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Penn Praxis is seeking the public's opinion while forming design plans for the renovation of the Kimmel Center.

When it comes to making plans on how to improve Philadelphia, architects and city planners from Penn say civic engagement is critical.

Penn Praxis, the consulting branch of Penn's School of Design, is working in conjunction with the Penn Project for Civic Engagement to generate a series of plans to renovate the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, located on South Broad Street.

The goal of the renovations is to make the Kimmel Center a more welcoming space for the public.

Executive director of Penn Praxis Harris Steinberg said public input is important in large-scale projects in Philadelphia, like the renovation of the Kimmel Center, because they generally are partially funded by taxpayers' money.

"Civic engagement is a vital part of this to gain public input and trust," he said.

Citizens were given a venue to present their recommendations for the Kimmel Center in January at a series of public forums held by the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, which is a University-wide initiative and is funded by grants.

Harris Sokoloff, the head of the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, said the forums yielded ideas for the Kimmel Center ranging from the typical to the bizarre, including the possibility of a rock-climbing wall, the addition of more comfortable chairs in public spaces and the inclusion of a water element like a fountain.

Penn Design students are working on designs for the project, which will be presented in April.

Sokoloff said so far he has been impressed with the designs students have developed and said the plans have been "very responsive" to ideas put forth by the community.

Penn Praxis and the Project for Civic Engagement have collaborated before, most notably on the project to develop a stretch of the Delaware River waterfront.

According to Sokoloff, when citizens are involved in the planning process it "gives them a rich sense of ownership and a sense of direction."

Steinberg also stressed the importance of public participation in making sure that plans are created in an honest and transparent manner.

One of the challenges in fostering civic engagement, Sokoloff admitted, is gathering a diverse group to work on the project.

"We do tend to get people who are already more active in the community," he said. "We're constantly trying to increase diversity."

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