In 2015, The New York Times proclaimed Philadelphia the top U.S. city and the third best place in the world to visit.  The Times ranking, along with others -- U.S. News & World Report, Travel and Leisure and Fodor’s Travel -- were part of a wave of national recognition of Center City’s renaissance and its impact on Philadelphia’s reputation as a vibrant place to live, work and play.

Center City’s revival was partly ignited by major investments in downtown parks, squares and new riverfront trails – many of which received support from the William Penn Foundation. This dynamic reinvestment reinvigorated previously underutilized public spaces and created new ones throughout the City’s central business district. With the Center City transformation heralded a success, the City has sought ways to replicate this vital energy across Philadelphia.  As Shawn McCaney, Executive Director of the William Penn Foundation states, “…[For] the city as a whole to thrive, every resident of the city needs to have easy access to high quality parks, libraries, recreation centers, and other public amenities.  These kinds of high-quality assets are essential to building and maintaining healthy and vital neighborhoods and communities.”

Enter Rebuild.

The City of Philadelphia’s Rebuilding Community Infrastructure Initiative (Rebuild) is Mayor Jim Kenney’s plan – a public-private pledge of hundreds of millions of dollars -- to transform community libraries, recreation centers, and parks.  This bold proposal commits to providing residents tangible improvements to their local public spaces and is a signal that Philadelphia is actively addressing historic levels of neighborhood disinvestment.

In late 2016, the William Penn Foundation announced our support for Rebuild, committing up to $100 Million, the single largest grant in Foundation history and one of the largest ever for public space in the country.  The historic level of support was inspired by Rebuild’s unprecedented level of investment in Philadelphia communities and was well-aligned with our own long-standing commitment to public spaces, culture and the arts.

The Rebuild Initiative represents an innovative, data-informed and more strategic approach to community investment, which is expected to generate social returns that multiply beyond the spaces they transform. Not only will Rebuild create dynamic outdoor play areas, thriving recreation centers, and well-resourced libraries that contribute to enriched learning and engagement, these improvements are also intended to advance economic inclusion, improve community health and renew ownership and pride in civic spaces.

Three years in, Rebuild is reshaping the way the City approaches large-scale projects by engaging neighbors in the processes of decision-making toward project development. This engagement provides a path to continued use of these spaces, local stewardship for the ongoing care, and maintenance of public assets. Innovations in project planning and implementation have positioned Philadelphia as a national leader in how cities can maintain their civic infrastructure, decentralize their investment strategies and promote equity using a community-centered lens.

Progress Timeline