MEET THE HONOREES | Community Advocate of the Year


Thomas Jefferson University Landscape Architecture Program

ACE students and mentors traditionally work through mock design projects.  Under the leadership of Kim Douglas and the Thomas Jefferson University Landscape Architecture Program, ACE Greater Philadelphia was able to collaborate with community members from the Houseman Recreation Center to design improvements for an underused area of their playground.

 Park in a Truck is an initiative of the Jefferson University Landscape Architecture Program and Laboratory for Social Innovation (LUSI).

The Vision: Cities where people create, build and live in sustainable, equitable, healthy and joyful communities.

The Mission: Reimagining how social, ecological and economic networks in cities are designed, built and maintained.

Simply living near a park makes you healthier. Exposure to green spaces boosts mental health and psychological well-being beyond the benefits of physical activity alone. Parks help reduce blood pressure, decrease cardiovascular disease mortality, increase social well-being, and promote positive health behaviors. Yet, inadequate access to safe and convenient green places is counted amongst the many disparities that divide many cities. People in affluent districts can live 20 years longer than their low-income neighbors. These same underprivileged neighborhoods are often 15-20 degrees hotter and less safe. While the challenge of reducing high poverty rates and poor health outcomes is great, we can greatly improve overall quality of life by creating more parks close to where people live. Let’s imagine cities where every child and adult lives within 30 seconds of a green space. An oasis of calm, where they can walk, run, play or just relax.

Park in a Truck harnesses the hidden asset of many low-income neighborhoods: vacant lots and other unused land. While these terms conjure images of weeds, trash and danger—spaces to be avoided rather than embraced—with imagination, underutilized land is a precious opportunity. So let’s call these places “open space.” For example, in the city of Philadelphia, there are about 40,000 parcels of open space, primed for improvement. That’s 40,000 chances to build safe green places for children to play and run, and everyone else to stroll and exercise. That’s 40,000 projects that bring communities together to design and build spaces that meet local needs. And that’s 40,000 economic catalysts that raise property values, lower health care costs and make Philadelphia a magnet for further investment.

The Solution: A community-operated green network, established through low-cost, fast-turnaround renovations of vacant lots that not only improves environmental, social and physical health in under-resourced neighborhoods, but also unites efforts to keep them intact and helps residents lead revitalization and reinvestment efforts.


About Kim Douglas
Kim Douglas received a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, Kim was fortunate to have studied under, and was influenced by, the distinguished educator and early pioneer of ecological planning, Ian McHarg. Kim won many awards while she was a student most notably the George Madden Boughton Prize in Design Excellence in Landscape Architecture.

Upon graduation she joined Olin Partnership, an international design firm, where she worked as the lead designer on several award-winning projects including the LEED certified Winter Garden and Plaza at the Comcast Center in Philadelphia. Kim joined the landscape architecture program at Thomas Jefferson University in 2009. Currently, she is the director of the program. She is also the director of the Lab for Urban and Social Innovation which believes all communities have the right to an ecologically, socially, economically healthy community. The Lab serves as the community outreach arm of the College of Architecture and the Built Environment and works with under-resourced communities in need of design services.

In 2016 she was awarded the Anton Germinshuizen Stantec Term Chair in landscape architecture which allows her to continue her research on the effects of contact with nature on communities. Her work includes the acclaimed Park in a Truck project that provides a pre-designed, open-source system that makes it easier for communities to design, build and maintain beautiful, green, low-cost public spaces for healthy, sustainable living. Kim is also currently working on a Pollinator Network in southwest Philadelphia which will increase habitat and green space.

Kim is a licensed landscape architect and founding principal of STUDIO GAEA, an award-winning landscape architectural firm. Her many awards include Cynwyd Heritage Trail in Bala Cynwyd, PA, a rehabilitated brownfield rail corridor and Linwood Avenue Park Plan in Ardmore, PA an innovative sustainable design for a neighborhood park. Her firm specializes in projects that combine a strong design aesthetic with sustainable design solutions and are community driven. It is her belief that each project must be considered for its natural systems as well as its social, historic and economic frameworks. This provides a strong base from which to work and provides the context and clarity needed to conceive memorable places.

Professor Douglas shares her experience in the field of landscape architecture by her involvement in many teaching and volunteer organizations. She regularly visits high schools to talk about the importance of the profession of landscape architecture, works with the Community Design Collaborative and is an Associate with the Environmental Leadership Program which promotes and encourages new leaders in the environmental field. She was recently awarded the ASLA’s Community Service Award that recognizes pro bono service to the community.

Melissa Raffel
Author: Melissa Raffel