Five Local Projects Inspiring Community Engagement

Cities are the most diverse places in America — yet within our own borders, we’re still often segregated by race, class, culture and religion. Tactical Urbanism: Diplomacy Edition highlighted five inspiring ideas that brought people together. Special guests included Lauren Murphy-Sands, Erike De Veyra, B. Jawuan Jones, Hazami Sayed, and Brad Maule.


Murphy-Sands, assistant principal of North Kensington High School and coach for The Nomads rugby team, spoke about uniting people through shared vision and values. At her high school, she strives for all her students to believe in themselves and trust the school community. As coach for the Nomads, she calls on her players to believe in themselves and trust the team family. After Kristen Graham wrote about the team in 2014, a cinematographer followed them and captured their dynamics. The Nomads’ story will be turned into a feature film next year.


De Veyra, community outreach and program manager for the Center for Architecture & Design, shared how PARK(ing) Day started in San Francisco in 2005 after an architectural design firm were looking for an urban project and noted the need more urban public space. Their solution was to take over a parking spot, fill it with grass, a bench and a potted tree, and from that was born a worldwide movement which sparked community interaction.


The American Institute of Architects, a community of local architects, started PARK(ing) Day Philadelphia with 28 parks in 2008. De Veyra said, “It was a way for us to take back our parking spaces.” After De Veyra joined Center for Architecture & Design in 2012, she was invited to work on the project.


“The idea is that you go into as many neighborhoods as possible. Every year, we create a map. The highest we’ve gone is 68 parks and we’re in our twelfth year,” she told the crowd. “With social media we’re able to share more about what we’re doing on that day.” Check out their hashtag is #PARKingDayPHL on Twitter and Instagram to view thousands of photos from events in past years.


How can you get involved? De Veyra said they have a rule of one park per block. Sign up online; share which block you’re located on and where your park will be placed. It’s a way to get people out of their offices and talking to people. It went beyond the design community and started being adapted by local businesses.


Jones, founder of Haircut4Homeless, shared with attendees his inspirational story of how in January of 2017 he had this wild idea to quit his job and go out and provide for the homeless. Jones’ wife told him, “You have these clippers that are collecting dust; why don’t you go out and give them haircuts?” Jones did research and he said it turned out, his wife was right. Many local organizations clothe and feed the homeless but there was a need for a barber to provide haircuts for those on the street, and so the Haircut4Homeless initiative was started.


Jones remembers the first haircut he gave and how grateful and seen the recipient felt. Afterwards he noticed that there was a line of other homeless individuals around the corner ready for their turn in his chair. His wife posted a Facebook live video of the experience. The next day, Jones was floored as the video had racked up 2.4 million views in 16 hours. Seeing that impact gave Jones the confidence to quit his job and pursue Haircut4Homeless in earnest. Now a year later, Jones has provided over 2,000 free haircuts. He has a team of barbers who travel across the country and minister to the needy.


Sayed founded Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, a non-profit arts organization dedicated to presenting and teaching the Arabic language, arts, and culture, and to promote cross-cultural understanding. Read our feature on the organization and their initiatives.


Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture is working at Northeast High School, a school of 3,500 kids where 56 languages are spoken and there is a sizable number of students from Arab heritage. Sayed said the non-profit got involved after the September 11 attacks in 2001, and were supporting mostly Palestinian kids at the time.


Since there weren’t a lot of resources the organization was approached by the local administration to help with refugees from Iraq that were coming to the city. Since 2016, Sayed said they have been looking at how to celebrate cultural diversity through the arts.


After the election in November 2016 (which resulted in Donald Trump being elected the 45th President) immigrant rights took front and center. Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture created an immigrant alphabet theme and identified 18 students to participate. The project was led by photographer Wendy Ewald, and subsequently published as a book.


In the Spring of 2017, the project came into fruition, expressing students’ stories as immigrant refugees and made into public art. The work appeared at the city’s Municipal Services building for eleven months; it now has another life at Cherry Street Pier through June 19, 2019.


Maule, communications associate at Mt. Airy Supper Sessions, spoke about about the impact of the Supper Sessions on historic Germantown Avenue. Mt. Airy USA’s staff thought of how they could draw people to Germantown Avenue. Maule said they “stole Media’s idea”—Media closed a few blocks on State Street from May through October. Mt. Airy USA decided to close the 7100 block of Germantown Avenue every Wednesday in September 2016.


From 2011 to 2015, the business association held a night market with food trucks that drew 10,000 people. However local businesses complained and said that the night market “doesn’t do anything for us.” In 2017, the staff realized that the Supper Sessions “had to have more than just food,” so they solicited art vendors and other organizations to join. They also had to get buy-in from restaurant owners in order to close down the street. This was around the time when Open Streets launched, and more residents were receptive to street events. Mt. Airy USA also had to coordinate with Septa and police in order to reroute bus 23.


Maule said it has been a learning process—they asked people what they liked and didn’t like about the Supper Sessions. The organization took note that the Germantown Avenue event had to offer economic diversity— food and drink bring people out, but there had to be different price points.  Next year, they are planning to host the event once a month in the summer, with no rain dates. Search for #GoMountAiry on social media to see photos from this successful event.