Posted March 15, 2017
  • Students work with community members to provide interactive input into the garden design during charrette

  • Community members of all ages participated in the November charrette

  • The People's Garden and sign designed and painted by neighborhood kids

  • Garden Team members

  • Garden work day

Serenity Soular builds trust through design at the People's Garden

Social Impact Project team Serenity Soular is currently planning a garden work day event at the People's Garden the corner of 13th and Silver Street in North Philadelphia on Saturday March 25th from 10am-2pm.  The garden is located adjacent to Serenity House, where the team has been working consistently with the community for the past few months on a series of workshops and a community-informed design.

The day's activities will include spring cleaning of Serenity House's solar garage, a clean up of the People's Garden, and building a fourth garden bed. The PennDesign students will be working with community partners as well as volunteers traveling from Portland, Oregon to assist with the day. Activities also include children’s activities such as flower pot painting and painting the garden's fence. Several children's groups will be joining in on the fun including girls from Flowers of Sisterhood.

The Serenity Soular team (Laura Rigell MCP '17, Cari Krol MCP '17, Nikita Jathan MArch '18, and Margaret Gregg MArch '18) has worked over the past several months through a PennPraxis Social Impact Project to bring the team’s initial vision closer with the community’s, and reach shared goals. Since beginning the journey last summer, working with Serenity House to install solar panels, the team has built on efforts to convert a vacant lot into a community garden. After numerous community meetings, and lessons learned, the team is now even closer to the goal of bringing a solar powered educational space to the garden.

On November 19th, 2016, Serenity Soular hosted a Community Design Charrette at Serenity House. The team was purposeful about including community members, primarily as a way to inform them about the Garden Team progress, and to gauge reactions to initial design direction. Prior to the neighborhood get-together, Garden Team members (including neighbors and students) worked to navigate property ownership obstacles, obtain permissions, and most importantly, identify parameters for a garden pavilion design that would reflect the community's needs and desires. The team held biweekly meetings to keep progress moving, and build trust between all involved parties.

During the charrette, the team used interactive activities to engage the community and collect input. Questions included: "Do we need a fence?", "What should we grow?", and "How would you like to help out?" Residents were given options for shading and seating, and were able to design site plans using movable game pieces representing garden beds, solar panels, water sources, trees, and more in order to physically realize their own design preferences. The Charrette was a beautiful culmination demonstrating how trust helps to increase inclusivity among neighbors and restore ownership of this project to those for whom the garden will be a resource. 

Following the charrette, the Garden Team meetings grew in size as additional neighbors chose to become involved with The People's Garden on a more regular basis. The bi-monthly meetings have continued to be crucial to solidifying the presence of The People's Garden in the neighborhood.

Over the winter months, The Garden Team met regularly to discuss how best to address the input in a holistic garden structure. Shading, benches, vegetation, lighting, and education where all major points of interest and positive discussion during the charrette. The Garden Team has been exploring materials and design schemes to directly acknowledge these topics.

Currently, the Garden Team is in the process of finalizing an initial scheme that will incorporate bamboo shading partitions, solar panels, and lighting into an integrated structure that will function as a space-maker and educational tool. This new garden accessory, named "Solar Gazebo," is expected to be built in The People's Garden by late Spring 2017 in anticipation for full use during the upcoming summer months. An initial design for the Solar Gazebo will be presented at the first Garden Work Day of the spring season on March 25th. At this event, The Garden Team will solicit community feedback in order to make modifications to the design proposal.

Through working with the People's Garden, the student team has built a diverse set of partnerships. They met with the lot’s owner in November, discussing how they wished to work together to make the parcel a positive force in the neighborhood. They expressed their eagerness to support the garden and have been working towards an ownership agreement. The team also connected with a local cultural organization aimed to cultivate self-expression and neighborhood revitalization and are in conversation about collaborating between the two gardens in the coming growing season.

To continue the vision to illuminate the garden with solar energy, the team has worked with Solar States as the installer. Solar States is a North Philadelphia-based solar installation company with an educational mission. Serenity Soular has an ongoing partnership with Solar States as they were the company that installed solar on Serenity House in the summer of 2016 and hired the two Serenity Soular apprentices. Solar States is currently training two new Serenity Soular apprentices through classes at Youth Build Charter School. Solar States is excited to support our vision of installing solar in the People's Garden.

All are welcome to attend on the Garden Work Day on March 25th to witness and support the team’s ongoing progress and commitment to the community.