Author: Robert Kelly, FAIA
Title: New Cumberland Borough: Making a Vision for the Future
Category: Justice & equity
Description: Synopsis: After two years of planning the AIA PA Strategic Council was ready to accomplish its first community outreach initiative in partnership with AIA Pennsylvania’s Central Chapter Citizen Architect volunteers. The project was named, New Cumberland Borough: Making a Vision for the Future Challenge: New Cumberland Borough (NC) is a community of approximately 7000 residents in an area of nearly two square miles. It is situated on the western bank of the Susquehanna River, opposite the City of Harrisburg. The community’s story is all too common. As the regional economy changed, many of the town’s earlier industries disappeared. After an extended period of economic decline, New Cumberland Borough has shifted to a commuter-oriented community and regained some of its financial footing. In spring of 2018, to address economic and infrastructure issues, particularly seasonal flooding of a portion of its central business district, the Borough received a grant and engaged a civil engineering firm to study the problem. At the same time, the newly established AIA Pennsylvania Strategic Council was in the process reviewing a number of potential projects as a test case for the committee’s ability to deliver the same pro bono impact to underserved communities situated beyond the reach of the state’s two major urban centers. The group was made aware of New Cumberland and its needs by a local chapter architect who felt the community should have an architectural vision for its future to compliment engineering work that had commenced to resolve the seasonal flooding issue. The AIA PA Strategic Council leadership immediately reached out to borough leadership. Several weeks later the project was solidified with an agreement for pro bono services signed; a process designed; a team of local architects and emerging professionals established; and finally, a five-month timeframe paralleling the engineering study, committed to. Process Workshop One: All project stakeholders met in an open discussed. Workshop Two: AIA PA volunteers were briefed on the project background and the project objectives. The team began vetting possible study sites within the borough's target study area. Workshop Three: AIA PA volunteers presented target study area thoughts and options to the NC Steering Committee in an open community meeting. The consensus was to study options within Market Square area subject to some blight especially in the low-lying areas subject to flooding. Workshop Four: AIA PA volunteers meet with two dozen members of the community. At this meeting, those in attendance were encouraged to share their thoughts on the needs and possible and uses of the Market Square area and other nearby points of interest Workshop Five: The AIA PA volunteers returned to their studios with valuable community input to prepare for a B4BT workshop with invited outside critics to evaluate the teams work to-date. Workshop Six: In late January 2019, with a room of seventy-five people including residents, political leaders, business owners and press, the AIA PA Design Team successfully presented their final concepts, assessments, concept budgets and summary of their collaboration with the community. From the positive reactions during and following the final meeting, the team clearly accomplished their goal of giving the New Cumberland community a peek at their while demonstrating in real-time the value and importance of design and architects in determining the quality of their everyday lives.