ECC 2019 Catch-Up: Philadelphia

ECC 2019 Catch-Up: Philadelphia

Emerging City Champions (ECC) is a fellowship program led by 8 80 Cities. ECC provides young civic innovators with leadership training and $5,000 in seed funding to launch transformative projects to enhance public space, urban mobility or civic engagement in their city. ECC is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Visit for more.

We just launched ECC 2020, and now we’re spending this week catching up with the ECC 2019 cohort to learn about what they accomplished during their 2019-2020 fellowship amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and mass movements for racial justice.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


A large group of people stands in a semi-circle on a street in Philadelphia, listening to a speaker

Image c/o Marcos Lomeli

Marcos Lomeli is a native of southern Mexico, and has lived in Philadelphia since he was a sophomore in high school. Marcos has experience organizing the Latinx community in Philadelphia, having worked with the Kensington Soccer Club, as a bilingual educator with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and at Ceiba, a Latino Coalition-building organization.

For his ECC project, Experience Eastern North, Marcos, along with the Eastern North Philadelphia Arts & Culture Committee, set the goal to create a series of resident-driven, experiential walking tours of Eastern North Philadelphia, a section of the city rich in cultural heritage, but often overlooked by the city. The goals of the tours included empowering neighborhood residents to become the narrators of the true lived experience of the community, engaging participants in civic service projects like neighborhood clean-ups and community gardening, and stimulating local business, such as those along “El Centro de Oro” corridor on N. 5th Street.

This project was envisioned to span multiple years, and with the funding from the ECC grant, the committee was able to hire a teaching artist, former ECC alum Gabi Sanchez of Power Street Theatre, to lead a series of storytelling workshops designed to equip a group of neighborhood residents with the skills and confidence to tell the story of their community. These residents will become the “tour guides” of future tours.

While the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to conduct in-person tours, the storytelling workshops were able to move forward in a virtual format, and concluded with a Final Showcase (available online here) to highlight the stories participants had crafted. Once public health allows for it, the tours will commence in earnest, visiting important spots in the community. In the meantime, the committee is exploring ways to bring the tour to the online world, so everyone can access it.


A goat looks closely at the camera. Behind it appears to be a seated group in front of a building with a sign saying "Library."

Image c/o Molly van den Heuvel

Molly van den Heuvel has served the residents of Philadelphia for eight years in various capacities. In her ECC project, Bringing Out the Library, she took on the ambitious task of creating a fully-accessible community green space for gathering and library programming. This project pulled on all aspects of her past training; promoting literacy, lessening the digital divide, expanding understanding of diverse populations, and programming.

Some great strides were made on the patio. The Andorra Library hosted yoga classes and a very successful Goat Storywalk, and Molly sought community input. The Emerging City Champions program taught her it is important to seek and listen to feedback from the stakeholders.

By the time March rolled around, Molly was ready to jump into installing the patio planters and seating, getting the spring plants into the ground, and starting up outdoor programming again.

Then the pandemic hit. The library was shut down. Molly was forced to reimagine how she could engage the public with the idea of Bringing Out the Library without gatherings or programming. She chose to lean into social media posts and creating activities to engage the community with the patio space individually without needing a device. Molly started many of the spring plantings at her house and posted tips and tricks for followers to use in their own urban homestead. The Emerging City Champions program schooled Molly in social media marketing and also considering an equitable environment for those that do not have digital connectivity.

As the library slowly moves to reopen, the Free Library will finally be installing the outdoor seating, though safely spaced and separated. The planters will be installed with a greater emphasis on perennial native plantings for easier maintenance and care. All of this has been made possible through funding from the Emerging City Champions program. While the project may have changed a little physically, the spirit remains unwavering and Molly looks forward to engaging creatively again with the library’s returning community.


A group of people gathers around a table filled with art supplies, laughing and talking while painting flower pots.

Image c/o Shawn Sheu

Sian Sheu is a Taiwanese American who has called Kansas, St. Louis, and Philadelphia home. After graduating college, Shawn moved to Philadelphia to work with its vibrant, diverse neighborhoods. Most recently, she was the Program Director at the Rail Park, a new infrastructure reuse project in Philadelphia, where she explored narratives around public space through thoughtful curation of public programs and community engagement. This fall, Shawn is pursuing her M.A. in Design at Carnegie Mellon University.

Shawn’s ECC project, the Tire Swing Fund, empowers community members to be active participants in the future of the Rail Park, the first public space in Philadelphia’s Chinatown North/Callowhill neighborhoods, by supporting local artists and organizations to use the park as a platform to engage with their neighbors. In the philosophy of place “keeping” rather than place “making,” programming through the Tire Swing Fund builds upon neighborhood assets and highlights the array of skills and cultures that are threaded throughout the community.

In April, applications opened for the Tire Swing Fund with an emphasis on supporting diverse community-based initiatives that created opportunities for social interaction. Because of challenges that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic, programs supported through the Tire Swing Fund needed to follow social distancing guidelines and take place away from the park itself. After reviewing dozens of creative proposals with a community-based panel, the Tire Swing Fund was able to support five projects, including COVID-19 wayfinding signage at a local emergency shelter, a new community garden growing traditional Filipinx foods, and a photography project capturing portraits of people quarantined together. Following the success of the first round of the Tire Swing Fund, the Rail Park hopes to continue this model of powering community-led programs as a way to grow neighborhood ownership and usage of the park.


A crowded group of people sits and talks at a table inside a restaurant with pieces of paper in front of them. On the walls, there are taped printouts showing different flowers.

Image c/o Somaly Osteen

Over the past decade, Somaly Osteen has been working for multiple local and international non-profit organizations. Working to bring positive change and serving the community is what Somaly was called to do. Somaly’s career started in Cambodia as a community advocate working on community engagements and developments. Currently, Somaly is a Community Development Specialist for SEAMAAC, Inc overseeing two of the four primary community development programs. The first manages SEAMAAC’s small business incubator known as the SoPhiE Food Truck and the second program improves the South 7th Street Commercial Corridor Revitalization Program. The community Somaly is serving is one of the most diverse communities in Philadelphia. Despite all the challenges and obstacles, Somaly is determined to rebuild trust among this diverse community where trust has been previously broken. Other achievements include recognition by the Community Design Collaborative where she won the Instigator Award, the citywide contest aimed at recognizing design excellence in storefront façade improvement. The award was given by the Mayor of Philadelphia. Somaly believes that sustainable development starts with each individual and sustainable change comes through unity.

Somaly’s ECC project, South 7th Street Crosswalks, responds to the need for safe walking spaces in the heart of the South 7th Street Commercial Corridor in South Philly by transforming crosswalks with beautiful designs that not only promote safety but also help celebrate community culture and support local small businesses. The $5,000 ECC grant covered operational costs that allowed the project proposal to become a reality. The support from 8 80 Cities staff and the 2019 ECC cohort helped the project feel less overwhelming. Councilman Squilla, the 3rd district police department, and the street department played important roles in this project and their support was very much appreciated. Somaly and her team hosted two successful design meetings to collect ideas from the community to incorporate their ideas into the crosswalk design, which reflects the diversity of the neighborhood with a “fabric patterns and flowers of the world” cultural theme. The first meeting centered on brainstorming what the crosswalk design should look like. A month after the first meeting, the second meeting presented a conceptual draft design while collecting feedback from the community. Both meetings were attended by approximately 70 attendees, representing 5 or more different cultures and ethnicities. Participants included residents, shop owners, frequent customers, planners and SEAMAAC staff. The crosswalk design was finalized with approval from all parties in the spring. Though COVID-19 impacted the execution plan for summer 2020, it will not stop the painting of this vibrant crosswalk design onto the street in 2021.


Catch up on other ECC 2019 projects all week on our Stories & Insights page and learn about the new ECC 2020 cohort at

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