Civic Infrastructure Summit

Thursday, June 14, 2018Saturday, June 16, 2018
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University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

3260 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19104

This two and a half-day summit will bring together practitioners, officials, funders, scholars, and field leaders from 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.

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” that PennPraxis 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 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 rules and regulations, aimed at economic inclusion. These three scales 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.

The summit’s aims are:

  • First, to share broad reporting and analysis of best practices and issues connected to civic asset reinvestment across the country;
  • Second, to bring lessons from around the country to Philadelphia’s conversation around civic assets and public space, while projecting Philadelphia’s robust civic asset strategies to a national audience of professionals and leaders;
  • Third, to make and sustain an argument that the ideal of civic infrastructure is an ongoing conversation, not a simple problem to be solved; our speakers will ask difficult questions about how and whether societal needs are being met by civic asset work, now and in the future;
  • Fourth, help set the agenda for future work, research and innovation in civic assets.