Michelle Feldman has been the executive director of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful since early 2013. As an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful is focused on cleaning and improving communities. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1985 as PhilaPride, is located in Center City but has operated throughout Philadelphia under its current name and format since 2007, often partnering with the Philadelphia Streets Department to advance efforts such as recycling, removing litter and sustainability.
As the leadership and goals of the organization evolve, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful hopes to play a key role in the development of the city in years to come. With Feldman’s past experience in community building and vision for the future of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, expansion and continued success in their efforts could depend on her leadership.
How did you get involved with Keep Philadelphia Beautiful?
Previously, I had been working for a community development corporation in the lower Northeast section of the city, in the Frankford neighborhood. I happened to know our previous board chair at Keep Philadelphia Beautiful and I had been at the Frankford Community Development Corporation and knew I wanted to continue to do community-based work. He had reached out and said this position was open and I jumped at it.
In your words, what does Keep Philadelphia Beautiful do?
Community building through community greening.
We are charged with education and outreach around litter abatement and prevention, waste reduction and recycling education and promotion. With that said, we try to stay involved in community beautification efforts of all kinds, but we focus on waste, litter and trash.
We are the city’s affiliate for Keep America Beautiful, which has about 600 affiliates across the country, so we’re very lucky to have national resources. We also have statewide resources through Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. On the ground, we work with many city agencies, so we’re lucky to have resources from top to bottom.
Do you work anywhere in the city limits of Philadelphia?
We are city-wide. At this point, our work has taken the form of three different initiatives, one being environmental education. We run our own environmental education program but are very much in partnership with the school district.
On the other side, we try to be a resource for community-based organizations doing cleaning and greening work. For us, it’s trying to figure out how we can be a resource and a tool and add value to help them do their work.
We also do events such as community beautification events, cleanups and refreshing recreation centers.
How would you describe your relationship with city government?
We are very lucky to have a wonderful relationship with the city. They’re incredibly supportive of us and our efforts and we try in turn to be supportive of them and make sure we are doing education and outreach that benefits city government. We see that as part of our work: how can we partner with the Streets Department or another department do their education and outreach work?
Is there any legislation you are hoping to see passed in the near future?
We’re primarily an education and outreach organization. That’s more of our role instead of being policy based. There are so many great organizations already advocating and we see ourselves as partners to them.
What changes have you seen in the community since you joined Keep Philly Beautiful?
One of the things about this work is it’s very fulfilling and little changes happen all the time that add up. I would say watching the Streets Department’s recycling program over the last three years has been really exciting. They are taking more items than they used to, they’re picking up more recyclables and I’ve seen amazing growth there especially throughout the Nutter administration.
I’m sure it will continue under Mayor Kenney. He’s very devoted to sustainability as well.
Where do you see yourself and your organization in five years?
I have loved being at Keep Philadelphia Beautiful. I’ve learned so much over the last three years, and I hope we have done a lot of good work and impacted neighborhoods throughout the city.
I don’t know where I will be in five years. All I know is that I’m incredibly lucky to love my job right now and to just every day try and do it better. That’s really my goal when I get up in the morning. How can I grow this organization and our programming to make an even larger impact than we already do? I hope that in five years, we have grown our programming substantially. I hope we’re in more schools, talking to more kids and assisting more teachers.
On the other hand, I hope we continue to find ways to partner with neighborhoods to organize and convene folks around litter abatement.
-Text and images by Andreas Dienner and Ryan Snowden.