Friday, September 16, 2005

Finally, some planning in Center City

Though Center City is booming with new construction, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission has been unable to rouse itself to consider how the downtown is being reshaped. Fortunately, several neighborhood groups have taken up the task themselves. The Center City Residents Association gave its members a mid-term peak Thursday night at its privately-funded neighborhood plan.

The study, conducted by the Philadelphia firm Kise Straw and Kolodner, was impressive not just for its wealth of data, but for its progressive urbanist views and its strong support for pedestrian-friendly streets. Get this: They said it was time for Philadelphia to stop acting like a beggar that can't be choosy, and to start behaving like it belongs to the club of great walkable cities that includes San Francisco and Vancouver. With all the new condos in the pipeline, the southwest quadrant of Center City could add 10,000 new residents in a decade, an increase of 50 percent.

Unlike the city planning commission or the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the CCRA team spoke plainly about the design villains that are threatening to undermine Center City's virtues: condo towers built atop huge garage podiums, the immense maw of large loading docks, huge blank walls on the backs of tall towers, and rowhouses whose ground floors are dominated by garage doors. They suggested that the city needs to start thinking now about creating new parks in developing areas, funding sidewalk improvements, discouraging car ownership downtown, and improving pedestrian connections between neighborhoods.

The planners promised to return in three or four months with more specific recommendations.


Blogger wally said...

It is great that a comprehensive plan is being established, but is there any way that a privately developed plan will be followed? It would seem necessary that the city be involved in this process for developers to seriously consider following such a blueprint.

11:27 AM  
Blogger Inga Saffron said...

Good point. The city has assigned a staff person to serve as a liason with the Center City Residents Association. But for the CCRA plan to be meaningful, its recommendations will have to be turned into law, probably through changes in the zoning code. It's not unreasonable to expect that to happen. But it would be even better if the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Adjustment actually bought into the planning values expressed in the CCRA study.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Mzmightypen said...

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission has been a complete waste of tax payers money. For instance, Northeast Philadephia had a fantastic, energetic, creative planner - Shari Cooper - who actually attended neighborhood meetings, engaged residents in what city planning is all about and vigorously prepared grants and plans for neighborhoods like Frankford. She then began to appear in newspaper articles, I suppose, to the envy of her department and the residents, business owners and community groups lost her - we had a meeting to protest this and we were told by the Planning Commission, Ms. Victoria Mason-Ailey specifically, that we would have a "Northeast Team" of planners - that was two years ago and after that meeting we never saw a planner again - some Team! What an absolute disgrace! Some of these department heads are just a complete waste of taxpayers money and sit, doing nothing or are involved in plans, meetings, etc..which they have no expertise in while they play politics, or let personal tiffs get in the way of politics - City Planning needs a complete overhaul - get real and cut some of the "fat" - every now and then private citizens or the media needs to just take a walk into their offices and see what exactly is happening - NOTHING! Not until a group or a council person begins to raise Caine about it! While we were closing rec. centers and libraries, under the supervision of Ms. Mason-Ailey, the entire staff of City Planning was being treated to a day in New York a few months ago to see the "Art in Central Park" - basically thousands of dollars were spent on taking a crew of City Planners to see some colorful sheets blowing in the wind in Central Park and having lunch - what a freakin' joke!

10:46 AM  
Blogger mikeg75 said...

Having lived and worked downtown now for over five years, one thing I wish Philadelphia incorporated into its plans is wider sidewalks along streets leading away from the main business corridor. This would be accomplished by requiring larger setbacks when new buildings are constructed, or by taking away small adjacent strips of pavement from surface parking lots and widening the sidewalk there in its place. To be sure, Market Street's sidewalks as well as JFK's are adequately wide, however, all of the numbered streets' sidewalks are practically impassible during lunchtime. I am often forced to walk on the curb on in the street b/c I walk faster than many of the suburban dwellers who work here, and walk like lumbering lories.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Inga Saffron said...

To Mike75 -

You need to think about the sidewalk issue in a different way. Philadelphia's sidewalks are narrow because this is a colonial city laid out nearly 300 years ago. If the city did require new buildings to set back, you'd just create a sawtooth effect and you'd spoil the uniform street wall that makes Philly's streets so successful.
Lots of cities have narrow sidewalks - think of Amsterdam, with cyclists, pedestrians and drivers all jockeying for their places. Rather than bemoan Philadelphia's narrow sidewalks, we should celebrate their contribution to the city's vibrancy.
As for those slow suburbanites - that's another issue.

9:30 AM  

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