Community Design Collaborative and Partners for Sacred Places to Announce Three Real-Life, Historic Sacred Places in Philadelphia Neighborhoods to Serve as Models
Contact: Bridget Kernan
PHILADELPHIA—(June 5, 2018)—The Community Design Collaborative, in partnership with Partners for Sacred Places, today kicked off Infill Philadelphia: Sacred Places/Civic Spaces with the announcement of three religious sites across Philadelphia to serve as models for incorporating civic spaces into active sacred places. Along with the announcement of the sites, three design teams have been chosen and paired with each to re-envision the purpose-built religious properties as community hubs.
Infill Philadelphia’s newest installment is designed to foster a growing dialogue about the intersection between historic sacred places and communities. Sacred Places/Civic Spaces demonstrates that underutilized space in historic sacred properties throughout Philadelphia can be activated in ways that expand the civic commons, serve a larger secular purpose, and strengthen communities.
“We have chosen sacred places as our focus because we feel that the loss of any of these historic properties presents a real threat to our city’s value and neighborhood vitality,” said Beth Miller, Executive Director of the Community Design Collaborative. “Although many people are under the assumption that religious institutions serve only their own congregations, it’s a fact that almost 90% of the people benefiting from programs hosted by sacred places are not members. They are clearly civic assets.”
In addition to adding to the social fabric of a community, studies show congregations in urban settings have an average annual economic impact of $1.7 million. The overwhelming majority already make their buildings available to outreach programs ranging from substance abuse groups to after school programs, crossing denominational, racial and regional lines, contributing, in Philadelphia alone, a total value of $84 million each year. Sacred Places/Civic Spaces hopes to expand on this trend, encouraging communities to preserve, protect and re-purpose sacred places as neighborhoods increasingly find themselves in need of civic spaces that are open to all.
“Across Philadelphia and the nation, we recognize that many congregations are in transition and these historic buildings cannot be used and supported by the congregation alone. The decline of many congregations has led to half-empty buildings and, all too often, demolition,” said Bob Jaeger, President of Partners for Sacred Places. “With initiatives like Sacred Places/Civic Spaces, we honor the work that urban congregations are already doing to serve, stabilize, and revitalize the communities that surround them—and we encourage them to work collaboratively with their neighbors to bring spaces alive and add to the civic plaza.”
Three sites were chosen from fifteen original applicants, each of whom chose a community nonprofit as a project partner. These partnerships help strengthen relationships between sacred places, community organizations, and service providers with a mutual interest in co-location.
The final sites include:
Project title: Building Blocks
- Congregation: The Philadelphia Masjid
- Community Partner: People’s Emergency Center
- Site address: 4700 Wyalusing Avenue, Mill Creek
- Design Partner: HOK
The Philadelphia Masjid serves a congregation of 500, while also acting as a central hub for many others in the Muslim community. The 1.5-acre former Diocesan school complex has been underutilized since the closing of the Sister Clara Muhammad School over ten years ago. The site offers the potential for both renovation and new construction, and the congregation hopes to use its excess space to meet the needs of the neighborhood and lay the foundation for a broad community development initiative. The Philadelphia Masjid envisions the use of the classroom building for workforce training programs and sees the potential for redevelopment of the vacant schoolyard as affordable, multi-generational housing. People’s Emergency Center recognizes this site as a key opportunity within the Promise Zone and as a significant gateway to the neighborhood.
Project title: Community Cornerstone
- Congregation: Wharton-Wesley United Methodist Church
- Community Partner: ACHIEVEability
- Site Address: 5341 Catharine Street, Cobbs Creek
- Design Partner: Brawer & Hauptman, Architects
Wharton-Wesley United Methodist Church, embedded in the surrounding residential fabric, once had a congregation of 700. Today, most of its 150 members travel from outside the neighborhood to attend services. High utility costs and aging infrastructure make the church and Sunday school building costly and challenging to maintain. The congregation is attuned to the challenges faced by the surrounding community and is eager to put “less into capital, more into ministry.” Having just completed a strategic planning process, it is positioned to maximize the value of its building as a community resource through partnerships with social service and education providers, and opportunities for space sharing with other congregations. ACHIEVEability is eager to increase the impact of its work to improve the lives of the residents in the Haddington/Cobbs Creek neighborhood through a partnership with Wharton-Wesley.
Project Title: Corridor Connections
- Congregation: Zion Baptist Church
- Community Partner: Called to Serve CDC
- Site Address: 3600 North Broad Street, Nicetown-Tioga
- Design Partner: Studio 6mm
Zion Baptist Church has a rich history that includes the legacy of Reverend Leon Sullivan, a national and international leader in the civil and human rights movements, who served as pastor for 37 years. The congregation has strong ties to the community and its two buildings – the 1970s contemporary building where it worships and the 1920s “annex” which housed the church’s outreach programs until recently. The buildings are located directly across the street from each other and just one block from the intersection of Broad, Germantown and Erie, a key location along the North Broad Street commercial corridor. Zion hopes to reactivate the vacant annex as a part of the commercial corridor’s revitalization, an effort led by Zion Baptist’s community partner, Called to Serve Community Development Corporation.
“The process to narrow down the potential sites to these three was a long and difficult one” said Miller. “Each of the sites is a vital part of the neighborhood but presents unique challenges that demand innovative thinking and solutions.”
The stated goals of the design challenge are to:
- Explore the role of design in reactivating underutilized sacred places to serve as civic spaces and community hubs
- Challenge everyone to think differently about the redevelopment and adaptive reuse of purpose-built religious structures
- Promote public/private partnerships and innovative operations and ownership models which will support and sustain the redevelopment of sacred places as civic spaces
- Demonstrate how sacred spaces can be designed to strengthen neighborhoods and support community revitalization
- Promote investment in the reactivation of historic structures in Philadelphia while advancing the process and implementation for three real-life sites which may act as prototypes
- Recognize innovation and creativity in the redesign of sacred places
Three design teams have been chosen and matched up with the final sites, and will now embark on a six-month design challenge. The multidisciplinary design teams will create innovative design and development concepts and collaborate with congregations and surrounding communities. The public reveal of their work will take place on December 4.
About Infill Philadelphia: Sacred Places/Civic Spaces
Infill Philadelphia is an initiative of the Community Design Collaborative to explore key community development challenges and opportunities through design. Infill Philadelphia engages communities in re-envisioning their neighborhoods, leveraging existing assets, rethinking the use of older spaces, and addressing the practical concerns of specific sites and the communities around them.
About the Community Design Collaborative
Community Design Collaborative is a volunteer-based community design center that provides pro bono preliminary design services to nonprofits; promotes best practices in community design and development; and offers design professionals a unique way to volunteer their skills in service of neighborhoods. Founded in 1991 as a program of AIA Philadelphia, the Collaborative is an independent 501 (c)(3).
About Partners for Sacred Places
Partners for Sacred Places is the only national, non-sectarian, nonprofit organization focused on building the capacity of congregations of historic sacred places to better serve their communities as anchor institutions, nurturing transformation, and shaping vibrant, creative communities. Founded in 1989, Partners has built a national movement based on its ability to assess issues, map assets, find solutions, and create optimism and hope for the future of our historic, purpose-built sacred places.