Friday, September 23, 2005

Making Tracks Along the Delaware Waterfront

Progress in Philadelphia always comes in tiny steps. The smartest and most ambitious thing the city Planning Commission did this year was to adopt a rule requiring all development on the Delaware River to be set back 50 feet from the water's edge, thus preserving a strip of land for a future walking and biking path. Then, exhausted by its exertions, the commission decided to call it day. There's no park design, no provision for funding and building the path, no rules on preserving view corridors. Meanwhile, developers are rushing ahead with some 4,000 proposed housing units for Philadelphia's big waterfront. Already, 1,429 units are under construction.

So, it is nice to hear that Paul Levy and the Central Philadelphia Development Corp. have stepped into the breach. At the group's quarterly meeting this week, Levy offered a sneak preview of his plan for a 5.76 mile trail that snakes along the Delaware, with occasional detours inland to Columbus Boulevard. Plans for the trail, which would run from Penn Treaty Park to the Super Fresh parking lot at Mifflin Street, was put together by Wallace Roberts & Todd, a Philadelphia planning firm that has designed waterfront parks in Baltimore and along New Jersey's Hudson River.

Of course, there remains the sticky problem of how to pay for it. Levy estimates the park would cost $12 million and suggests it could paid for using a fancy municipal tool called Tax Increment Financing. It's a good idea, and definitely worth exploring, but the cost estimates sound a little low. Let's not forget the 1.2-mile Schuylkill River trail cost $14 million - and that was without any landscaping.

But there is no doubt that Levy is on the right track. "We were once a city that planned and dreamed. We've lost that habit," he told the CPDC meeting. As a result, the waterfront is becoming an unattractive hodge-podge of big-box stores and parking lots. Casinos and a proposed liquefied nitrogren gas plant could add to the mess. Meanwhile, other cities have turned their waterfronts into attractive parks that help smooth the rough edges of urban living.

"We're late, very late," said Levy.


Blogger mikeg75 said...

Is there anything that ordinary citizens can do to help push the Delaware waterfront ideas that are contained in the Center City District visionary document? I was very impressed with the vision and hope that it comes to fruition before my infant son has moved away to college.

Seriously though, how long will it take to make this kind of vision a reality?

8:13 PM  

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