Philadelphia University architecture and landscape architecture students put their learning into practice during a semester-long collaboration to revitalize the commercial corridor in nearby Germantown.
Following months of meetings and discussions with neighborhood organizations and residents, the students developed a variety of plans to help boost neighborhood unity, cooperation, education, quality of life, economic health and cultural identity. Their revitalization plans included ideas for new theatres, parks, jungle gyms, community squares, benches and walking trails.
“We made a framework for the neighborhood,” said landscape architecture student Vanessa Miller. “We made plans that utilized vacant, derelict space to unify the neighborhood and create a cultural corridor.”
The seven interdisciplinary student teams presented these proposals to a group of peers, faculty and industry experts from Stantec and FXFOWLE architectural firms on Dec. 11 in the SEED Center. The experience gave the groups a chance to hear feedback and encouragement from professionals, while gaining exposure to potential employers.
“This project was a great experience for me because it brought the real world into the classroom,” said architecture student Darpan Patel. “It was thrilling to work on an actual plan.”
The Germantown neighborhood in northwest Philadelphia, not far from campus, has been in flux for decades. Today, the community is impacted by a host of geographical, ecological, economic and cultural issues and opportunities that made it an ideal testing ground for a real-world revitalization project.
“There is a lot to cover in a neighborhood like Germantown,” said Kim Douglas, associate professor of landscape architecture and coordinator of the Re-Start Germantown project. “The students spent six weeks researching and analyzing the neighborhood so they fully understood the issues.”
Joe Martin, interim president of Germantown Special Services District and owner of Acclaim Academy Early Childcare Center, said the project “gave us an opportunity to envision what the community could potentially look like five or 10 years from now.” The PhilaU students, he added, “were fantastic—they really jumped all in to get a hold of what the community needed to see, what the community wanted, and they took that and ran with it.”
Starting in June, Douglas and faculty members Pablo Meninato, architecture, and Jim Querry, geodesign, spent time meeting with community members to develop guiding principles and goals for the project. Once the semester started, students researched the neighborhood history and impact of complex urban issues to gain a full understanding of the challenges and opportunities they needed to consider in developing the plans.
“One of the hardest parts during this project was learning how to communicate our working vocabulary to non-designers, as we worked with the people in Germantown,” said landscape architecture student Timothy Linehan. “But it was a really good experience.”
Andy Trackman, president of Germantown United CDC, said, “Working with the students has been a tremendous experience. During some of the initial meetings with the community they handled some occasionally tough questions and comments with the utmost professionalism. Their plans and renderings were all well thought out and beautiful and inspirational to look at.”
At the final presentation, students agreed working on the project was not only significant to their education, but also presented a wonderful opportunity for the Germantown community. Further development of some of the projects will continue during the spring semester, with the possibility they may be used as the basis for real development projects.
“That’s why we were so excited by this project,” community leader Joe Martin said. “These are concrete plans that can be actionable.”
“This project brings tremendous value to both students and to the neighborhood, because it is a real issue, a real client and addresses a real problem,” Douglas said.