Build Your Own Mantua

Build Your Own Mantua reimagines a blighted neighborhood in Philadelphia. The multifaceted concept includes building projects, social and community development workshops, and long-term healthy and happy living goals.

The theme of the EP Exhibit 2016 is It Takes a Community. Selected projects showcase the best work from young designers highlighting community impact and engagement.

Mantua has had its fair share of trials, from drug-related violence to aging infrastructure and blighted neighborhoods, but has always maintained a remarkable community core. A history of leadership within the community is a reminder that people care. Recreational courts and playgrounds, community centers, and bold mural art have popped up incrementally despite a lack of significant outside investment.

Build Your Own Mantua (BYOM) gives the neighborhood a voice. With tools and resources, Mantua will make its mark on Philadelphia once again and build an inclusive, cohesive, identifiable and healthy community from the bottom up without losing its sense of self. We are Mantua. This vision for Mantua will be carried out with these goals:

1. Empower residents and business owners with the resources that initiate a community led development strategy and lay the ground work for an on-going process.

2. Invest in skills workshops that teach valuable crafts that enable contributions to their community, instill a sense of pride, increase employment opportunities, and encourage health and well-being.

3. Promote interactions between the workshops—physically and programmatically—that establish community interrelationship.

4. Create an infrastructural framework that elevates the image of the built environment and increases mobility, access to transit and healthy food choices.

The nature of the Build, Express, Grow and Create workshops is inherently flexible. It is not a top-down approach, but a bottom-up process that includes high level structure and support. This structure would be provided by an investment in infrastructure to help guide where the workshops might physically manifest their outcomes, and where infrastructure is improved, private investment will follow.

Mantua features a desirable physical character: small walkable blocks, diverse housing options, a mix of uses, wide sidewalks and access to transportation reinforce this notion. However, what’s missing is maintenance and quality. Deteriorating sidewalks and outdated utilities are typical of our former metropolitan industrial hubs. While it would be burdensome to reconstruct the miles of sidewalks and streets within Mantua, a more feasible approach would be to incrementally retrofit select corridors, while targeting specific opportunity parcels.

The workshops enable residents and business owners to participate in community-growing activities, for example the BUILD workshop constructing a modular “bean”—an element that could carry an endless array of program—a food-share bin near a community garden, a cluster of cafe tables outside a local restaurant, or simply a stormwater planter new street tree. Neighborhoods are dynamic, ever-evolving entities that work well with a more modular, flexible approach.

Identifying parcels for improvement and workshops would start with donated or discounted city-owned and vacant properties. A Mantua Development Authority would then work with the community to evaluate their desires and target their next investment. It is understood that city-owned land is valuable and there is a finite amount, however, a better Mantua yields a better Philadelphia.

The momentum to be gained through the workshops will bring greater and greater results. If the seed is effectively planted and properly nurtured, there are no limits to the potentials of this community.

Image credits

Build Your Own Mantua

Grant Hromas and Adelle York, Assoc. AIA