Last week PGDG hosted their second annual moderated panel discussion at Industrious on Broad and Locust. The panel featured four dynamic members of Philly Girls Do Good who graciously offered their experiences in the planning and development of Philadelphia’s urban fabric. Danielle DiLeo Kim led the discussion with Emily Bittenbender, Carrie Rathman, Lindsey Scannapieco and Natalie Sheih. Fellow PGDG members, colleagues, and friends were in attendance, along with lots of new faces who were learning about PGDG for the first time.
Initiating the pecha-kucha style presentations, Lindsey Scannapieco told us the unusual story of Scout, the urban design and development practice she founded as a practice of activating vacant land. Scout was launched leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London when they created a temporary cinema from discarded refrigerators on the site of what would become the Olympic Village. Over the past year, Scout has turned its attention on redeveloping the former Bok Vocational High School in South Philly. While it may seem like a big leap from building with appliances to reconsidering a school building that occupies an entire city block, Lindsey explained that the thread of activating vacant space is the same. Scout has focused on programming as a tool to bring people into the space and to reveal the assets that are already there. Bok has already leased 26,000 square feet to tenants such as artists, hairdressers, and architects. Lindsey emphasized seeking creative collaboration, being able to ask for help “because you will need it”, and having the tenacity to follow through on a crazy idea to see where it leads.
Carrie Rathman describes her role as the Director of Strategic Partnerships for Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia as an “outward-facing” position which allows her to explore relationships and collaborate with other like-minded organizations. Habitat for Humanity focuses on empowering a path to home ownership. They are also now enabling repair work to keep people in their homes and looking at strategies to strengthen entire neighborhoods. Carrie told us success stories from her previous work with Rebuilding Together Philadelphia that inform her current agenda. There she organized a three-day “mega-volunteer” event during which 32 homes and a new playground were built on a single block. That’s building community.
PGDG works at all scales. Natalie Sheih kept it real talking about her experience as Project Director for the Philadelphia 30th Street Station District Plan—and enormous visioning plan that started with know what the immediate neighbors wanted in their back yard. There are a multitude of institutions, corporations, and individual voices representing diverse needs and agendas for the 175-acres being considered. Natalie says her number one strategy is staying transparent throughout the process in order to build and maintain trust among the community. She noted it was important during community meetings to emphasize there were no secret plans and they were truly starting with a blank canvas. Another key is being able to effectively communicate the technical aspects of the plan to a broad audience in order to facilitate discussion. In the end, she says it’s not about having the best or right approach, but rather, it’s about the people and making sure their voices are heard.
Emily Bittenbender is a rare creature. She the founder and managing partner of the only woman-owned, union-affiliated general contractor in the Philadelphia area, Bittenbender Construction LP. Her company has been involved in building high-profile projects such as Sister Cities Park on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Paines Park on the Schuylkill River Banks, and Central Green Park at the Navy Yard. She is looking forward to working on the upcoming renovation of Love Park—another iconic project for Philadelphia. Emily is proud to emphasize and promote diversity, differentiating her company from the traditional all-boys club of general contractors. Recently when a colleague expressed interest in starting a construction firm, Emily brought her fully aboard so she could firsthand everything she would need to know to run her own, what challenges come up, and how they are addressed. Emily’s express goal is to create her own competitor within five years and in doing so, continue to improve the construction industry as a whole.
These introductory presentations were followed by a lively conversation among the attendees and PGDG women that drifted from Q&A format to some energetic networking and story swapping among whole group gathered. We appreciate Emily, Carrie, Natalie, and Lindsey for inspiring the evening with their stories which we expect will directly and positively impact the development of Philadelphia’s urban spaces in the future.