Several years ago, Bartram’s Garden and Woodland Academy decided to partner on a joint venture to create a more collaborative approach to learning and nature through the creation of a high-quality early learning facility centered on nature and science. From the initial inception, the Garden and Woodland made a conscious decision to approach this new venture differently. Although both organizations had previously included the community as stakeholders within their organizations, they recognized that a wide array of leaders within the community were still missing from long-term and extensive planning processes that were already happening within the community, including the development of the Tidal Schuylkill riverfront. Funds from the Fund for Quality, a program seeking to expand the availability of quality early childhood education and care opportunities, gave Bartram’s Garden and Woodland the support needed to explore the possibility of increasing high-quality care to the community. Because the two organizations felt it would be important and meaningful to invite another partner to the table for shared decision-making and collaboration, they also reached out to the William Penn Foundation for a Great Public Spaces grant to support inclusion of yet another very important partner in our process: the Southwest community.
The community outreach began last year and open meetings were held. Members were encouraged to tell friends and neighbors to help spread the word. The intergenerational advisory group was formed and they set the tone for what they wanted the collaborative planning process to look like. There was an advocacy training for the group to help members identify what their unified asks would be to others and a clear way to achieve the things they desired to see in their community. The group also explored issues related to community trauma, employment shifts, and new opportunities headed to the Southwest community, as well as ways to support startups and entrepreneurs.
Other organizations were able to present to local leaders as well as listen to the needs and concerns of the community. Leaders were invited to sit at the table to help select the architects hired to craft the design of the new spaces. They advocated for programs and spaces that could best meet the needs of the community. They used their voices to encourage both organizations to think about existing programs to avoid duplicating services as well as thinking through challenges that could arise due to operating a shared space.
Leaders traveled to NYC to learn from a transformation project that took place in Brooklyn. The intergenerational group of leaders was also able to visit a shared outdoor space designed by the architects selected. They led multiple community outreach events, facilitated community meetings, and spoke with elected officials to bring awareness of the innovative and transparent planning process that was unlike the normal experience in the Southwest Community.