Civic Infrastructure Summit

Thursday, June 14, 2018Saturday, June 16, 2018
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University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

This event will bring together practitioners, officials, funders, scholars, and field leaders from key cities across the country to discuss their work creating and reinvesting in civic infrastructure, exploring the challenges and questions they encounter as they work on specific sites, city-wide systems and new policy ideas.



Thursday, June 14 (Penn Museum: Rainey Auditorium)

6:00 pm     Welcome
Mike DiBerardinis, Managing Director, City of Philadelphia
6:15 pm     Introduction to Summit and PennPraxis Research
Randall Mason, Senior Fellow, PennPraxis
Elizabeth Greenspan, Senior Researcher, PennPraxis
6:30 pm    Keynotes
Maria Rosario Jackson, Senior Advisor, Kresge Foundation/Institute Professor, Arizona State University
Damon Rich, Partner, Hector/2017 MacArthur Fellow, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
7:30 pm    Reception to follow

Friday, June 15 (Penn Museum: Rainey Auditorium)

8:30 am     Breakfast
9:00 am    Welcome
Kathryn Ott Lovell, Commissioner, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation
9:15 am     Panel: Sites
Sheila Foster, Professor of Law and Public Policy, Georgetown University
Keir Johnston, Co-Founder, Amber Art and Design
Scott Kratz, Director, 11th Street Bridge Project
Tyrone Mullins, Co-Founder, Green Streets/Buchanan Street Mall Project
Kira Strong, Deputy Director of Design and Construction, City of Philadelphia’s Rebuilding Community Infrastructure
Moderated by Elizabeth Greenspan, Senior Researcher, PennPraxis
11:30 am    Lunch
12:45 pm    Panel: Systems
Jessica Garz, Senior Program Officer, Surdna Foundation
Christopher Hawthorne, Chief Design Officer, City of Los Angeles
Shannon Mattern, Professor of Media Studies, The New School
Beth White, President and CEO, Houston Parks Board
Moderated by Cara Ferrentino, Program Officer – Public Space, William Penn Foundation
2:45 pm     Coffee
3:30 pm     Panel: Policies
Rebecca Chan, Program Officer – LISC National Creative Placemaking, LISC
Nette Compton, Deputy Director – Parks for People, The Trust for Public Land
Ryan Gravel, Atlanta BeltLine/Founding Principal, Sixpitch
Barbara Brown Wilson, Assistant Professor, University of Virginia
Moderated by Randall Mason, Senior Fellow, PennPraxis

Saturday, June 16 (Various sites, departing from Meyerson Hall)

9:00 am     Small groups depart from Meyerson Hall (210 S. 34th Street) to visit civic assets targeted for recent or future reinvestment. Lunch included. Return to Meyerson Hall by 2:00 pm. All guests are invited to Parks on Tap at Belmont Plateau following the morning tours.


Cities across the country continue to reinvest in their civic assets – including parks, playgrounds, rec centers, and libraries – with ever greater ambition and purpose. The dramatically changing contexts of city life are demanding it: community change is a fraught issue; cultural identities are in flux; lines of governance are constantly being redrawn; and economic expectations are attached to every investment. Designers, artists and other cultural producers of public spaces and public life add a great deal of value, but cannot by themselves transform a neighborhood or a city. Who takes responsibility for civic life and the infrastructure that supports it?
In recent years, many cities answered these challenges with big, charismatic, centrally located parks and public spaces. Many of them were extremely successful (Millennium Park, the High Line, Dilworth Plaza), yet these new spaces, and the creative placemaking strategies that have likewise emerged as a dominant urban strategy, are limited in effect.  More fundamental change is sought in the creation and use of public spaces and civic assets – of all size and types, in all cities’ neighborhoods. The concept of “civic infrastructure” we proposed in an earlier white paper described this ideal of more fundamental change. This conference, and the research on which it is based, extends this search for new models and best practices.
Our research—published in a new report—suggests that innovative ideas about civic infrastructure tend to be invested in and executed at three scales: 1) individual sites, like DC’s 11th Street Bridge, often in marginalized neighborhoods or spanning across multiple neighborhoods; 2) city-wide systems, like Philadelphia’s Rebuild Initiative and New York City’s Community Parks Initiative, emphasizing a network of quotidian, neighborhood spaces; and 3) non-spatial policies, like work-force development, aimed at economic inclusion or environmental strategies for a regional watershed. These three scales, or perspectives, each involve significant public and private funding streams and partnerships, and extensive civic engagement efforts. Most of all, they reflect a national trend among cities to ascribe immense expectations upon these civic asset reinvestments.
In addition to creating well-designed, better-maintained public spaces – itself a difficult, multi-faceted task involving sophisticated governance, engagement, and design efforts – cities frequently look to these reinvestments to create public spaces and civic assets that:
  • spur economic development in neighborhoods;
  • repair trust with residents long-neglected by city governments;
  • provide jobs to local residents;
  • generate more market-rate and subsidized housing; and
  • last but not least, foster dialogue and engagement among increasingly polarized actors and groups of people, helping them come together and grow more comfortable with one another’s class, race, ethnic, and gender differences.
Taken together, these expectations can seem so far-reaching that only some magical ingredient could make them all happen.  Indeed, leaders and citizens may wish for a single program or project that will revive neighborhoods’ depressed economies while simultaneously controlling the resulting gentrification, facilitating democratic engagement, and making their place beautiful and sustainable.  Of course, the magical ingredient doesn’t exist, but the success of governance is a decisive factor. When some magic does happen, the civic infrastructure ideal seems a little more approachable.  When it does work, how does it work?
Given these complex forces and the ambitious expectations that follow, it’s critical to conceptualize and investigate how cities are reinvesting in their civic assets. Perhaps most importantly, it’s critical to talk about the challenges that cities are encountering, across multiple areas of practice, including governance, community engagement, design, measurement, and economic inclusion. Each of these areas of practice inform the others; only by conceptualizing the whole process will a clearer understanding emerge of how cities can best execute their reinvestments.
For more information, contact Molly Lester, PennPraxis Research Associate: