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Women Build It Full Panel | Development... for Good!

Recap: Women Build It

Why should women work construction? How does design by women differ from design by men? During the most recent Development … for Good event, we got answers from women changing Philadelphia’s built environment

Recap: Women Build It

Why should women work construction? How does design by women differ from design by men? During the most recent Development … for Good event, we got answers from women changing Philadelphia’s built environment

For years, city design, city planning, even universal city design, has been about outcomes. Does an end-use public space successfully combine form and function, accessibility and beauty? Does a finished park accommodate visitors with children, visitors who use wheelchairs, folks seeking peaceful communion with nature and others seeking community celebration?

When The Citizen gathered five women leaders in Philadelphia’s development and construction industry on Tuesday, June 18, an audience of about 100 learned it’s not just what you get when it comes to creating thriving physical spaces within a city — it’s how you get there.

“Women in our cities have been second class citizens for so long. What this really is about is doing things differently, because the way it’s been done so far is not working,” said Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman, an urban anthropologist at Drexel University, founder of THINK.urban and the evening’s moderator. “This is the start. This is the way to flip the script. This is the way to bring care to the conversation and to make sure cities actually work for everyone.”

Katrina Johnston-Zimmeran (left) and Melissa Schrock at "Women Build It," part of the Philadelphia Citizen's Development ... for Good event series.
Katrina Johnston-Zimmeran (left) and Melissa Schrock.

Women working differently

Take the Bok building in South Philadelphia. Ten years ago Lindsay Scannapieco and her team at Scout were just beginning to turn a shuttered, Art Deco vo tech school into the thriving, diverse space for manufacturing, working, art-making, dining, drinking, working out, dog- and child-caring that it is today. And they did something unheard of.

“We would hand out cups of coffee and talk to people. We put a sign out, and said, ‘If you have questions, come in and talk to us.’ Our neighbors realized we were humans trying to do something with a big old building,” said Scannapieco, “I can’t think of any male developers that I’ve interacted with that way … We were meeting people where they were at.”

Scannapieco was one of three panelists who talked about the importance of better gender representation in the construction and development industries, what can be done about it, and what it will change.

Lindsay Scannapieco (left) and Monica Miraglilo.

Monica Miraglilo, a self-taught contractor and interior designer-turned real estate developer and founder of GirlBuild, which holds workshops that teach women how to manage home rehab projects, noted women are “only 15 percent” of her industry. Miraglilo believes in entering every space with confidence and openness.

Andreina Perez Hein, executive director of Everybody Builds works to diversify the even less inclusive building trades. As of last year, women made up only 10.8 percent of construction workers. As a Latina who came to the industry with a background in nonprofit work, she used her newcomerness as an advantage: “Not being jaded allows you to see things differently and approach them in a different way,” she said.

Melissa Schrock, executive VP of mixed use development at HRP, where one of her projects is the Bellwether District, came to her role with a background in architecture and a mission to combat climate change through smarter, gentler city development. Although she’s charged with building new communities, as a woman, she feels better equipped to seek out “alignment of interests” between new and existing neighborhoods, creating both cohesion and mutual benefit. “Women are far more adept at that,” she said, “We’re also far more organized.”

Left to right: Larry Platt, Lindsay Scannapieco, Roxanne Patel Shepelavy and Monica Miraglilo.

Design solutions for Philadelphia

The panel told their individual stories of breaking into the industries, offered advice on getting by and moving up. They also offered their prescriptions for Philadelphia:

    • Establish incentives to fill vacant buildings, especially homes and abandoned spaces, by levying taxes on their owners.
    • Think outside the box to reuse empty office spaces, and not just as residential retrofits.
    • Establish more trade schools, places where young people can learn to rehab spaces and proudly claim them as their own.
    • Support the arts: With the sudden closure of UArts and partial closure of PAFA, we must protect our cultural producers and keep them in Philly. They are the reason we’re all here.
    • Remove obstacles for women in construction. Childcare, jobsite etiquette, and long paycycles have historically prevented women from entering the industry.
    • Find opportunity in crisis. If Philly can figure out how to creatively recover from the pandemic by reimagining what a city can be, we will, in Schrock’s words, “be poised to eat the lunch of other American cities.”

Development…for Good is a project in partnership with Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation and Fitler Club, and sponsored by The Bellwether District — an HRP Project; Brandywine Realty Trust; Campus Apartments; Darco Capital; Clarke & Cohen Property Loss COnsultants; and Firstrust Bank.

Below, check out photos and a video from Development … for Good: Women Build It.

Left to right: Jade Lee, Rolanda Robinson and Kitty Barnes.
Left to right: Atara Saunders, Ryan Debold, Karen Bustard and Bryan Fike.
Left to right: Renae Dinerman, Nicoleta Maxim and Gage Johnston.
Adreina Perez Hein (left) and Ally Lamson.
Heather Kagan (left) and Christa Cobb.
Left to right: Alexa Sternberger, Danielle Trama, Jahkiya Jack and Ashley Richardson.
The audience at Development … for Good: Women Build It.
Rich (left) and Max Cohen of Clarke & Cohen.
Ashley Richardson (left) and Jahkiya Jack.


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