NOVEMBER 24, 2014
Leroy Robinson, Jr., owner of Leroy’s Barber Shop at 4123 Lancaster Ave., couldn’t contain his elation. “I’m sorry if I’m yelling,” he told the crowd, “but that’s what happens when I get excited.”
Robinson gestured toward the once-vacant lot around him—the corner of 42nd and Lancaster that now holds a community message board and picnic table. “This is young people doing good stuff,” he said. “People ride by here now and they see something positive.”
As Robinson spoke, passing cars indeed slowed down to have a look at the corner lot, sometimes offering a honk of encouragement. The space was packed with nearly 50 people that afternoon, last Thursday, Nov. 20, for a celebration of the new improvements.
Over the summer, Public Workshop partnered with the human services and community development organization People’s Emergency Center (PEC). With help from teens and adults in Public Workshop’s Building Heroes program and PEC’s Community Connectors—along with a grant from ArtPlace America and the tools and workspace of DM+D—the groups designed and built a new community message board for the once-empty Lancaster lot.
The new board offers residents a space to share community resources and information: event fliers, apartment rentals, offers for jobs or services. “We didn’t want to do a standard message board,” PEC’s Cassandra Green told Generocity. “You have these message boards that go up in communities that are pretty basic. We wanted something that would attract people almost like a piece of community art.”
As he spoke to the crowd gathered on the lot that afternoon, Alex Gilliam—the director of Public Workshop—noted that Philadelphia is “the only place where something like this is happening…and people around the country are starting to notice.”
And it doesn’t stop with the message board. The Public Workshop and PEC team continues to make improvements to the area and spent last week working on a fenced mini-park in a vacant corner at 41st and Lancaster. There is also funding for another youth-led project in the spring—details TBA, but the ideas are already rolling in.