August Member Spotlight: Jessi Koch, Centennial Parkside

Centennial Parkside CDC’s (CPCDC) Equitable Development Initiative, focuses on the preservation and development of affordable housing, community ownership of land, resident wealth-building through property ownership, energy democracy and climate change preparedness, and strategic partnerships. They will be hosting the second annual Black Man’s Conference in late September, and are busy with other programs and advocacy work. Jessi Koch, Centennial Parkside CDC’s Equitable Development Project Manager helps shine a spotlight on the great work happening in East Parkside.

How did you get your start at Centennial Parkside CDC and what do you love most about community development work?

I was fortunate enough to be connected with Centennial Parkside CDC through Matthew Grande, a champion of equitable development, founder of Careerage, and friend. I’ve been active in community development in Philadelphia in some form or another since 2016. Prior to returning to Philadelphia I served as a Senior Planner for the City of Austin Texas. Community development work is in my blood – I come from a lineage of community leaders and activists – I love working cooperatively with others as we build our vision for a more equitable present and future.

What’s an emergent issue or new project Centennial Parkside has started to tackle?  Tell us how you’re working with community in this context.

Centennial Parkside CDC is at an exciting moment in the organization’s growth. I was brought on to design and lead our Equitable Development Initiative, which builds upon many years of work on the part of CPCDC and neighborhood residents. The Initiative focuses on the preservation and development of affordable housing, community ownership of land, resident wealth building through property ownership, energy democracy and climate change preparedness, and strategic partnerships. We are creating a real estate development culture in East Parkside that invests in rather than extracts from our community. There’s an exciting movement within the Philadelphia development community right now championing developers and investors who prioritize community engagement and center diversity, equity, and inclusion in their business models. CPCDC and other East Parkside community leaders are looking forward to exploring partnership opportunities and inviting developers to our table to learn about our community’s goals.  The CPCDC Equitable Development Initiative is a truly community-led initiative, and I’m excited to be working in close partnership with the East Parkside Community Development Board – a collaborative effort between CPCDC and the East Parkside Residents Association to bring a unified and informed voice to neighborhood development review, negotiations with area developers, and the disposition of publicly owned land in our community.

Centennial Parkside CDC’s Service Area

What do you love most about your neighborhood?  What are you most excited about for Parkside’s future?

The East Parkside community has a rich history of community activism, mutual aid, and vibrant celebration of the neighborhood and its residents. I feel especially fortunate to be working with and learning from strong Black female leaders in the community who have been dedicated to this work for many years. While I live in West Philly, I am not an East Parkside resident, but I’m honored by the way this community has embraced me and welcomed me into the fold. There is a general feeling of community care in East Parkside – care and love for the neighborhood and each other.

Neighbors supporting neighbors: A CPCDC Community Food Distribution Event

I’m really excited for the work Centennial Parkside CDC is engaging in related to environmental justice and sustainability, centering the arts in resident programming, and dynamic youth engagement. I see opportunities for an intergenerational coalition of residents and other neighborhood stakeholders working together to make East Parkside a shining example of equitable innovation with an eye towards the future and the past.

What advice would you give to someone interested in entering the community development sector?

I find that most people who are drawn to the community development sector come to the work with pure hearts, deep convictions, and a commitment to leaving the world a better place. But this work is as soul-filling as it is soul-crushing, so in order to sustain our work we have to be as dedicated to caring for ourselves and caring for each other as we are to making impactful change in our communities.


On September 24th, CPCDC will host its 2nd Annual Black Man’s Conference. This conference will take place at the historic Belmont Mansion from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM. CPCDC is calling as many conscientious and pro-active Black Males to the table as possible: the do-ers, the voices, the placemakers, the protectors, fearless and intentional … we desperately need you. The focus of this event is on the empowerment of men of color, but all are welcome to participate.

“The Centennial Parkside CDC was established in 2015 with the intention of promoting an equitable development strategy that sustains an economically and culturally diverse community.  Since that time, we have been following the lead of the long-standing organizations that have been effectively advocating for this community while bringing additional resources to advance efforts around healthy and affordable housing and equitable entrepreneurship on our commercial corridors. Jessi has provided a missing piece of this puzzle by bringing the passion and skill set to raise the voice of residents so that new development is reflective of the long-held values of the East Parkside community.”

-Chris Spahr, Executive Director of the Centennial Parkside CDC