Recently, I had a chance to attend the Philadelphia City Planning Commission district planning community meetings, that are part of their Philadelphia 2035 long-term planning process. The district meetings are the next phase in the process. The first phase focused on the whole city with the three themes: thrive, connect, and renew. This next phase will focus on eighteen distinct districts within the city, giving a more neighborhood focus to the process. The Planning Commission intends to do two district plans every six months for the next five years. The first two districts are in West and South Philadelphia. The West Philadelphia district is known specifically as West Park and encompasses the neighborhoods along Fairmount Park, around Morris Park, and along City Avenue. The South Philadelphia district is Lower South Philadelphia, which is basically everything below Packer Avenue.
The meetings were well attended. The participants would sit around tables with maps of the district on them. Each table would have a moderator that would lead the discussion. First, the moderator would ask people to identify places in the district that they go to regularly, and a volunteer would mark these places with an orange marker. Then, the moderator would ask people to identify barriers to these sites and others in the district, and a volunteer would mark those with a red marker. Then, the moderator would ask the group at their table to try to envision what changes would take place within the next ten years in the district. That drew many differing responses and led to lively discussion. At the end of the meeting, participants were encouraged to walk around the room and look at the other tables’ maps and suggestions.
The comments in the West Park district (which is 28% parkland and 20% rail yards) revolved around access to Fairmount Park, City Avenue, and improvements around 52nd Street. I sat next to a community group leader who is planning to build an apartment building on a couple of blighted blocks along 52nd Street, between the new shopping center and the Mann Music Center in Fairmount Park. The new building will have retail, including a couple of restaurants just steps away from the Mann. There will, also, be new lighting and a mural under the railroad tracks that run over 52nd Street. Most of the respondents at the meeting want to see the old, unused SEPTA regional rail station at 52nd Street reopened and used again to have access to the suburbs. Also, I suggested that there could be residential development along Parkside Avenue, on the site of the current industrial park. Since the industrial park isn’t easily accessible by an expressway, it would seem that industry would be less interested in that site and the land across the street from the park and the Mann would, eventually, be perfect for new residential development.
In the Lower South district (which is 30% industrial, 25% rail yards, and only 2% residential, with 5,000 residents and 7,800 workers) the comments were about increasing access to the Navy Yard, extending mass transit to the Navy Yard and Sports Complex, improving pedestrian access to FDR Park, and planning for more housing. The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation owns much of the land and controls most of the development in the Navy Yard. They are planning a river walk along the south waterfront and they just completed two small parks near the recently completed office buildings at the end of Broad Street. As many people know, Glaxo-Smithkline has just broken ground on a new office complex there for their North American headquarters. Eventually, there will be new housing in the Navy Yard and the PIDC would like to get federal funding for the long-planned extension of the Broad Street subway line. There was, also, much talk about the Sports Complex. The first phase of the PhillyLive! entertainment complex is under construction on Pattison Avenue, across from Citizens Bank Park. Most people at my table were optimistic that the whole Sports Complex could develop into a huge and unique tourist area, with maybe some housing. One person was afraid that building new housing would attract NIMBY’s who would try to limit the nightlife there, but I mentioned that if the housing was limited to apartments then the new residents would be people looking to be where the action is, and therefore, they wouldn’t try to limit development. Also, I pointed out that Citizens Bank Park was designed to have a neighborhood built around it, probably with some regulations to preserve sight lines. I suggested to our moderator that it would be great to see a small amusement park, with basic rides like a roller coaster; ferris wheel; and water slide, built on the site of the former Food Distribution Center warehouses next to the Sports Complex. The PhillyLive! development, and other possible developments, could finally make the Sports Complex busy when the stadiums aren’t in use, and judging by the lack of people and activity I saw there when I passed through to take pictures after the meeting, it would be a great improvement. Eventually, there could be a PATCO rail line along the Delaware waterfront that could extend down to the Sports Complex. That is currently in the planning stages.
The comments from the meetings will be compiled into a set of ideas for “opportunity areas” within each district, where changes are most likely to occur that will benefit the district and, perhaps, the greater city and region. The next set of meetings will be in the fall and then the final district plans will be presented to the Planning Commission in December, and the Commission will vote on them in January of next year. Then, the process will continue with the next two districts. You can find out about future district meetings and have a chance to comment about the process and the plans with this link to the Planning Commission website, here. Also, I have a bunch of photos from the districts below.