#DiscovertheCrescent and the Collaborative Economy in Philadelphia

Firefly Prototyping from The Hacktory on Vimeo.

Electronic fireflies. 400 years of historic buildings made out of cardboard. A Maker Camp in the park. Bike parades. Ollie competitions. All of these were part of an effort by SecondMuse in collaboration with Public Workshop, Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC), and The Hacktory to build a stronger collaborative economy in Philadelphia and activate an underutilized public space – the Grays Ferry Crescent. SecondMuse drove the process by recognizing the abundance of community assets that already exist in Philadelphia, not just cheese steaks and sports teams, but the people, spaces, and organizations that make the city special.  #DiscovertheCrescent provided a space to celebrate Philadelphia assets and make the city even greater.

SecondMuse and the William Penn Foundation – an innovative Philadelphia-based foundation – organized a “Big Think” around a simple concept: How can we bring together Philadelphia’s unique arts, tech, and neighborhood communities to activate an under-utilized green space: The Grays Ferry Crescent park?

This park was recently built along Philadelphia’s landmark Schuylkill River (pronounced Schoo-kill!). We found that most people in the city had never heard of, much less visited the park! How could we help reposition this hidden gem as an asset not just to the surrounding neighborhood but the city as a whole? And how could all of this translate into a greater connection with the natural assets of Philadelphia.

A collaborative partnership was established between SecondMuse, the William Penn Foundation, the local nonprofit Schuylkill River Banks Development Corporation, the art and placemaking group Public Workshop, and the tech education organization the Hacktory. These organizations co-created a series of programs and events to meet citizens of Philadelphia where they are at in their engagement with a space – whether they come to fish, skate, or don’t come at all – and bring them further towards becoming a steward of an incredible natural Philadelphia asset.

The result of this process was a series of events. Camp Crescent enlisted hundreds of participants in reconstructing 400 years of history through building mini cardboard models of historical buildings and landmarks on the river. Neighbors and families came together to recreate the famous Philadelphia WaterWorks building and Bartram’s Garden. Light Up the Crescent engaged communities in a different way: bringing education about the official Pennsylvania insect, the firefly, into a tech classroom through teaching those of all ages and interests how to build an electronic firefly, which were then placed throughout the park for families and passersby to interact with.

After all of these events concluded, SecondMuse had debrief sessions with each of our partners who shared incredible insights with us.  Though only three of us were on the project team, the project created a great deal of enthusiasm throughout the entire global SecondMuse company. Here are some of the key insights that we’d love to share:

  • Good collaboration leaves organizations feeling stronger than it did before; it paves the pathway for future collaborations with existing collaborative partners and others.

  • Clearly defining collaboration and expanding the understanding of collaboration with partners and participants is an essential component for success.

  • Value is created when each partner feels they are able to contribute what they do best in order to achieve a common goal with others.

  • It takes time and management to raise awareness about projects, space, and partners, but through leveraging multiple networks and coordinating efforts, more can be accomplished.

  • Awareness of the organizational constraints and organizational capacity to participate plays into partner perceptions of ‘success.’

  • It is amazing, fun, and inspiring to physically build things together, have conversations about community and what makes Philadelphia so incredibly great!

  • Also, Philadelphia is fortunate to have an innovative funder such as William Penn Foundation who is willing to invest in collaborative prototypes like #discoverthecrescent.

We are very proud of this project, our partners and this great city we live in!

Michael Brennan

About Michael Brennan

Michael Brennan leads projects focused on technology and social impact such as the National Day of Civic Hacking. He also leads SecondMuse’s Internet Freedom program which focuses on needfinding and localization to enable safe, secure access to the Internet around the world. He has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Drexel University where he co-founded their Privacy, Security and Automation Lab. Michael is passionate about catalyzing positive social change through open technology communities, socially conscious software development, and free and open access to the Internet.

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