at a location that has been instrumental to their design careers, Philadelphia University. All three panelists are connected to the school’s Master of Science in Sustainable Design program, with Morgan as a recent graduate and Lois as an adjunct professor. Fern is a graduate of the M.S. program and has returned to teach at her alma mater.

All three women now teach in some capacity, with Lois and Fern in a university setting and Morgan mentoring middle school students who are exploring how to make their own apps. They agreed that one of the joys of teaching is learning from and staying informed by the students. Morgan also noted that the process of setting a goal and figuring it out along the way is a universal experience that is helpful to see others repeat. Because the field of sustainability is so fast-moving, being connected to the next generation of people interested in it only strengthens everyones understanding.

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One thread throughout the discussion was how an education in sustainability can be applied in the “real world” and lead to unanticipated career paths in design. The panelists reflected on what it was like to be a student figuring out how to link their varied interests in design, sustainability, community building, art, and technology. A main takeaway for the audience was that each of the women took it upon herself to craft her own path and seek out individuals who would support her interests, even if she was not yet sure where it all was heading. By continuing to take risks and enthusiastically accept unfamiliar opportunities, they have each enjoyed unique success in their careers in ways that could not have been predicted.

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As the panel moderator, Sophia posed the question of “Why Philly?” We are thrilled to have these women be a part of Philly Girls Do Good and doing good work that supports our local communities, but had to ask what draws them to the city of Philadelphia. Morgan was born and raised in the area, and is happy to stick around and be a part of the tangible shift of a city getting its act together. Lois returned to her hometown of Philly after many years and is excited not only to see the improvements that have already occurred, but also be a part of a city realizing its potential. Her current work with the Philadelphia Green School Alliance aims to revitalize schoolyards across the city which would affect all current and future students and local residents.  Fern is the most recent transplant to Philly, but described its appeal as a city of do-ers. All agreed that it is a great place for people who have an idea and the drive to make them a reality.

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Everyone benefitted from the public format of the conversation, and the conversation concluded with thoughtful questions from an inspired audience, many of whom were PhilaU students and faculty. We hope to continue the momentum from this conversation and hold more events in the future which shine a light on the women leaders that make up PGDG, their paths and achievements that do good throughout Philadelphia.

Many thanks to Professor Rob Fleming, the Director of the Sustainable Design program, Professor Carol Hermann, Professor Jim Doerfler, Executive Dean Barbara Klinkhammer, Associate Dean David Breiner, and Terry Ryan at Philadelphia University for welcoming Philly Girls Do Good and making our first public conversation a great success!

Please connect to more about each of these women and other members of Philly Girls Do Good through Locus Partners' PGDG page on their website: http://www.locus-partners.com/philly-girls-do-good.html

—Kate Rutledge

The Power of the Plan for All

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On Tuesday January 20th, “The Power of the Plan for All” event celebrated planning progress made not only by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC), but also by individuals in their own neighborhoods. With the comprehensive Philadelphia2035 plan, PCPC has adopted eight district plans to date, with two more underway this year. The Citizen’s Planning Institute (CPI) is the education and outreach arm of PCPC  and has continued to empower passionate individuals with knowledge and tools of good planning.

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Donna Carney, a member of last year’s Philly Girls Do Good class, is the director of CPI and proudly welcomed past graduates to share their success stories as Citizen Planners. Joyce Smith, a member of this year’s PGDG class and Citizen Planner in East Parkside, presented about the progress that the Viola Street Residence Association has made by partnering with the Community Design Collaborative and Habitat for Humanity. She emphasized the need for further support and collaboration to make the full neighborhood plan a reality.

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The evening concluded with the presentation of the most recent CPI graduates, including Philly Girls Do Good founder Sylvia Palms, representing the Spruce Hill neighborhood. Fifty-seven new Citizen Planners completed the CPI curriculum in 2014 and will continue to execute planning initiatives in their own communities.

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Ms. Carney wrapped up the evening by thanking all of the Citizen Planners, past, present and future. She compared them to pilot lights scattered throughout the city, for although they may be small flames, they are in it for the long haul. “Anything worth doing, is worth doing as long as it takes,” was her final summary, which is an attitude shared by many in the room and will no doubt contribute to future planning success throughout Philadelphia.

All photos by Mark Gavin Photo via the Philadelphia City Planning Commission

Kate Rutledge

Philly Girls Do Good! Welcome Party

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Last Tuesday evening, a group of women leaders in design and community development gathered in celebration of the new Philly Girls Do Good Class of 2014-15. New PGDG members mingled with returning members and guests. Benjamin’s Desk, a great co-working space in Center City, generously offered the use of their event space, and the room was quickly filled with the sounds of both catching up and new introductions.

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Sylvia Palms and Danielle DiLeo Kim of Locus Partners officially kicked off the welcome party by sharing reflections on PGDG’s inaugural year and plans for the upcoming one. Sylvia noted that the group has expanded not only in numbers, but also in diversity of professional tenure and backgrounds. Similarly to last year, pairs or small groups of the new PGDG class will come together for conversations—with upcoming blog posts revealing their discussions and new ideas sparked. Danielle spoke about increasing the opportunities for the PGDG women to gather and share what their current projects and initiatives are. Happy hours were added to the calendar, as well as more frequent blogposts of PGDGers making a difference throughout the city.

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The main event of the evening was a networking program led by Erin Owen, a personal performance coach who connects Eastern wisdom to the Western idea of performance. She spoke about reciprocity, and challenged the women present to explore giving and receiving in their personal and professional lives. An informal survey invited lots of raised hands and nodding heads indicating there were many givers in the room.

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In smaller break-out groups, the women took turns making a specific ask for something they currently need. The ask was then countered with an offer from the each group member—ranging from a resource, a brainstorming idea, or even a promise to support the endeavor further down the line. While the giving side of the equation seemed to come easily, Erin then asked for reflections on making the ask. The main take-away themes were:

—Make your ask as clear and specific as possible.

—Even if it seems big and scary, ask it out loud anyway.

—The person who can help you may be someone you’d never suspect.

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The reciprocity exercise flowed to a natural buzz into the evening, with the women excitedly exchanging ideas and business cards. As the event came to a close, small groups lingered and made plans to connect again soon.

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Overall the night was a promising start to a new year of sharing, supporting, and celebrating the work of all of the members of Philly Girls Do Good! Stay tuned for future blog posts where the conversations will continue!

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—Kate Rutledge

Welcome the PGDG Class of 2014-15

Please welcome the Philly Girls Do Good Class of 2014-15! It's true, we were just getting rolling with 2013-14, but there are so many more great women to celebrate, we thought we would usher in a new class.Last year, our inaugural class included so many Philadelphia leaders and seasoned professionals in design and community development—truly our role models. They came together through the year in groups of three to five for conversation on topics they had in common including West Philadelphia Transformations, Social and Environmental Justice, and Design Advocacy. We launched PGDG (and this blog) by hearing great stories, broadcasting successes, and forging connections.

This coming year, we'd like to crank it up! Nominations for the PGDG Class of 2014-15 included more high achievers, and also several up-and-coming leaders. We will let this broader array stimulate a wide range of topics and mix up the personalities and organizations to inspire... In addition to conversations, this BLOG will spotlight Philadelphia initiatives sure to make a great impact. We will also gather the women of PGDG at more informal events to keep up with the talk of the town.

We can't wait, and we invite you to FOLLOW PGDG(!) throughout the coming year. Please spread the word. CLICK HERE to go to the PGDG page of Locus Partners' website. From there you can click on each name to learn more about each member of this year's class to learn more about her, her organization, and her good work.

Thanks for reading. And please be a Do-Gooder in your own right!

Introducing the PGDG Class of 2014-15

Marguerite Anglin, AIA, LEED AP    President of PhilaNOMA

Morgan Berman    Founder of MilkCrate

 Lois Brink    Founder of The Big Sandbox

Carmen Febo San Miguel, MD    Executive Director of Taller Puertorriqueno

Danielle Gray   Director of Marketing and Development at SRDC

Jane Golden    Executive Director of the Mural Arts Program

Fern Gookin, LEED AP    Director of Sustainability at Revolution Recovery

Yael Lehman    Executive Director of The Food Trust

Kathryn Ott Lovell    Executive Director of Fairmount Park Conservancy

Karen Rohrer   Co-Founder and Pastor at Beacon

Alesa Rubendall, AIA, LEED AP BD+C    Co-Chair of WIA

Joyce Smith    Community Development at Viola Street Residents Association, CDC

Denise Thompson, AIA, LEED AP BD+C    Treasurer of Philadelphia AIA

Pam Zimmerman, AIA, LEED-AP    Professional Volunteer at CDC and Parking Day

Why blog for PGDG! - From Kate Rutledge

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During graduate school, I assisted with the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA) which is housed in Virginia Tech’s library. It was a unique experience to review the letters and drawings created by women who were pioneers in my profession. However, it was the time spent with the women who gathered for the annual IAWA board meeting and the resulting conversations which left the greatest impression on me. They were excited to talk about why they pursued architecture, what their most memorable projects involved, and how they persevered in an era that did not always welcome or recognize their ideas. The women ranged in age and background from a former apprentice under Frank Lloyd Wright to a current sole proprietor with her own successful firm in NYC. Although their paths differed, many shared overlapping passions for community building, social justice, and good design. I was happy to listen and capture their historical experiences in hopes of inspiring future generations to continue working towards their common goals.

I am excited to contribute to the PGDG! blog while viewing it as a more modern record of stories that are unfolding here in Philadelphia, in real-time. The careers, projects and ideas of the professionals celebrated by PGDG! are constantly evolving. My goal is to shine a spotlight on these women so that others are aware of their great work and can keep an eye on them as a role model, creative leader, or future collaborator. As a reader of the blog last year, I enjoyed the conversations shared between the inaugural PGDG! class, especially when they recognized mutual interests from varying perspectives. After getting a sneak peek at the list of women in next year’s PGDG! class, I have no doubt they will be a catalyst for even more inspiration and collaboration. I can't wait to get started hearing and sharing their stories too.

—Kate Rutledge

West Philadelphia Transformations

Jessica Baumert, Prema Gupta, Kira Strong, Nancy Rogo Trainer

A Philly Girls Do Good conversation with:

  • Jessica Baumert, Executive Director of The Woodlands
  • Prema Gupta, Director of Planning and Economic Development at University City District
  • Kira Strong, Vice President of `Community and Economic Development at the People’s Emergency Center
  • Nancy Rogo Trainer, Associate Vice President, Planning and Design at Drexel University

On a crisp Friday in September, Danielle and Sylvia gathered four mover and shakers of West Philadelphia around small plates at Zavino in the recently redeveloped block of Chestnut Square (we recommend the “Stache” pizza, by the way). The setting was the perfect backdrop for a conversation about how West Philadelphia has transformed over the last few years and where it’s headed from here.

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Principal drivers in that transformation are the University City District (UCD), Penn, and Drexel. Nancy Rogo Trainer commented that part of her newly established position at Drexel is to work collaboratively with other local organizations and accomplish change together. She’s particularly looking forward to working more closely with Prema Gupta to reinvigorate University City’s public realm.

Just recently, UCD embarked on a pedestrian study of eastern University City with Jan Gehl Studio New York. Prema also led the initiative to introduce pedestrian plazas on Woodland Avenue and Baltimore Avenue. The ongoing and popular success story for UCD is The Porch at 30th Street Station. Prema is continuing to learn lessons from activity at The Porch, such as gathering information about how it is used, and then using the findings to inform its development as well as their other projects. Now UCD is checking out ways to perk up the SEPTA stations and 37th Street Pedestrian Mall.

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Prema is also partnering with Jessica Baumert of The Woodlands. Enter into the pastoral edge of University City at The Woodlands Cemetery on Woodland Avenue, only to discover the historic estate of William Hamilton! Jessica is excited about the 40th Street Trolley Portal, where a major renovation is currently being designed by Andropogon Associates—right at The Woodlands front door. The project includes new programming, such as a café, improved pedestrian crosswalks, and wayfinding signage to The Woodlands. This important UCD project will create a proper front entrance to The Woodlands, inviting the public in for historic tours and cultural events throughout the year.

Proposed 40th Street Trolley Portal

Moving further west, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) has been expanding beyond its social services mission to revitalize neighborhoods just west of UCD. In fact, the two organizations’ boundaries generally meet at 38th Street, an important north-south corridor in West Philly. PEC’s mission and impact is not in University City District, but Kira Strong sees signs of UCD’s transformative energy moving west. Lancaster Avenue is the major commercial corridor in PEC’s area, and it is also the physical connection to Drexel’s campus where it terminates at 34th Street. Kira is hopeful that more neighborhood destinations will slowly populate west Lancaster Avenue as the buzz of development along the corridor continues to grow. Nancy pointed out the historical significance of Lancaster Avenue and regards Drexel as an important stakeholder in the success of that corridor.

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Kira shared excitement about being a stakeholder with the representatives of local registered community organizations, Drexel, the Science Center, and UCD, in the collaborative re-visioning of the University City High School site between 38th and 36th at Lancaster Avenue and Market Street. All are confident that the redevelopment of the super-block site will be a significant bridge between the activity of University City and the communities to its west and north. The development brings together innovative, economic, and educational goals. According to Nancy, this process aims to illustrate that “innovation and social change should not be mutually exclusive.”

With regards to social change and innovation, Kira and Jessica, meeting for the first time here, connected on a literacy program called Mighty Writers. PEC helped the Mighty Writers find leasable space and Jessica is interested in getting them to help tell the stories of The Woodlands. Business cards were traded and a new friendship was formed around shared values.

When asked what is the greatest challenge facing West Philadelphia today, nearly everyone said “available funds.” In addition to that, Kira said she wants the positive transformations to “lift all boats” and avoid creating a further divided city. She elaborated that without good public schools, the local work force is unskilled and cannot substantially contribute to the improvement of the neighborhoods.

We asked what project or effort each woman is most proud of after having been on the job for less than 4 years apiece (except for Kira who has an impressive 10 years at PEC). Nancy—only ten months into her appointment—was lauded by Prema for creating an outdoor student lounge along the food truck depot at 33rd and Arch Streets. Nancy said it is an inexpensive but effective campus public space that is well used by the students. For Prema, she is thrilled with the success of The Porch. Jessica, despite leading a master plan effort for The Woodlands right now, said she was most proud of the fact that when she mentions The Woodlands people don’t say “what’s that?” anymore. She attributes this new recognition to a strong promotional and programming strategy enacted by her and The Woodlands Board of Trustees. Kira, who has had the longest stint, said that she was most proud of diversifying the activities of the development corporation and promoting development through fun and engaging activities—such as getting PEC to participate in Parking DayNight Market (17,000 people attended on August 14!) and other corridor events.

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That was a fine way to sum up the conversation: a passionate group of women leaders are transforming West Philadelphia through innovative and creative ways that bring people together and get them engaged in the public realm like never before.

—Danielle DiLeo Kim

Thanks for reading our PGDG Blog! This is our final entry in a series of monthly conversations from the Philly Girls Do Good inaugural class of 2013-14. Thank you to all the inspiring women who participated and shared their good work in Philadelphia. Upcoming blog posts will feature the class of 2014-15. Stay tuned!

Philly Girls Do Good! Logos Locus Partners

Accepting Nominations for PGDG Class of 2014-15

PGDG.NominationForm2014We want to know who YOU think would be a great addition to our PGDG list of Philly Do-Gooders! We look forward to meeting more great women leaders in design and community development who make a difference in Philadelphia through their great work. We look forward to celebrating their work and the organizations they serve through our blog posts here.

Thank you for supporting this effort! Please nominate a Do-Gooder for the PGDG Class of 2014-15 by September 26, 2014.

(Please download the PDF form by clicking the above link. You will have to save it onto your computer in order to complete and submit it electronically. When you push submit it will be emailed to the PGDG account.)

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.

A carrot!

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