At the end of 2014, beginning of 2015, I had the opportunity to work with Cohabitation Strategies in collaboration with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program to conduct a ton of geospatial research and analysis for a new initiative as a part of Murat Arts’ Restored Spaces program. The project came about from Mural Arts’ desire for increased community engagement, who traditionally works with local artists and community groups for the development of murals. The Restored Spaces program seeks to expand their mission into the environmental sphere, emphasizing a participatory process that “serves as a platform for community action through art and planning in shaping the urban landscape,” and is headed by Senior Project Manager, Shari Hersh.
As the initiative was somewhat fresh, Mural Arts sought the expertise of Cohabitation Strategies to conduct research in Philadelphia with the goal of spotlighting possible new areas of intervention. I joined the project in the early research phase, conducting social, economic and demographic spatial research at city-wide scale, the results of which can be seen below.
City Wide Scale
At the beginning of the project, it was recognized this was a strong opportunity to work with the city’s low-income and Latino communities. With that in mind, the city-wide research allowed us to target three main areas of interest. A northern area, centered around the Kensington neighborhood, is heavily Hispanic, but also had heavy investment from other community groups and neighborhood action plans. A western area fit much of the criteria, however this was a neighborhood that Mural Arts was very familiar with, and not heavily Hispanic. Local fieldwork revealed a growing Hispanic community in the southern part of the city, not well documented by census data, and centered around the neighborhood of Greenwich. This area became the primary focus and spatial research was targeted to the neighborhood.
Ultimately, this work led to the creation of the Playgrounds for Useful Knowledge project, which promotes “new social relations across cultural and economic divides, with the objective of generating just and sustainable forms of collective inhabiting to confront the pressures of accelerated urban development.” The project occupied a vacant lot from May to September 2015, where residents participated in knowledge building and playful and creative ways to advance the dialogue of gentrification, urban land use and environmental projection in the neighborhood.