Why is design an important part of revitalizing communities?
It’s so important, because I don’t think people know how much it actually affects them. When I share and talk about design, it’s from the cup your holding, the door handle your touching, where you’reworking, the chair you are sitting on, where you go to school, every single piece around you has been designed. During a Family workshop at the Center for Architecture and Design, I discussed with the participating youth the headphones they were wearing, the logo on their shirts; there was a team of designers behind that. Design is about creating with purpose, there is a purpose behind everything.
I just completed a Summer Academy (Jefferson’s Architecture & The Built Environment Summer Academy) with some students, and we focused a lot on observing. Observation is key. Students began to acknowledge spaces they had walked by many times before and realizing it has been there the whole time. That is what design brings to the table. It is watching how we move about space, grow, develop, what we like and do not like.
When something is badly designed. We talk about it nonstop and criticize it. If it is well designed, we never talk about it, because it feels right. I have found that Park(ing) Day makes design just a little more accessible. While Center City is our main hub for the bulk of our parklets because most teams have offices there, we have found parklets all the way up in Onley in the North 5th Street Revitalization Project. They have used their parklets to bring community together, giving surveys, providing recycling bins, it runs the gamut. One year, we had 6 parklets on West Girard Avenue for the West Girard Community Council. They had a parklet every block along the way. Talking with commercial corridor leaders out on 52nd Street, they asked what they could design. I suggested to a musician in their community that they could design a space for them to play and be seen the whole day. That was a whole other consideration for them. What would being able to hear that music do for the rest of the community, changing the environment and atmosphere of that neighborhood?
I think it is all these little things that slowly but surely develop, becoming an intervention that is influential. A little space where a car could be, becomes a space where you can sit, eat, hear music, meet your neighbor. It’s a small little piece of a bigger puzzle. The designers who participate in this help convey other ways we can commune and connect with each other. Park(ing) Day makes design a more personable scale that we can understand.
There has been a consistent call for more equitable practices within the design profession and how the AEC industry engages with diverse communities served in recent years. What role/impact has equity played in your personal practice, the profession as you see it, and the goals and/or mission/purpose of your work with Park(ing) Day?
I wanted to be a set designer for theatrical productions, and that was my motivation to become an architect. I found myself to not be the textbook architecture student. I had friends who were not of architecture, and I would talk to them about my projects. It was always important to me that I could convey my work to non-designers or anyone else, and that has been my north star. How do I make sure people who are not trained in this understand what I am saying? How do I make sure when I talk about design, others do not feel intimidated? How can I do that in practice? I understand that our clients may not have the same understanding or training we designers do. So how we communicate is important.
Going into community meetings and listening, is also necessary. I have gone to my own neighborhood meetings, and by listening to the concerns of my community, a divide is made clear. Even if those concerns seem minimal, there seems to be a disconnect of ‘Why is this development coming into the neighborhood?’, ‘What is it going to bring in for me?’. In that regard, there is no one helping the community really see what the vision is a head.
On top of that, being a Filipina and woman in this industry, it can be very disheartening. To constantly have in the forefront that we are designing for other people, needs to be top of mind. Making sure they understand the language, or at least give them guidance so they can respond to you in a fashion that you understand as a designer. My drive is always, “How do I make design accessible?”, and that is why I continue do Park(ing) Day, because it is one way to do that.
Trying to get other neighborhoods to be a part of Park(ing) Day is sometimes half the battle. They do not consider themselves designers, and it is my role to encourage them to understand that they too can design and create a space. I am hoping that with my work, that is what we are pushing for. Whether you are a designer or part of a community, is that you have a say, you have the language, and that you can hope and realize the fruitful outcomes of it.
Making design accessible to all has been my guiding light, be it professional or volunteer work. Including other people in the conversation, so they understand your process. By the time we’re presenting our designs, the research, all the reiterations, that is part of the process often not shared. So, including more citizens and giving insight into process will absolutely give context and help others understand the choices/considerations behind ours or a design.
What advice, if any, would you offer to women-identified persons considering a career in in the design/AEC industry?
It hasn’t been until now into my graduate studies that I have had a lot of self-discoveries. My gateway classes were in Strengths in Leadership and Innovation in Empathy. We went through evaluations and test to determine what our strengths are, what streams of emotional intelligence we succeed in. It made me look at my career and the places where I felt hindered or pushed to the margins.
For those looking to come into the industry, bring your strong voice to the table, no matter what. It will be uncomfortable for sure. But somehow, we (as women) have this superpower of being strong leaders while simultaneously making sure our culture is accepting, opening, encouraging, and nurturing. I am realizing I’ve grown into that space. I think to be strong, is to be uncomfortable in these spaces. It can make you question your worth and value, but we bring so much. We come in with a wholistic approach and tend to be ok saying what we do and don’t know, which pushes us to find solutions as a collective.
Make your own space. Make your own space if you have to.
What impact do you feel women have had on the design/AEC industry and what gap is still to be filled? Do you think they’ve had an overall impact that can be measured currently, or is that impact to be seen?
There are a lot of us, but not enough are recognized for what they bring to the table. Many firms, small or now grown, are run by women. Even if you think about architects, interior designers, landscape architects, even to lighting designers…most of the people representing furniture and the finishes that we use are predominately represented by women practitioners; and yet the gap is still to be filled in leadership roles.
There are women leaders, star-chitects (to me), who have contributed so much to our city. We may not hear their names too often, but if you take a moment, you will realize how much they’ve truly done and depth of their impact. Also, sometimes taking our expertise outside of the AEC industry, is also where we can make change. Because we know the language, we can see all the moving pieces, sometimes it means leaving the industry to make a bigger impact.
What do you love most about Philadelphia?
I love the context that exists in Philadelphia. As a mom, I am within a block of two playgrounds. I could walk to an eatery or a local distillery. There is a prosperous, local, somewhat non-pretentious aspect to Philadelphia. You can make a name for yourself here while still being friendly and having genuine relationships. We are not a New York City, a DC, or a Chicago, we’re our own thing. Here there is room and space to grow as a professional, as a person, while trying out different interests that build connection, networks, and community.
There’s room here to build tightknit, supportive communities that you can be adventurous with. Right now, for grad school, I am working on a ‘design gym’. Meant for folks who know no design to emergent leaders in the industry, it is a place for ‘you’ or anyone who wants to learn more about design and its influence. I do not know that I could do this anywhere else. Philadelphia allows just enough influence from the outside while still making space to become a homegrown talent. Philadelphia makes things personable yet attainable.
How did you become a Collaborative Volunteer?
I knew about the Collaborative while running AIA Philadelphia Associates Committee’s design competitions (2010) and then PARK(ing) Day with the Collaborative’s design/build volunteer team (2012). Shortly after wrapping up a storefront/window display design competition with Design Philadelphia, I met Robin Kohles, who was looking for Rstore volunteers (Storefront Improvement Program with the Philadelphia Commerce Department). I was one of three design volunteers who was chosen to work in the HACE area (Centro de Oro), and I got to work on a window display design of a hair salon. That was about 2011, 2012.
From then on, I knew some other folks who were Collaborative volunteers, and I was also volunteering with AIA Philadelphia/Center for Architecture and Design. It wasn’t until 2016/17, I led my own project while working for CICADA Architecture and Planning, getting a chance to do the Sun Pay building at Germantown and Lehigh. And I’ve been working with Collab on and off since, including the Bowling Ball Planning Committee and most recently supporting the Collab’s Design A.I.D. Outdoor Learning Ideas Competition in 2020.
How did you become involved with Parking Day and eventually become its manager?
In 2011, I read a newsletter about an event that was happening on the 3rd Friday in September called Park(ing) Day. At the time I was working as a project manager for the federal government. I reached out to a designer friend, saying “hey, we haven’t built or designed anything in a while. Want to get together, design a parklet?” My friend was game! We shared an apartment at the time that had a garage we used to build and test our design.
We picked the location of Old City at the 300 block of Market St. We did a deconstructed parklet. It was during that first Park(ing) Day experience, I would meet my future boss, Pam Zimmerman of Zimmerman Studios. By the following year I was working with her and while there was given the chance to manage and organize the Park(ing) Day event.
2012 was the beginning of me organizing and managing the event, as well as continuing to participate in it. After leaving Zimmerman Studio, I continued to manage it as a Volunteer. I think the beauty of Park(ing) Day is that while it is a guerilla intervention, the success here in Philly has been the balance of minimal guidelines and freedom of design. Over the years, I’ve received inquiries about how we continue to do Park(ing) Day, and I always preface that we (Philadelphia) didn’t invent Park(ing) Day, it started in San Francisco by Rebar (an art and design studio) in 2005, Philadelphia’s first, was in 2008. We’ve received calls and emails from Brazil, Chicago, DC, New Jersey…I even had a team that participated here and a person from the team moved to Alaska to work for their parks and rec, with hopes of starting it there.
Do you feel there has been any correlation or influence Park(ing) Day has had on the city, now that outdoordining and outdoor seating are a common occurrence as a response to Covid?
Yes and No.
Yes- while I can’t say all the influence is ours, the designers behind Spruce Street Harbor Park and Independence Beer Garden were also former participants of Park(ing) Day, and (I’d like to think) used some of the principles and design elements learned during Park(ing) Day to influence their designs and use of space. It has always been interesting to read articles about the pop-up garden phenomenon here in Philly and how it’s not always correlated to Park(ing) Day’s influence. Businesses have used Park(ing) Day as a launching pad to engage customers, such as Little Baby’s Ice Cream. OTIS even created a parklet guidebook on how to bring a semi-permanent parklet in your neighborhood, as they were popping up in West Philly and other neighborhoods. It has also been an instigator and catalyst for conversations in neighborhood communities.
One year, the Fishtown Neighborhood Association wanted to address and re-design a triangle space near a rose garden on Frankford Ave. After that, a conversation within the community considered how they would change it and modify that triangle. I have seen it become a part of the Philadelphia thread. With the outdoor dining that has come up in the past year, my initial response was “we’ve been trying to tell you this since 2008”. In the past, we’ve encouraged businesses to add additional chairs outside, or tables and chairs, to encourage engagement and expand seating.
While we do not allow food or samples to be offered during Park(ing) Day, we expanded seating and accessibility by allowing convening in the parking space directly outside the business. Now that outdoor dining is happening and people are finally figuring out that these parking spots are viable options for people to gather, does this mean Park(ing) Day is over? The whole notion of parking day is to raise awareness of public spaces and being pedestrian friendly. The fact that you can do that in a 160 sq ft parking space…Mind you, there are people who have difficulties figuring out what they can design there.
Does this mean Park(ing) Day is over, I don’t know? Now that we can see what can be done with parking spots, we now have a little bit more space to be open to these small public spaces around the city.
What has been most surprising, rewarding, or fun about planning and supporting the Park(ing) Day event? What is your favorite Park(ing) Day Memory?
The first time I did Park(ing) Day, we sketched it, talked about it, and developed and designed it. To see the actual parklet turn out as I had sketched it, to see it come to fruition, was really exciting and very gratifying. It was the first-time feeling affirmation as a designer.
In 2015, I had stopped participating in making parklets, but I was able to walk around and meet the teams, see the full scope of participation, and acknowledge the breath of parklet ideas was really fascinating. I went up to a team that was on 17th and Market Streets. While talking with the team, they realized I was the admin who had managed the event. The surprise and delight in meeting ‘the man’ (behind the curtain) was cool and joyous for me.
In moving around the parklets and getting to better meet the teams, I would build connections with kids at CHAD who would become my screen printer for my Fast Forward event with Collab Volunteer Kathy Lent. Being able to connect with everyone, there was more synergy than I was expecting.
Yes, being called ‘the man’ and making connections are favorite memories.