Exciting News!

Announcing new national investment in three Philadelphia communities

by Melissa Romero on May 27, 2020

Today, Fairmount Park Conservancy received a $1.62 million grant through the national initiative Reimagining the Civic Commons that will bring programming and collaborative learning opportunities to three underserved communities in Philadelphia: Parkside in West Philadelphia, Southwest Philadelphia, and Strawberry Mansion.

Shared civic commons have never been more important. During the pandemic, it has become clear how essential our public spaces are to Philadelphia. Parks, trails and all of our civic assets are critical infrastructure for an equitable recovery as we emerge from COVID-19.

“Civic Commons allows us to continue building on partnerships in three neighborhoods and foster citizen-led collaborations that bring public space to life, by and for the community – working together on common land for common cause,” said Maura McCarthy, Ph.D., Executive Director of Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Reimagining the Civic Commons is a collaborative effort of national foundations — including The JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation and William Penn Foundation — and local partners working to transform public spaces in ways that advance engagement, equity, environmental sustainability and economic development. 

Fairmount Park Conservancy, along with its partner, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, has long been a thought leader in how to improve public space, and bring best practices for programming and planning to the forefront with other park leadership from the Philadelphia region and across the country. This new round of funding for its Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative allows the non-profit to extend its reach and continue to have an impact on underserved communities while sharing lessons learned with other non-profits and cities across the country.

The three-year investment will help support us in our work to bring communities across the city together through collaborative programming and shared best practices, including:


Parkside and Strawberry Mansion

In Parkside in West Philadelphia and Strawberry Mansion, Fairmount Park Conservancy will build upon its community engagement efforts in East and West Fairmount Park, working with the neighborhood CDCs to reimagine the park as a campus for the community by developing a multi-modal accessibility strategy, expanding activation efforts, improving city connections and building an informed and active coalition of partners. Two of the key partners in this project will be the Centennial Parkside CDC and Strawberry Mansion CDC.

The Centennial Parkside CDC has been proud to be a Reimagining the Civic Commons Partner since 2017 and the support from the initiative is more important now than ever,” said Chris Spahr, Ph.D., Executive Director of Centennial Parkside CDC. “As we emerge from a public health crisis and address the associated economic recovery, creating innovative public space programming that responds to the challenge of our time is critical to the mental and physical well-being of our neighborhood.”

“As Strawberry Mansion balances its neighborhood revitalization efforts with the pressures of gentrification, now more than ever it is important to strengthen and preserve the connection to our cultural and civic assets,” said Tonetta Graham, Executive Director of Strawberry Mansion CDC. “Strawberry Mansion CDC continues to support Reimagining the Civic Commons because its major themes of engagement and sustainability are parallel to our mission to empower residents for sustainable revitalization. Because our work is so closely aligned, it’s a great match that will have long lasting benefits for our residents and the viability of our community.”

Southwest Philadelphia

In Southwest Philadelphia, Bartram’s Garden will be empowered through Philadelphia Civic Commons to expand its role as a supporter of nearby schools and public spaces, connect and collaborate with newly resourced and trained City staff, and continue building community-led coalitions as drivers of resident change and resiliency. 

“Bartram’s Garden is honored to be a part of the Civic Commons collaborative in Philadelphia, along with the visionary leaders of our City’s Parks and Recreation Department, the Conservancy, Centennial District and Strawberry Mansion CDC,” said Maitreyi Roy, Executive Director of Bartram’s Garden. “It’s a unique opportunity to learn from each other and elevate the importance of providing comfort, solace, joys of nature, and a connection to the outdoors for families and children in our communities.”

In all three communities, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation will test a new way of working that encourages staff to work beyond the walls of Parks & Recreation buildings and instead within the parks and neighborhoods.

We are grateful for the support of Reimagining the Civic Commons, which will allow us to bring resources to these communities at this time.


In 2016, Philadelphia was chosen as one of five cities to participate in Reimagining the Civic Commons. Today, the initiative added five additional cities: Lexington, Macon, Miami, Minneapolis and San Jose. For the next three years, the 10 cities participating will continue to transform civic assets to connect people of all backgrounds, cultivate trust and create more resilient communities.

In the past four years, we’ve accomplished a lot:

Philadelphia has Bartram’s Mile, new riverfront bike and pedestrian trail; a renovated Lovett Library and park space; the elevated Rail Park; a nature and youth education center at the Discovery Center in East Fairmount Park; and a neighborhood-oriented gathering space at the Centennial Commons in West Fairmount Park. Reimagining the Civic Commons in Philadelphia created a robust, collaborative network of public space practitioners and helped set the stage for $500 million of new civic asset funding through the Rebuild initiative.

To learn more about the Civic Commons Philadelphia, read: “The time for the commons is now.”