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What Philadelphia can learn from its history of citizen-led park projects [Spoke Magazine]

The article that follows, by Jim Saska, written for Spoke Magazine, describes what it has taken to create more green spaces in Philadelphia and how the City stacks up against other cities on this topic.  

Are there lessons we can learn about visioning, engaging residents, persistence and more that can be applied to our work to create a trauma-informed and resilient Philadelphia?  Read the article and share your thoughts

John Randolph was paddling a canoe on the lower Schuylkill when inspiration struck.There really ought to be a riverside park, he thought, one that would link his Fitler Square neighborhood to the river next door. It was the late ’80s and the riverbank was lined with an overgrown tangles of vines and weed trees, cut off from the rest of the city by a freight railroad line. It looked nothing like it does today.

Like Randolph, we all daydream from time to time about some of the little things we’d like to see in Philadelphia β€” a new bike lane on a scary road, say, or a cute pocket park on a tiny, empty lot.

Most times, that’s all they remain: dreams. And like dreams, you might tell some friends about them, maybe even tweet or blog about them. But on that sublime day on the Schuylkill, long before blogs or tweets were a thing, Randolph decided to do something to turn this particular reverie into reality.

Read the entire article here


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Thanks for posting this Leslie- I think looking at models of how other groups have tackled large issues in Philadelphia can be very helpful as we build our strategy to create a trauma informed city.

To me, a few things specifically caught my attention:

Planting compelling visions in people’s heads

As we begin to engage with more people outside of the trauma sphere, what are the β€˜renderings’ of a trauma-informed city we want people to see? In some ways this will be more difficult because the visions are not of something tangible like a park, and will require us to be clear about what a trauma-informed city looks like not only in theory but in operation, and what’re the steps along the way towards a trauma-informed city.


One of the key takeaways from the article was how instrumental different partners were in overcoming the hurdles in the way of creating the park. Not only were these partners strategically located geographically, they were organized so that each was playing to their strengths in building a critical mass of support.

As we build our strategy, understanding different partners’ existing strengths and networks can help catalyze the work. In addition, because ours is a city-wide initiative, it is important to identify councilmembers, RCOs, and/or CDCs who would support initiatives in their districts/neighborhoods. While the ultimate goal is to have a trauma-informed city, breaking up the city into more β€˜bite-sized’ chunks gives us the opportunities to identify how different programs/policies/interventions will or will not work in different sections of the city, and identify local champions of the work who we may not have yet encountered.

β€˜Clearing the trash’

This quote from the article sums up how the group focused on the dirty work that was a necessary first step, and displayed the group’s commitment to the cause:

"Getting people to reimagine the smelly, industrial Schuylkill River as a recreational space was the SRDC’s biggest challenge. So its members cleared trash, encouraged neighbors to explore the space, and drew up lively renderings to scrub the river’s rusty mental associations and plant a new, compelling vision for the riverside. Before they fundraised, before they lobbied, they sparked the public’s imagination."

I wonder- what are the similar actions to β€˜clearing the trash’ - either that we are already doing or have yet to begin- that show our commitment towards creating a trauma-informed city? What are the different opportunities for engagement for anyone interested in helping in our efforts?

Ignoring 'no'

As with any ambitious effort, we will certainly face a lot of resistance. Along with the notion of ignoring β€˜no,’ it is also important to reflect on what people are saying no to and how they are saying it so that as our work evolves it does so in a way that anticipates potential barriers.

The article does a good job articulating the issues that come with the limited resources in Philadelphia, and this will be a barrier that we will face in our efforts. There is also the fact that while our community understands the importance of addressing trauma, for many people just the notion that traumatic experiences can shape a person’s health later in life will be too much to bear. The work the Philadelphia ACEs Task Force is already undertaking to develop messaging and education will be instrumental in framing the conversation in a way that doesn’t come across as an unsolvable problem. As this work progresses we should consider (if we aren’t already) how messaging should be tailored to different parties such as members of city government, business leaders in Philadelphia, and those who currently have no awareness about trauma but ultimately we need on our side to achieve our goals.

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