Creative Communities

Commentary: A new way to rebuild Philadelphia

Posted: Monday, February 20, 2017
Source: Philly.com

Editorial boards of the Inquirer and Daily News have noted the potential of Mayor Kenney's approach to managing the Rebuild Initiative, a large-scale revitalization of parks, playgrounds, recreation centers, and libraries across the city - most especially in underserved and under-resourced neighborhoods.

As we announced in November, the William Penn Foundation intends to make a historic $100 million investment in Rebuild. Chief among the factors that informed our decision was the mayor's commitment to an investment strategy based on evidence and data to provide an impartial, transparent roadmap for the projects. In an era of constrained public resources, using substantive information to support decision-making is critical.

An objective approach to selecting and funding projects increases the impact and efficiency of Rebuild, ensuring that individual projects are implemented well and that maximum resources reach communities with the greatest need.

Transparent, data-driven project selection must be combined with rigorous standards and qualifications for the project managers, designers, and contractors who will remake these community assets. This pairing is essential to ensuring high-quality outcomes. Project managers, designers and contractors must also have a demonstrated commitment to employment diversity and inclusion, so that neighborhood residents benefit directly from new job opportunities as participants in the Rebuild workforce.

The public voice through community engagement in the neighborhoods where investments are made is intrinsic to Rebuild. Parks, playgrounds, rec centers, and libraries are important places for play and learning, but they also function as stages on which our daily civic life plays out. They are places where bonds of community and mutual understanding form - often among people of differing races, classes, and ethnicities in this diverse city.

Our support and commitment to the mayor's vision is enthusiastic but not unconditional. We expect him and his team to implement an initiative based on highly strategic, data-driven investment decisions that are committed to creating economic development, assuring extensive community engagement, and meeting defined expectations for project excellence.

We believe the combination of these features holds great potential to leverage additional public and private funding, and may render Rebuild a new model for community reinvestment emulated by cities and communities across the country.

Although it is still early, our confidence that the mayor, the Rebuild team, and City Council will embrace this new approach makes us highly optimistic that the city can deliver effectively on big ambitions, creating a new day for Philadelphia.

Janet Haas, M.D., is the chair of the board of directors of the William Penn Foundation.

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