Stuckeman School student explores landscape democracy in independent study
With Guyer’s interest in representation and the democracy of pique design, he contacted Mainzer to do a six-week independent study this summer to research two parks in the Philadelphia area that Studio Zewde is working to revamp: Graffiti Pier and Mander Park.
Mainzer suggested Guyer do a case study on the two areas, which included examining political maps, U.S. Census data, and Environmental Protection Agency environmental justice screening data to gather demographic information, as well as academic papers and even social media accounts to get a sense of public opinion and community buzz.
“Whatever field we enter as designers, it’s so important to get the job done – to know the history, who the people are, what the culture is like, what the community is proud of – before begin the actual design activity. . It was something Devon already had in mind, but the fact that he studied these two very different parks in his hometown really brought him home,” Mainzer said.
Guyer also reached out to Studio Zewde to see if he could interview someone about the company’s approach to community engagement in both communities. He is put in contact with Anne Lynch, landscape architect of the firm.
“It was important for me to understand the methods the studio uses in each park to connect with communities and how to use that information to create landscapes that reflect a community’s identity,” Guyer said.
From there, Guyer got to work on his case study.
“Our job is really to get buy-in from the community and to continue that dialogue and inclusion throughout a design project,” Mainzer said. “That’s the side Devon would learn through his partnership with Studio Zewde.”
Located in the West Philadelphia neighborhood on the Delaware River waterfront, Graffiti Pier is a former anthracite coal loading dock that was part of Reading Railroad’s Port Richmond yards.
“Immigrants of Polish descent lived in adjacent neighborhoods and were exploited to work long, hard hours while facing harsh living conditions,” he said.
The pier was decommissioned and abandoned in 1991 and has since become an icon of graffiti culture, community identity and public art, according to Guyer. It is, in fact, one of the most Instagrammed spots in Philadelphia and offers walking paths, green space, and waterfront views. However, the area is facing development pressures and the sea level rise.
“Graffiti Pier is under pressure because developers are currently developing the adjacent landscape to the west of the pier, with interest from other shoreline developers. It also faces an environmental threat from climate change, so it is threatened from all sides,” Guyer said.
Studio Zewde’s approach to engaging the community was two-pronged to target both public and private actors, Guyer said. Locals were asked to give their thoughts on the best and worst Graffiti Pier developments during public engagement sessions.
Private park actors, graffiti artists whose work draws visitors and other creatives to the pier, meanwhile, have been invited to join designers from Studio Zewde at a local dive bar.
“It was important to understand the artists’ culture and hear their ideas about the development of the pier,” Guyer said. “Access to a gated community through such an event gives designers a unique opportunity to understand both the needs of stakeholders and the value they bring to the community.”