Building more successful cities the focus of new $11 million investment to reinvent Philadelphia’s public places

Knight Foundation and William Penn Foundation partner to support Fairmount Park Conservancy on "Reimagining the Civic Commons” initiative

PHILADELPHIA—March 16, 2015—Can civic places, including libraries, parks, trails, plazas and community centers, be reimagined to make cities more successful? The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and William Penn Foundation are investing $11 million in an initiative led by Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Conservancy to test this idea. The initiative will explore whether reinventing and connecting these public places as a network of civic assets will help cities attract and keep talented workers, advance economic opportunity, encourage residents to become more engaged in shaping their communities, and begin to level the playing field between more affluent communities and those in need.

With this funding, Fairmount Park Conservancy will convene five Philadelphia organizations and advance their projects:  

·       The Discovery Center in East Fairmount Park: A unique educational collaboration between Audubon and Outward Bound, to inspire leadership development and environmental stewardship at the East Fairmount Park Reservoir, adjacent to the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood;

·       Reading Viaduct Rail Park: A former industrial rail line that will be repurposed by the Center City District as green, public space, rising from ground level onto bridges that cross over three city streets;

·       Bartram’s Mile trail project: A trail and greenway project, by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and Schuylkill River Development Corporation, along the lower Schuylkill River that will transform the industrial brownfields into an urban park as part of “the Circuit,” the region’s 750-mile trail network;

·       Lovett Memorial Library and Park: The renovation and expansion of an existing library, by The Free Library of Philadelphia and Mt. Airy USA, which will inspire community participation; and

·       Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Centennial Commons: The transformation of an underutilized section of West Fairmount Park into a creative new playspace for the Parkside community.

The investment in “Reimagining the Civic Commons” will capitalize on Philadelphia’s strengths including: a large pool of new talent, rebounding neighborhoods, a diverse population, an expanding community of civic innovators, and a growing group of people who want to live and work in the city.

In addition to receiving funds to complete the building of each of these public places, the collective will collaborate on new activities and programming, share knowledge and resources, measure and document the impact of the projects on the community, and explore other lessons in civic innovation. All of these activities aim to enhance public access to these places and better integrate them into city life. The Conservancy will also manage a special fund to test new ideas across places and institutions that bring together newcomers and existing neighborhood residents, attract local business investments and economic opportunities and build public support for their work.

Knight Foundation is committing $5.4 million to the project. William Penn Foundation is investing $5.5 million, adding to its previous support of $7 million.

“Philadelphia has been attracting national and international attention recently, and much of that recognition is due to extraordinary civic spaces,” stated Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “The City’s realization of this vision would not be possible without foundation support, and this ‘Reimagining the Civic Commons’ announcement confirms the value of our investments and rightly places the Fairmount Park Conservancy in a leadership role to help move this plan forward.”

“We are honored to play this exciting role in the future of public place development in Philadelphia,” said Kathryn Ott Lovell, executive director of Fairmount Park Conservancy. “This opportunity perfectly aligns with our mission to work as a collaborative partner to lead and support efforts that enhance our public spaces – and to leverage these assets as catalysts for urban revitalization and civic engagement.”

“Every city has a collection of civic places with the potential to add to their success in a big way. In many cases however, these places are siloed from one another and in competition for dollars. Created over many decades, they are aging, saddled with legacy systems and attracting too little investment to adjust to today’s changing demographics and community needs,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives. “Philadelphia is ideally positioned to help tackle these challenges; it is a city full of civic innovators eager to demonstrate the added value of a connected civic commons.”

“Philadelphia’s momentum is palpable. Because of its beautiful public spaces and civic assets, the city is increasingly recognized as a world-class destination for visitors and tourists. This initiative is designed to bring high-quality amenities, like the ones placing Philadelphia on a world stage, to all of our residents, especially those in our most underserved communities,” said Shawn McCaney, creative communities program director of the William Penn Foundation.  “By connecting many of these destinations through our region’s trail network, we promote social and community inclusion within and between neighborhoods across the city, unite neighborhoods that presently may stand alone, and work to ensure that Philadelphia is, indeed, a place for all Philadelphians.”

For more information on the Fairmont Park Conservancy, please visit

About the Fairmount Park Conservancy

The Fairmount Park Conservancy exists to champion Philadelphia’s parks. Its mission is to work as a collaborative partner to lead and support efforts that preserve and improve Fairmount Park, and smaller city parks, to enhance the quality of life and stimulate the economic development of the Greater Philadelphia Region. The Fairmount Park Conservancy fulfills its mission by leading signature capital projects and innovative programs throughout the city’s parks; by developing and leveraging resources for the parks; and by promoting the parks’ unique assets and contributions. The Philadelphia parks and recreation system covers more than 10,200 acres and is considered one of the largest urban park systems in the world. It includes a network of more than 100 neighborhood parks and contains some of the region’s most famous treasures and attractions. For more information, please visit Like the Fairmount Park Conservancy on Facebook at and follow on Instagram and Twitter @myphillypark.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more information visit

About the William Penn Foundation

The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region. In partnership with others, the Foundation works to advance opportunity, ensure sustainability, and enable effective solutions. Since inception, the Foundation has made nearly 10,000 grants totaling over $1.6 billion. The Foundation’s assets exceed $2.3 billion as of Nov. 30, 2014.

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Sharene Azimi or Cari Feiler Bender, Fairmount Park Conservancy, 646-784-5547, [email protected], 610-416-1216, [email protected]

Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2677, [email protected]

Rebecca Morley, Director of Communications, William Penn Foundation, 215-988-1830, [email protected]