The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) works with cities and towns across the state to incorporate elements of the humanities into community planning processes. Through a partnership between PHC and the Orton Family Foundation, participating communities use Orton's Community Heart & Soul® method as a framework.
In 2016, with funding from PHC, a group called This is Germantown Heart & Soul began an arts-based civic engagement process, led by Germantown United CDC and the theater-based nonprofit Just Act, aiming ultimately to increase communication and connectivity among residents, involve the whole of Germantown in neighborhood-wide planning and development efforts, and make Germantown stronger and more appealing to investors.
Understanding the need for a resident-driven approach to community planning and development, Germantown United CDC and Just Act aimed to connect organized groups of residents operating at the micro level--from block associations to neighborhood civics with limited boundaries--and map both the formal and informal networks contributing to community improvement efforts. Ultimately this community network analysis sought to identify shared values and visions for Germantown, aid in healing historic and invisible divisions, and ensure that all parties are well-represented and prepared for their role as stakeholders in the larger effort to revitalize Greater Germantown and the neighborhood’s shopping district and commercial sector.
The Germantown Community
Nestled in the northwest section of Philadelphia, Germantown is a neighborhood steeped in history, well known for its historical attractions and Quaker roots. In addition to the neighborhood’s extraordinary historic houses, destinations, and museums--from the first-ever American protest against slavery to a key battle site during the American Revolution-- Germantown is also home to the second largest shopping district in Philadelphia outside of Center City and a rich arts community and growing cultural scene.
Many businesses, small shops, and restaurants line the neighborhood’s main streets. After many years of disinvestment, Germantown is poised for growth as revitalization efforts from within the community ramp up. Just six miles from Philadelphia City Hall, this neighborhood has a character that is completely its own.
The Germantown Avenue business corridor, which bisects the community, is an invaluable resource that has the potential to unite not only East and West Germantown, but wider neighborhood divisions too. Economically, many of Germantown’s 66,000+ residents are of low to moderate income, and 32% live below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is nearly 5% higher than that of Pennsylvania overall. Within the neighborhood, there is sectional isolation, due impart to Germantown’s significant footprint of over 3.3 square miles, and the lack of community-wide knowledge poses an issue for reinvestment.
Long Term Goals
- Develop a creative, comprehensive, community-driven neighborhood plan for Germantown’s business corridors that enhances economic vitality.
- Reduce perceived barriers between diverse groups by bringing residents together across socio-economic, generational, cultural and racial demographic lines, and increase and renew stakeholder investment and involvement.
- Support and mobilize the arts community to reinforce and enhance the neighborhood’s sense of place, and make deliberate connections between arts, culture, historic attractions, and the business sector to improve economic outcomes.
- Increase and diversify civic participation in public processes that identify shared values and visions for Germantown, and help the community begin to heal historic, invisible divisions through inter-group story circles.
- Build community understanding of the impactful role that an arts-based community-driven planning process can have in commercial corridor revitalization, strengthening resident readiness for participation in a comprehensive neighborhood planning process.
- Facilitate communication and collaborations among residential, business, civic, and faith-based groups, and better animate and utilize existing community networks for strengthening Germantown’s economic and social vitality.