Coalitions and collaborations are built to facilitate positive business transformations and blossoming creative opportunities. That’s the theory behind the Philadelphia Design District (PDD), Philadelphia’s newly formed design coalition. PDD began taking shape this past spring in the heart of Old City, from 2nd and 3rd Streets and Market to Race, with ten founding businesses, primarily high-end art galleries and European furniture showrooms. The impetus, in part, sprung from the recognition that cities become competitive globally when arts and design are front and center to urban planning. Achieving that goal requires outreach, public engagement, and creative marketing to a broad, but educated clientele and responsive governmental bodies.
Brand building is central to success.
While Old City’s 19th century architectural scale, streetscape, and independent shops are charming, the addition of street flags and window decals sporting the PDD hot pink logo creates a cohesive sense of place. It’s what urban planners, designers, social scientists, philanthropic organizations, real estate developers, and the like term “placemaking”, describing the public/private partnerships and multi-disciplinary approach to urban development. In the case of PDD, the brick and stone industrial building exteriors remain fairly untouched, while interior spaces have been gutted and reimagined for today’s business needs. For instance, the cloud sharing company Linode hired Materials Conservation to preserve the Corn Exchange Building on the corner of Third and Arch, while the interiors have been fitted out to accommodate their staff of over 60 software engineers, designers, and developers.
Down the street, Eugenie Perret, co-owner of the contemporary furniture design showrooms Minima, is the electrifying force behind PDD, and its first president. Her agenda, and that of the other PDD members, goes beyond selling products and beyond Old City’s boundaries. “We imagine a geographical location established and defined by design.”
“The fabric of Philadelphia is changing very fast. Real estate prices continue to rise along with increasing demand,” says Perret, who has been renovating property in Old City since 1997. “The identity of this neighborhood is tied to our historic architecture and Philadelphia’s original urban plan. That character and warmth are rare finds in the United States. So preserving the physical neighborhood and the history of America’s democracy and commerce story are essential, not just for Philly, but also for the nation.”
Founded as a non-profit organization, PDD is more than a marketing group. The members recognize how essential a fresh educational model is in order to spur design professionals and aficionados into conversations about luxury, home, space, safety, beauty, comfort, technology, and mood. More than talk, though, the hope is that with education comes understanding, desire, and need.
Partnerships are central to PDD’s modus operandi. (Full disclosure: my consulting firm, Blackbird, provides marketing consulting to PDD, though this is not a sponsored article.) “We are in early discussions with technical.ly and the tech community to increase cross pollination of ideas and ways of working,” Perret says. “Tech plays a driving role in the environments we create at home and work. IoT now plays a tremendous role in design, yet the intersections haven’t been explored on a retail level. We’re beginning to see vast possibilities for promoting design and tech together, hosting collaborative events, and bringing in corporate sponsors that value innovation while maintaining standards of craftsmanship that Philadelphia is historically known for.”
The Philadelphia Design District is a branded design community set to become a premier, national design destination—a place were trade and consumers can find the finest quality design related products and services from home furnishings to accessories, art, and antiques.
ESI Senior Advisor, Hilary Jay, is an award-winning curator, journalist, and entrepreneur. In 2015, she founded Blackbird Partners working with universities, governmental agencies, nonprofits and creative industries on marketing strategy and project management.