Urban Workshop builds relationships in neighborhoods

The workshop proposes small design ideas to revitalize neighborhoods.

Since its inception in 2002, the goal of the Urban Workshop project is to revitalize Philadelphia neighborhoods through opportunities like rehabing murals on Germantown Avenue near Alder Street. KYLE THOMAS FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

When thinking about urban acupuncture, Sally Harrison compares a neighborhood to a system.

“Any urban environment is a system,” said Harrison, an architecture professor. “There are certain places where if you apply a certain amount of pressure or develop it, it is more likely to be a generator than if you were to put it somewhere else or disperse your resources.”

Urban acupuncture is an urban design concept that looks at how small design projects can have a larger impact.

Harrison started the Urban Workshop in 2002.The workshop proposes ideas to revitalize a neighborhood through small design methods. After the semester’s end, the students and faculty attempt to follow through with the project to make an urban design change that can improve the neighborhood.

The workshop then works with the local organization and community to give them a “deliverable” project and that they can continue to raise funds for and build.

The design collaborative brings together architecture professors and students to work on an urban design project that addresses issues in Philadelphia neighborhoods like Kensington and Norris Square. The project uses the urban acupuncture theory. Students from the community development program and Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha — a nonprofit that works in the areas of behavioral health, affordable housing, substance use treatment and other support services for Philadelphians, — have also worked with the collaborative.

The Urban Workshop has worked to make small design changes along Germantown Avenue. KYLE THOMAS FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

Harrison, who has worked in the architecture department since 1992, received a grant from the university in the early 2000s to form the Urban Workshop with landscape architecture, geography and urban studies and fine arts faculty members.

The latest project, which ended in Spring 2016, was a collaboration between Tyler School of Art’s planning & community development department’s graduate planning workshop and APM. The groups researched the area around 6th Street and Susquehanna Avenue and the history of Germantown Avenue to see if a pop-up marketplace could help revitalize the community.

The APM project originally started in 2009 when the organization set up a “master plan” for improving the Germantown Avenue corridor, said Angel Rodriguez, APM’s vice president of community and economic development.

One of the suggestions that came from the plan included a possible pop-up marketplace that would increase the amount of people walking in the area. APM approached the planning & community development department and the Urban Workshop research the feasibility of the project and create renderings. The students worked on this in Spring 2016.

APM applied for a grant through the 2017 Knight Cities Challenge, but was not chosen as a finalist. Rodriguez said he sees this as a slight “hiccup,” but the project will continue. The organization is working on getting zoning permits and conducting several walkability studies this year along the Germantown Avenue corridor.

“It is really about the activation of the corridor and getting people excited about the city and the rest will come,” Rodriguez said.

The workshop’s first projects were with the Norris Square Community Alliance. From 2002 to 2003, the collaborative worked to make design changes to local schools and repurpose an open lot, which has now become the Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

“The whole idea was relationships,” Harrison said. “You don’t just jump in with a parachute and say, ‘We are going to make your neighborhood beautiful.’ We are going to work underneath what the issues are, what the needs and aspirations for community members are.”

Harrison said for the next Urban Workshop, she wants to take a look at gentrification in two neighborhoods with different socioeconomic levels.

The basis for Urban Workshop’s projects are strengthening communities.

“A lot of times communities can test out ideas and we are a perfect opportunity for them to be like, ‘Oh, OK, it could be like this,” Harrison said. “It’s blue-sky thinking.”

Emily Scott can be reached at emily.ivy.scott@temple.edu or on Twitter @emilyivyscott.

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