Penn Project for Civic Engagement: Past Projects

Below are highlights of PPCE projects. For a full history of PPCE’s projects and related reports, please contact Linda Breitstein at (215) 898-1112 or lindabre@gse.upenn.edu.


Continuing Conversation on Health Care Reform (2011)

PPCE and WHYY held a series of public forums exploring the implications and unanswered questions in the new federal health care bill. Through citizen dialogue and expert panel discussion, public understanding of emerging issues in the evolution of Federal health care policy while providing feedback to elected officials.


Friends of 40th Street (2011)

We collaborate with the Friends of 40th Street to encourage public participation in the development of the 40th Street corridor in West Philadelphia.


How We Fish (2011)

How We Fish is a city-wide project engaging stakeholders from the public and private sectors, citizens and business leaders in a series of conversations about the value and meaning of work and the challenges this issue presents to all of us.


Old York Road Revitalization Group (2011)

PPCE has partnered with the University of Pennsylvania Fels Institute of Government and the Old York Road Revitalization Group to engage the local communities as it embarks on developing Old York Road. To become a part of these discussions and find out more, go to: http://www.fels.upenn.edu/Old-York-Road


Tobacco Project (2011)

Coming soon


AmericaSpeaks: Our Budget, Our Economy (2010)

Philadelphia, with PPCE as chair of the local organizing efforts, was host to a national conversation on the federal budget deficit. We recruited more than 520 participants from the Philadelphia region to develop some common ground perspectives and priorities for reducing the Federal deficit.

Result: Preliminary results were presented to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform on June 30 and the interim report was presented to Congress on July 27, 2010.


Common Ground for Building Our City (2010)

PPCE, collaborating with WHYY and the Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Architects  conducted a series of deliberative workshops to provide input to the Zoning Code Commission (ZCC)The series of three forums brought together more than 60 developers and 80 civic leaders to discuss the question of how developers and community organizations communicate with each other about development projects.

Result: Eight principles for a new design review process were presented to the Zoning Code Commission which adopted six of the eight into Philadelphia’s new zoning code.


Green2015: An Action Plan for 500 New Acres of Open Space (2010)

PPCE, working with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and PennPraxis, held a series of six public forums for over 200 people across the city to provide input to the Department of Parks and Recreation on how to fulfill the Mayor’s goal of creating 500 acres of public green space in Philadelphia.

Result: Visit Plan Philly's Green 2015 initiative for results, reports and continuing discussion events.


NewsWorks (2010)

These forums helped WHYY identify content direction — the stories, ideas and people — that will serve as the basis for a new in-depth web-based news service called “NewsWorks,” initially focusing on Germantown, Mt. Airy, Oak Lane and Chestnut Hill sections of Philadelphia. More than 120 residents in the Northwest quadrant of the city participated in these community forums.


The City Budget: Tight Times, Tough Choices (2009)

PPCE and WHYY organized more than 1,700 taxpayers to participate in four workshops to work through budget choices facing the City of Philadelphia. Participants identified priorities and the trade-offs they were (and were not) willing to make.

Result: For details on the workshops, including our final report to the Mayor, please visit:


Re-Envisioning the Kimmel Center through Civic Engagement and Design (2008)

More than 300 citizens developed ideas for energizing and activating the public spaces in and around the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts.  The goal of the project, led by PPCE, PennPraxis and the Philadelphia Inquirer, was to attract and welcome more people into the region’s premier arts center.

Result: Citizen input was used as initial specification for redesigning the public spaces at the Kimmel.  Some citizen ideas were immediately implemented. For detail on this project’s accomplishments, please visit:


A Shared Prosperity: Immigrant Integration on Our Commercial Corridors (2009)

More than 80 Philadelphia residents, business owners and policymakers — with cultural backgrounds ranging from Dominican to Russian to Burmese to West African to Chinese — participated in a public forum about immigrant integration in commercial corridors. The forum was conducted in partnership with the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians and held at WHYY.

Result: Action steps to foster greater collaboration along Philadelphia’s increasingly diverse commercial corridors. 


Asian Pacific Americans: Town Hall Meeting, One Voice (2009)

A forum developed for the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian American Affairs to identify and work on the most pressing issues affecting the Asian Pacific Americans in Pennsylvania today and to give the FACAA guidelines on how to handle these issues. 

Result: A report for The Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian American Affairs steps for issues important to Asian Pacific American.


Eds and Meds in Philadelphia: A 2020 Vision (2009)

A forum at WHYY with 40 leaders in the higher education and health care sectors, focused on how we can continue to build the strength of those sectors to further build the economy of the region.

Result: Policy recommendations and action steps to help protect this sector from the challenges it faces and to help it seize new opportunities.


The Big Canvas and Confab (2008)

The arts and culture forum series, entitled The Big Canvas engaged more than 500 citizens from Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania suburbs. The closing event, The Big Canvas Confab, engaged more than 200 people, with state, county and township elected officials in a regional conversation to develop the basis of a strategy to fund arts and cultural activities.

Result:  A discussion guide for arts and culture funding in the region and policy recommendations to state and city legislators.


City That Works (2008)

Guided deliberative citizen input for the City Budget Office and Managing Director Office, about what criteria citizens would use to evaluate city government success on its six core goals: public safety; education; jobs and economic development; healthy and sustainable communities; ethics; and customer service and a high performing government. Twelve forums were conducted – one in each city council district and one each for the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and Young Involved Philadelphians. Representatives from the City Budget Office attended and observed all of the forums.

Result: City department heads and commissioners say they routinely use data and findings from these forums in planning.


Redistricting in the Lower Merion School District (2008)

A project with the Lower Merion School District involved more than 500 community residents in developing values-based principles to guide the redistricting process in the District.

Result: A set of 5 values-based principles that the Board used in its redistricting decisions.


Great Expectations: Citizen Voices on Philadelphia’s Future (2006- )

PPCE and its partners helped facilitate more than 2500 Philadelphians’ participation in more than seventy forums across the city to identify the twelve top issues they thought the next Mayor should address. Journalists and University researchers provided solutions and innovations. Citizens then critiqued and modified the issues and solutions at a Citizens Convention.

Result: The publication of The Citizens Agenda — a Civic "To Do List" that was endorsed by Mayor Nutter. More info at:


Community Forums on the Development of the Central Waterfront (2006-2007)

More than 5,000 taxpayers participated in eight citizen forums to develop a unified plan for Philadelphia’s central waterfront – from Allegheny Avenue to Oregon Avenue.

Result: A civic vision and an action plan that was approved by the City Planning Commission.  For the final report and other information, please visit our partner PlanPhilly at:


Camp Hill School District (2006)

Community forums involving more than 150 taxpayers developed the educational and cultural mission and vision for the Grace Millman Pollock Center for the Performing Arts

Result: A mission and vision statement, including specific design and program ideas, that became the starting point for developing a new performing arts center.


National Summit on School Design (2006)

The American Architectural Foundation convened more than 300 professionals — from the fields of architecture, community development and education — for this national invitational workshop to work through design, educational and finance issues for designing schools of the future.

Result: Co-wrote book-length report of the National Summit on School Design


Engaging Urban Students through Issue-based Deliberation (2005)

The six teachers and 75 students and that comprise the Public Leadership and Service Small Learning Community in the Lancaster School Districts spent a year teaching and learning a curriculum focusing on the concepts and practices of public deliberation.

Result: A study of the project’s impact showed a marked strengthening of students' sense of themselves as citizens and public leaders. 


The Franklin Conference on School Design (2005-2006)

More than 400 Philadelphians participated in a public process to develop principles and visions for school design in conjunction with the Philadelphia School District's capital improvement program.  The project focused on three sites around the city that the District was actively considering.

Result: Architectural drawings and site plans for the three sites, along with programming descriptions were published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Community Forums on 40th St. (2004-2006)

More than 250 West Philadelphians participated in a series of community engagement forums to develop principles for the development of the 40th Street Corridor. 

Result: Creation of the "Friends of 40th Street" which continues to meet regularly and advocate for improvement to the corridor and their quality of life. 


Project 540 (2003-2005)

More than 17,000 students from ten 10 high schools in PA and NJ participated over two years in the PennGSE sites of this national Project to involve high school students in identifying issues of concern to them, developing action plans to address one of those projects and implementing those projects.

Result: Students in each high school successfully implemented projects addressing their concerns, thereby improving their high school experience.


The Bensalem Waterfront Development Project (2003)

Students from Bensalem High School and Penn School of Design participated in an after-school activity that developed possible designs for the Bensalem Township waterfront along the Delaware River.

Result: Students presented their design principles and design ideas to the Bensalem mayor, township commissioners and the public.


The Penn's Landing Forums (2003)

More than 500 citilzens participated in public processes cosponsored by Penn Praxis and the Design Advocacy Group. Through deliberative forums and design charrettes, participants developed three alternative visions for the development of Philadelphia's central waterfront

Result:  A set of design principles that  were built into the Philadelphia’s specifications for future development plans and three distinct designs for Penn’s Landing


Strategic Visioning Process for The Philadelphia Inquirer (2002)

More than 60 employees of the Philadelphia Inquirer – including leaders and representatives of all major departments — participated in a companywide process to create the newspaper's new suburban strategy.

Result: Creation of a new section of the newspaper and modification of several others.


Mechanicsburg Area School District (2001-2001)

More than 200 community residents participated in open forums to determine what to do with an old middle school building that was being replaced and possible reconfiguration of the district’s elementary schools.

Result: A set of building use criteria that the Mechanicsburg Area School District used in making its facilities decisions.


Radnor School District (1999)

More than 100 people from Radnor Township participated in community forums on the family, the environment and youth policy.  In addition to the substantive issues, forums were part of a study to assess their impact on relationships among different stakeholder groups in the district.

Result: Reduced contention between different stakeholder groups in the district and community forums were used for two facilities projects between 2000 and 2005.


West York District (1998)

Three hundred (300) residents of the West York School District participated in a series of community forums on issues facing the school district, including youth policy and school funding issues.

Result: Increased community involvement in the school district policies, and smooth passage of a previously contentious budget.


Citizen Voices Projects (1996-2002)

PPCE collaborated with the Editorial Board of the Philadelphia Inquirer to facilitate citizen dialogues on issues such as the Pennsylvania Governor’s Race, the New Jersey Governor’s Race and health care. Our partners in these projects included 6ABC, the Annenberg School for Communication, E-thepeople.org , the Pennsylvania Economy League, the Physicians for Social Responsibility (Philadelphia chapter), WHYY, and WHYY-91FM.