The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia hosted the second annual Neighborhood Preservation Conference at Temple University yesterday. PAGP unveiled their Neighborhood Initiative programs and grant opportunities, and presented some terrific seminars focusing on how residents and organizations can help preserve and enhance “middle market” neighborhoods in Philadelphia. I was thrilled and inspired to see a roomful of conference participants – at a preservation gathering! – that looks like Philadelphia. In my 30+-year career in historic preservation, I’ve long joined my colleagues in being utterly frustrated and dumbfounded at the narrow demographic of the people we collaborate with, learn from and network with. We’ve railed against the lack of diversity in the preservation “community,” but that real diversity of talent and interest has been a long time coming. Now the Alliance, with partners and supporters led by the William Penn Foundation, have been doing exactly what we should all have been doing all along: helping folks manage change in and improve the neighborhoods where they live and are invested.
It was an inspiring and informative day. The workshop on commercial corridor revitalization was moderated by Jim Flaherty, the City of Philadelphia’s senior manager for economic initiatives, whose portfolio includes the city’s Main Street program. Among his fellow conversation leaders were developer David Waxman from MM Partners, who’s making incredible investments in Brewerytown along Girard Avenue; Paul Aylesworth, who until recently led the commercial revitalization project for the Korean CDC on North 5th Street; and Patricia Blakeley, Executive Director of the amazing, 150-year-old Philadelphia institution that invests in small businesses in the city, The Merchants Fund. Each talked talked about their experiences and collaboration with each other and many more civic leaders, like the Community Design Collaborative, and residents, in bringing real change to great, emerging neighborhoods in Philly.
The “audience” wasn’t an audience at all. The participants in the conference are all active change-managers in their neighborhoods all over Philadelphia. Which is, I recently heard, growing in population again after decades of sliding the other way, with 7,000 new residents last year. Great news.
For-profit developers, nonprofit community development corporations, residents and civic associations, passionate neighborhood leaders, fresh food advocates (I can’t wait to visit Romano’s Grocery in Juniata Park) and historic preservationists were all together, sharing information and working toward common goals. It’s a a long time coming. And fantastic.