Building on past efforts that include previous neighborhood plans, community organizing, and exploration of strategies, New Kensington Community Development Corporation and Impact Services are releasing one of three forthcoming reports on the Kensington neighborhood in Philadelphia.
The report, Kensington Planning Process: History, Context, Voices, outlines Kensington’s history of disinvestment and imposed strategies, data on the current conditions of the community, and the first results of an ongoing, flexible, and participatory engagement process that centers the Kensington community’s voice. The second report, Kensington Planning Process: Alignment, will be released later in the winter, and the third report, Kensington Planning Process: Implementation, will be released in the summer/fall of 2024.
What is this report?
This report illustrates the efforts of many stakeholders to push forward a comprehensive, community-driven, and trauma-informed strategy for development and the revitalization of Kensington as an equitable community.
In Kensington, there has been a narrow and limiting perspective of community engagement in decision-making. NKCDC and Impact Services provided the capacity to increase community engagement that moves away from tokenism, manipulation, basic consultation, and placation to a space of true community participatory practices that makes room at the table for continued collaboration and co-creation.
This report is not a list of comprehensive solutions and an implementation plan but rather it is the culmination of a process to increase community participation around decision making and information that creates context of how we got here and where we are. This is just one example of how collaboration and collective power, as well as a shared knowledge of the complexity of intersecting crises in Kensington, can lead us to transformation and sustained community change.
A broad and inclusive engagement strategy was put into place that centered community and peer-driven participation processes. This process drew on years of previous engagement efforts and community relationships to ensure that engagement is ongoing, flexible, and truly participatory. In September of 2023, a Toolkit was published in several languages that was used by residents to engage with one another around a set of past-defined priorities, also leaving space for new ideas.
Published on our website and made available to groups throughout the community, over 50 pockets of people comprised of over 500 individual participants across our service area utilized the Toolkit and gathered to discuss their priorities and vision for Kensington, this number being significant as it represents approximately 10% of all those who voted in the last election within the service area sitting down for multiple hours to discuss our community.
The Pockets of people who came together were comprised of entire blocks, civic associations, faith-based organizations, friends groups, businesses, cultural institutions, nonprofit organizations, school communities, and other stakeholders.
As part of this step in the engagement process, we shared past community defined priorities with participants to which participants immediately agreed they were still priorities and began sharing what they felt were potential solutions. Among the priorities are mitigating the narcotics trade, safety of public spaces, economic development, investing in human capital, affordable housing, and resident health.
What did we find?
A history of disinvestment and failed imposed strategies created intersecting crises and an island of isolation in Kensington, leading to a traumatized yet resilient community ready for change but still under incredible economic, political, and social pressure. While historically, policymakers have approached the complexity of Kensington’s challenges with single strategy approaches, the result of the process of engagement outlined in this report is evidence of why residents need to be centered in any community development process.
When asked to identify priorities for Kensington, participants brought a lived understanding that most who hold power and resources do not have. Residents were able to see not only the intersection of challenges in their community, but the need for comprehensive strategies to address them, further supporting the necessity of comprehensive, community-driven, and trauma-informed approaches for transformation in Kensington.
What does this mean and what comes next?
This process yielded greater engagement, increased resources, proper strengths-based roles, and clear support for the concept that residents understand the complexities of their lived conditions and therefore should be active drivers in future processes and deployment of resources.
To the many organizers and hundreds of people who engaged – you are leading a national model for community-driven development and the results of this report are thanks to you. This process also could not have happened without the support of funders – Neubauer Family Foundation, Spring Point Partners, the Green Family Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and more – who are innovatively and intentionally deploying resources into a community-driven participatory process that centers equity and a trauma-informed lens.
This has always been and will always be an iterative process focused on learning from the previous step. Over the next couple of months, we will share this report widely and we will reconvene stakeholders throughout the winter to receive feedback from anyone who would like to provide it. We are also under no illusions that this is the only plan being developed for Kensington. As we integrate changes as defined by the community we will align them as City officials, including Mayor elect Parker’s transition committees’ results, Council emerging plans and others, are all aligned with the community’s priorities, and the updated report will reflect that information as it emerges.
In January, we will hold sessions to hear from anyone who would like to participate. Later in the winter, we will release a second report, Kensington Planning Process: Alignment, that reflects this feedback and aligns the community’s priorities with other current planning efforts.
As part of an ongoing, flexible, and participatory process, we will continue to align, convene, and work to co-create solutions. With an engaged community, a shared set of data and context, a set of priorities from the community, and resources identified by government as well as the private and non-profit sector beginning this winter, we will spend the next 6-8 months convening stakeholders on each of the top priorities with a goal of co-creating comprehensive and trauma-informed strategies to sustainably and effectively address the greatest challenges facing Kensington. In the summer and fall, we will release a third report, Kensington Planning Process: Implementation, and begin implementation of the co-created strategies.