On November 21, 2016, the William Penn Foundation announced its intent to commit up to $100 million for the Rebuilding Community Infrastructure Initiative (“Rebuild”), Mayor Kenney’s bold plan to transform city parks, libraries, recreation centers and playgrounds to enhance community life in neighborhoods across Philadelphia, especially for the city’s young people. The Foundation’s grant marks the initiative’s largest private investment to date and the largest single grant in Foundation history.
The grant is the largest in the foundation’s history, nearly four times bigger than any it has given before. In a single swoop, it covers one-fifth of the overall cost of the program, known as Rebuild.
“Today’s announcement underscores the William Penn Foundation’s focus on generating new approaches for investing in under-resourced communities, for bringing communities together through the creative use of public space, and in providing opportunities for all of Philadelphia’s citizens,” said Janet Haas, Chair of the Board of Directors for the William Penn Foundation. “In our current climate, public spaces are now more important than ever. These are the places where we come to know our neighbors and the city around us, where we learn from each other, talk and engage with one another, and build trust and a sense of community.”
Through public and private support, Rebuild is an unprecedented $500 million investment by the City of Philadelphia which aims to promote citywide community engagement, invest in community priorities, promote healthy lifestyles, and expand economic opportunity by encouraging workforce diversity and inclusion as central elements of project development. Implementation of Rebuild, which was announced in early 2016, will unfold over the next several years, making tangible improvements to neighborhoods.
The Foundation’s investment is structured as a challenge to assist the Kenney administration in raising the full $500 million budget for Rebuild. In July, the Foundation approved an initial grant of $4.8 million to provide resources for start-up costs and initial implementation of the initiative. Upon passage of a proposed $300 million city bond issue to support Rebuild, the Foundation will make an additional $75 million available. The remaining $20.2 million of William Penn’s $100 million commitment will be structured as a 1:2 match designed to generate additional contributions from state, federal, and other philanthropic and private sources.
“I am extremely grateful to the Foundation not only for this overwhelming vote of confidence in Rebuild, but also for all the insights and support they supplied along the way to get us here. This program would not be what it is without their expertise,” said Mayor Kenney.
According to Haas, Rebuild has the potential to serve as a national model for community reinvestment through the development and use of a data-driven investment strategy, intended to direct resources to where they will have the greatest impact. The initiative will also be supported by an extensive civic engagement process. “Not only are we interested in creating places for community interaction and engagement to occur, but we also want the process of designing and building these new places to deeply involve local residents, thereby inspiring a strong sense of ownership and stewardship for these new assets within the community,” she said.
For the William Penn Foundation, this investment in Rebuild builds on its public space funding over many decades and was inspired by the Foundation’s recent partnership with the Knight Foundation that led to the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative, a multi-million-dollar effort that was piloted in Philadelphia and has since expanded to four other cities – Akron, Chicago, Detroit and Memphis. Reimagining the Civic Commons explores the potential of transforming community infrastructure into 21st century public assets to promote increased engagement, greater social interaction and economic integration. The Foundation’s support for Rebuild is intended to expand upon and scale-up citywide the key aims of the Civic Commons initiative.
“Philadelphia has gained national attention in recent years because of the Renaissance of Center City, which was partly driven by a major investment in downtown public amenities, such as revitalized parks, squares, and new riverfront trails and public spaces. But for the city as a whole to thrive, these kinds of high quality public amenities must reach all of the city’s residents,” said Shawn McCaney, Interim Executive Director of the William Penn Foundation. “A central aim of William Penn’s public spaces grantmaking over the last few years has been to expand access to high quality public space in neighborhoods outside of Center City. Rebuild represents the opportunity to do that citywide. Under the impressive leadership of Mayor Kenney and Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis, we have great confidence in the city’s capacity to execute a transformation of this scale.”
The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region. In partnership with others, the Foundation works to advance opportunity, ensure sustainability, and enable effective solutions. Since inception, the Foundation has made nearly 10,000 grants totaling over $1.6 billion. The Foundation’s assets totaled approximately $2.3 billion as of December 31, 2015.