Building high-quality developments takes more than bricks and mortar. It involves creating an atmosphere that will positively impact residents, the surrounding neighborhood, and even the entire community. That’s why Pennrose frequently chooses to engage in participatory design when entering a new neighborhood.

The participatory design (or co-design) process engages community stakeholders by fostering an open forum for neighbors to voice concerns, ask questions, and provide feedback on proposed project plans. After all, we want the broader community to be proud of our developments.

For example, Pennrose, along with our partners RiseBoro Community Partnership and Habitat for Humanity New York City, recently invited community members to the table when redesigning the beloved Elizabeth Street Garden at Haven Green. Haven Green will be a 123-unit deeply affordable, LGBTQ-friendly, senior housing development with over 8,000 square feet of adjacent public space in the Little Italy neighborhood of Manhattan.

Well before construction begins, we reached out to local organizations and neighbors to be a part of the reimagining of the garden. To help solicit feedback, an interactive community website (https://www.havengreencommunity.nyc/) was launched to provide easy access to development news, participatory design opportunities, timelines, photos and milestones. A variety of community-led events have been scheduled so that we can understand the special characteristics of the garden and develop a vision for its future that would meet the needs of the local community. Through town hall meetings and vision sessions, community stakeholders will have a say in how the garden should look, feel, and operate. This open communication will be carried through project completion, at which point neighbors will be encouraged to participate in the ongoing care and maintenance of the garden.

In addition to Haven Green, Pennrose is currently working with several other partners on another participatory design project at the Equal Justice Center in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia. The facility will co-locate dozens of legal aid organizations so that their clients can benefit from the efficiencies and synergies of having these agencies in one centralized location. The Equal Justice Center is projected to house more than 20 public service legal aid establishments and approximately 160,000 square feet of retail and office space.

Because Chinatown is home to nearly 1,400 residents and hundreds of businesses, it was important that the local community be involved in the design of the center from the get-go. This includes creation of digital channels that allow residents to easily share their opinions and provide feedback. In addition, community meetings will be regularly held with key organizations, community leaders, Chinatown residents, and businesses. Plans for the Equal Justice Center include an indoor and outdoor space that will be available to the community, while also honoring the rich history of Chinatown.

At the end of the day, it’s the individuals that live and work in a neighborhood every day that truly understand it. This unique viewpoint can’t be underestimated – it should be heard, valued and implemented. By engaging community members throughout the design process of a development, we hope to deliver high-quality projects that align with the preferences of a community and fit seamlessly into the dynamic of existing neighborhoods.