By Shawn McCaney
Former Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams’ recent article in the Atlantic Monthly’s City Lab Blog points to Mayor Kenney’s Rebuild Initiative as a “hopeful trend in citywide, city-coordinated philanthropy.” We are likewise hopeful that Rebuild will be seen as a new national model for public-private partnerships focused on community reinvestment. Williams rightly applauds Mayor Kenney’s leadership in establishing not only a bold vision, but an investment framework with strategic goals focused on promoting equity, engagement, and economic opportunity.
While we were inspired by Mayor Kenney’s vision, our landmark support for Rebuild was primarily motivated by the Mayor’s commitment to embracing a data-driven investment strategy that seeks to direct the most resources to the neighborhoods with the greatest need. Our investment in Rebuild was largely informed and inspired by our partnership with the Knight Foundation on Reimagining the Civic Commons, an initiative that focuses on the creative reimagining of public spaces and civic assets to promote high levels of community engagement that has since expanded to four other cities.
Also critically important to the Foundation is the Mayor’s commitment to an extensive program of engagement with City Council and community residents to inform and guide the implementation of Rebuild. The long-term sustainability of these investments can only be assured when residents are involved in, are proud of, and can feel ownership of their neighborhood parks, recreation centers and libraries.
William Penn Foundation’s $100 million commitment to Rebuild ranks among the largest private gifts ever given for parks and public spaces in the country. But as Mayor Williams acknowledges, similarly large gifts are often directed at downtown “signature” parks, plazas, and public spaces in affluent areas of cities. Rebuild has garnered national attention because it stands apart; at its core, Rebuild is about investing in the neighborhood parks, recreation centers, and libraries that residents across Philadelphia use every day. These spaces are essential to quality of life in neighborhoods and communities across the city.
image credit: City of Philadelphia
We believe Rebuild is an example of what an effective and impactful partnership between the philanthropic and governmental sectors can look like. We hope other cities and communities will follow Philadelphia’s lead by forming strategic, data-driven investment initiatives that advance equity, engagement, and neighborhood quality of life.
Shawn McCaney is executive director of William Penn Foundation. In 2014, he led the formation of a partnership with the Knight Foundation to pilot Reimagining the Civic Commons in Philadelphia.