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Clarissa Kelsey joins the Civic Design Review Board for the City of Philadelphia

June 11, 2021

The mayor of Philadelphia appoints Stantec architect Clarissa Kelsey to join the Civic Design Review (CDR) Board for the City Planning Commission

The Civic Design Review (CDR) Board, created in 2012, evaluates building and masterplan proposals to better benefit local Philadelphia communities. The CDR board is one of the most highly praised additions to the zoning code by the design community, local government, and by registered community organizations.

Stantec architect Clarissa Kelsey was appointed to the CDR at the beginning of this year. With her involvement at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Philadelphia chapter as a board member for three years, Clarissa was excited for this opportunity. “I was quite surprised by the nomination to become a CDR board member,” she said, “my involvement with AIA has led to a lot of opportunities, so my guess is that’s how my name came up for consideration.” After being nominated, Clarissa submitted an application that was reviewed by the planning commission and city staff and then submitted for selection. The Mayor of Philadelphia selected her as the new board member.

The review board is made up of seven members within different design backgrounds—architecture and landscape architecture, urban planning, development, and sustainability—to ensure a variety of different professions are reviewing the projects and commenting. There is also a rotating seat for a representative from a registered community organization whose boundaries include the location of the project being heard. The design team meets with the neighborhood community, as a requirement prior to their board hearing, to have an open discussion about the project. As it is an advisory board, the design team pitching their project isn’t required to take all the comments put forward; the hope is that they take the information provided into consideration and work with the community to create a more successful project. “The focus is about the impact of the design elements of the project on the public realm: the colors, materials, the use of landscaping, trees, interaction with sidewalks, entrances, parking, safety issues, accessibility,” Clarissa stated, “it’s really interesting to hear what the community’s concerns are and some of the different topics that are brought up. It’s one of the only times the community gets to speak openly about projects happening in their neighborhood.”

The CDR was created to get the community engaged in the projects happening in their area. Community members have the opportunity to express themselves about any concerns they have regarding designs going into their neighborhood. “A lot of Philadelphia neighborhoods have been evolving,” Clarissa said, “there were a lot of concerns about the projects going in—are they appropriate? Will they fit into our community? Making sure people had a voice when it came to these issues happening in their community is important.”

Clarissa’s seat on the board is a voluntary one and she is able to choose how long she would like to sit on the committee. Many of the other board members have been there since the beginning. Clarissa said, “The hope is that in the future, this becomes a more robust program that’s required for projects to move ahead and has a bit more weight as to what the design team and builders have to do to satisfy the requirements. Some of the participants are really open to hearing the feedback and making changes. It’s encouraging.”

Clarissa has been a board member now for three months and has been involved in monthly meetings. Recently, it’s been twice a month as a lot more project have been put forward. “Since the pandemic began, all meetings have been virtual,” Clarissa stated, “I think it’s great more people have access to the meetings now that they’re virtual. Members of the public can hop on the zoom call and participate. It’s more accessible.” It’s also easier for Clarissa and the other board members to be part of the meetings as they usually run Tuesday afternoons. “I communicate with my supervisor and team to let them know I’ve got a board meeting. The flexibility is great and hasn’t been an issue.”

Clarissa is honored to have been appointed for this position. “It is so rewarding to use my skills to advocate for great design that improves the community,” Clarissa shared, “I am hopeful that through this process I can be part of making Philadelphia a more sustainable, equitable, and vibrant place for its residents.”

With Clarissa’s passion for architecture and advocating for the profession, we know she’s going to thrive as a board member for the Civic Design Review Board.

  • Clarissa Kelsey

    Clarissa is an architect working with our team in Philadelphia. There, she is focused on ambulatory care facilities, hospitals and senior living projects.

    Contact Clarissa
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