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On the Ground: Design Charrette yields ideas, energy and enthusiasm in Germantown

A historical society satellite office - brewery combo, a showcase for incremental stormwater strategies, an opportunity for façade renovations for small businesses -- these are just a few of the many ideas generated at last weekend's urban design charrette, co-hosted by Flying Kite at the Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust.

Flying Kite partnered with the Young Architects Forum (YAF), the Germantown United Community Development Corporation (GUCDC) and Philly Office Retail to make the charrette a reality. Over 40 designers and community members came together to generate ideas for improving the 6100 and 6200 blocks of Germantown Avenue -- a stretch of Germantown's commerical corridor that borders Mt. Airy.

"Even though I know YAF has a talented group of designers to pull from, the level of ideas attained in a few short hours still amazes me," says YAF's Jeffrey Pastva. "The group was able to quickly assess the state of the area and offered multiple ideas on how to engage the community on a path forward."

Solutions ranged from grand schemes to small fixes. It was the small ideas -- those that can easily overcome traditional barriers such as cost, implementation and community buy-in -- that particularly interested folks from GUCDC.
"There were great ideas for short-term uses -- gardens, temporary plazas for outdoor movies -- and creative, art-focused uses, like an art/bus stop with a green roof that could bring energy and vitality to the area," says Garlen Capita with GUCDC. "Those ideas can definitely gather enough momentum to become real projects."
Capita was also impressed with the designers' focus on transit and sustainability. "There was a strong push to have a more green, sustainable approach to redevelopment that was more sensitive to the needs of walkers and transit users, and not just focused on more parking and auto-oriented users,” she explains.

The energy and enthusiasm in the room during the charrette was palpable. "It got a lot of people talking," says Liz Einsig Wise, executive director of the Mennonite Historic Trust. "It encouraged folks to meet new neighbors, strengthened partnerships with institutions like Settlement Music School, and [pushed people] to have more conversations towards wherever this takes us." 

"Our next step is to present some of the initial concepts to members of the local business alliance, historical organizations and faith-based organizations, and to meet individually with the business owners and organizational leaders," says Capita. "We’ll discuss the vision for the corridor, priorities and action items that we can work to support and eventually implement."

Source: Jeffrey Pastva, Young Architects Forum; Garlen Capita, Germantown United CDC; Liz Einsig Wise, Executive Director of the Mennonite Historic Trust
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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