New! Top design teams get their charge

 

By Alan Jaffe
For PlanPhilly

On the top floor of the Independence Seaport Museum, with a vista of the flowing Delaware River and the flowing traffic of I-95, the members of the five teams that have been invited to help reinvent Philadelphia’s eastern waterfront began their three-day planning session Thursday night and offered their first impressions and a preview of the visions to come.

Earlier in the day the participants had toured the seven-mile central Delaware River on boat and bus with host Harris Steinberg, the director of PennPraxis, the lead consultant on the year-long project.

In sport jacket and muddy hiking boots, Steinberg called the weekend design workshop “a major milestone” in the process that officially began in October, when Mayor Street signed the executive order authorizing the University of Pennsylvania design division to organize the planning of the riverfront redevelopment.

Tonight, the mayor came to the museum to tell the planners their work would “not simply be an academic exercise that will go on a shelf someplace.” He said the city is committed to the process they are undertaking.

“Let your imaginations run wild,” Street told the group, and said their work “will set the bar on waterfront planning for years to come.”

City Planning Director Janice Woodcock also praised the cooperative effort underway between Philadelphia and the Praxis project, noting the  “unusual combination” of “visioning commitment with the overarching commitment of government.”

Steinberg said the city’s support shows, “we’re serious about this. We have been primed for years. … This is our moment.”

After months of meetings between some 2,500 residents of the river wards, with academics, professionals and community groups, “this is the moment when we’ll begin giving form to the talking,” Steinberg said.

The plans developed during an all-day session on Friday and presented on Saturday will craft a civic vision in time for the next elections, he continued. They will also guide the creation of an “implementation body” that will help realize the plans.

“We are all too familiar with the politics of Philadelphia,” Steinberg said, but he promised that the continuation of the planning and implementation would not occur behind closed doors, and would be based on the citizen values expressed in the series of meetings that have led up to this weekend.

Those values, summarized by Harris Sokoloff, of the Penn Graduate School of Education and the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, include reconnecting with the river’s edge, honoring the river, designing with nature, striking the right balance, taking a long view, protecting the public good, and making sure that they “make it real, Philadelphia.”

Several team leaders then offered their initial thoughts on what may come out of the intensive planning ahead.

Gary Hack, dean of Penn’s School of Design who has developed plans for more than 30 cities in the U.S. and abroad, is leading the team that will focus on transforming the roadway along the river as “Delaware Boulevard.”
“The real challenge,” Hack said, is to “be visionary” and come up with “things we can start with.”

A main goal, he said, is getting people out to the water. Touring the riverfront earlier in the day, he thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a Penn Treaty Park for each neighborhood” that would lure residents to the river. He envisioned a boulevard with a series of  “episodes” serving the neighborhoods along the waterfront.

He also noted that the routes along the river still meet the needs of an industrial route in parts, while other sections serve cars or pedestrians. Some form of transit is needed he said, possibly streetcars like those in other cities.
“We must serve many masters,” Hack said.

Denise Scott Brown,  an architect, planner and urban designer with the world-renowned firm of Venturi Scott Brown & Associate, is  leading the team that will focus on Neighborhood Connections. Her mission is “a bit unnerving,” she said. “Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”

But she would start the discussion with one of the civic values expressed by residents: Make it real. A great plan should maintain the values from what currently exists and what is needed for the future.

She noted that Philadelphia’s heritage includes its 19th century contribution as the world’s largest industrial center, and many of its factories, or remnants of them, still stand. Plans for redevelopment must include finding new uses for the existing buildings, she said.

The connections she will explore will not only link residential neighborhoods to the river, but also Center City to Penn’s Landing, the public and private concerns, the north and south, and the floodplains – all factors which are interconnected and must be taken into account.

Peter Latz, a professor of landscape architecture at the Technical University Munich-Weihenstephan and whose award-winning projects have reclaimed outdated industrial sites, is leading the team that will focus on the northern stretch of the central Delaware. On Thursday night he presented a series of slide images that demonstrate how cities around the world have dealt with similar redevelopment challenges. In Dusseldorf, a beautiful project along the Rhine eliminated car traffic with a tunnel. In Bremerhaven, a riverfront was renewed with open spaces and dramatic lighting.

In other countries, Latz recycled industrial plants into gardens and parks, and redesigned freeways into pedestrian and commercial byways. “You can keep the existing” structures, Latz said, “but change it  totally.”

The event will culminate on Saturday afternoon when each design team leader gives a 10-minute multimedia presentation summarizing the intensely inspirational renderings and the layered overarching concepts that came out of two full days of design work.

A panel of national and local experts, including Peter Reed, Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA; Ed Uhlir, Director of Design, Architecture and Landscape at Millenium Park in Chicago; Leslie Smallwood, Director of Development for the Goldenberg Group; and George L. Claflen, Jr., Design Advocacy Group Vice-Chair, will then respond to what they just saw through a moderated lively conversation about what was learned and how it relates to what’s happening around the country and the world. 

The public is invited to join Penn Praxis for the public presentation of these first renderings from the design teams Saturday, March 3, 3-5 p.m. at the Independence Seaport Museum.

The five experts leading the effort:
• Peter Latz, professor and chair of landscape architecture and planning at the Technical University Munich-Weihenstephan, who has gained widespread recognition for innovative planning to reclaim outdated industrial sites with an eye toward ecology and societal needs. His work has been published and exhibited internationally, and was recently featured as part of the renowned “Groundswell” exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Latz was the 2001 recipient of the Grande Medaille d’Urbanisme from the Academie d’Architecture, its highest prize; and winner of the first European Rosa Barba Prize for Landscape Architecture in 2000. http://www.latzundpartner.de/index.htm

• Walter Hood, professor and former Chair of Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, known for his unique approach to the design of urban landscapes. He has worked extensively in a variety of settings, most recently in designing the landscape for the Autry National Museum in Los Angeles, the landscape design for The Menil Collection in Houston, and the archeological gardens at the University of Virginia. Hood has also exhibited and lectured on his project and theoretical works nationally and abroad. http://www.wjhooddesign.com/home.html

• Richard Bartholomew, a principal in Wallace, Roberts and Todd, has directed many of WRT’s projects is his 30-year career. His professional service has been enriched by active involvement in civic and professional organizations and through his teaching at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts (now School of Design), where he was on the faculty from 1974-1992. The Anacostia (D.C.) waterfront renewal project was a major undertaking for Bartholomew.  http://www.wrtdesign.com/index.html 

• Denise Scott Brown, principal of the world-renowned Philadelphia firm Venturi Scott Brown & Associate, is an architect, planner and urban designer whose work and ideas have influenced architects and planners globally. She is a respected theorist, educator and scholar whose 40-year career has encompassed a broad range of interdisciplinary work and projects in architectural design, urban design and campus planning. www.vsba.com

• Gary Hack, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design and its Paley Professor of City and Regional Planning. He has designed development plans for more than 30 cities in the United States and abroad, including the Prudential Center in Boston, Rockefeller Park in New York City, and the Metropolitan Plan for Bangkok, Thailand. A former chair of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, Hack was a member of the team that won the design competition for redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. http://www.design.upenn.edu/new/about/letter.htm

The exercise will consist of five distinct parts, with these charges:

SOUTH
Team Leader: Walter Hood
BACKGROUND: The southern stretch of the seven-mile central Delaware, approximately from Washington Avenue south to Oregon Avenue. This section of the site is entirely cut off to the public by private development and existing port and Homeland Security functions. Once entirely industrial, portions of this riverfront have been developed in recent years by multiple users, such as the Sheet Metal Workers’ Union and the big box development that dominates this part of project area. The United States Coast Guard occupies the site of the birthplace of the United States Navy at the foot of Washington Avenue.

Under the mayoral administration of Ed Rendell, the city used land accumulation and tax incentives to turn Columbus Boulevard south of Reed Street into a bigbox retail shopping center. This destination for auto-based retail has translated into significant traffic problems on this portion of Columbus Boulevard, which is often backed up for miles on the weekends.

On December 20, 2006, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board sited a slots only gaming facility on a vacant parcel just north of the big-box center, sending shockwaves through the adjacent dense South Philadelphia neighborhoods. Residents see more sprawlstyle development as marking the demise of their tight-knit cohesive residential communities, as well as interfering with port labor jobs at the southern edge of the project area that have helped many families in Philadelphia for generations.

CHALLENGE: Focus on ways to improve the riverfront experience in this southern section. Most of this land was developed at a time when the Delaware Riverfront was not recognized as a regional asset, so now we must think about how we can adapt this large-footprint, big-box sprawled fabric into a more inviting atmosphere along the riverfront. I-95 also acts as a barrier to adjacent residential neighborhoods, so consider how to ease this divide, which is currently blocking citizens from the riverfront. Beautiful riverfront vistas go unnoticed because they are blocked by Wal-Mart’s loading and dumpster area, so thinking about urban infill here could be a solution.

Think about how to allow the working port to thrive amongst such a mix of uses. Finally, neighborhood residents are extremely worried about the threat of a casino at Reed Street. Help us think about how public space around the slots parlor could be designed to minimize the negative impacts of the casino, and what alternatives for private development exist there if a gaming effort failed on that site.

NORTH
Team Leader: Peter Latz
BACKGROUND: The northern stretch of the seven-mile central Delaware, approximately from Spring Garden Street to Allegheny Avenue. The land on this section is in many different stages of post-industrial development: some old structures have been torn down and replaced with new condo buildings, while other structures remain on old industrial lands that have not seen activity since the glory days of the Cramp Shipyards and Port Richmond Terminal.

Though there is much vacant privately-owned riverfront land, property values in these riverward neighborhoods have been steadily increasing for years, with Northern Liberties and Fishtown neighborhoods seeing Center City prices in an area largely neglected ten years ago. One of these former industrial sites was in the running for the two state gaming licenses, while another more expansive one is an old railroad yard that once was the world’s largest privately-owned railroad tidewater terminal. The land is owned by CSX/Conrail, so the railroad company is thinking about how to redevelop it southern parcel of land currently cut off from public riverfront access. The Pennsylvania Industrial Development Corporation has a proposal in the
works to use that site for light industrial transfer.

On December 20, 2006, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board sited a slots-only gaming facility on a vacant parcel at Shackamaxon Street. Though the Gaming Control Board said that adjacent neighbors offered very little resistance during the public input period, residents have since assumed a leadership role in the opposition to casino development along their riverfront.

CHALLENGE: Focus on ways to improve the riverfront experience in this northern section. Development pressures on portions of this stretch of the riverfront appear the strongest, with a 715-foot tower already having gone through the city permitting process, and numerous other condo proposals in the pipeline. Think about how such a dramatic increase in private development can be used to further the public good and the creation of a pedestrian-friendly riverfront.

Neighborhood residents are extremely worried about the threat of a casino landing at Shackamaxon Street. Help us think about how public space around the slot parlor could be designed to minimize the negative impacts of the casino, and what alternatives for private development exist there if a gaming effort failed on that site. With two gated condo towers already on the river, think about how to make the Delaware an attractive destination for residents in adjacent neighborhoods.

Think about how to exploit the incredible opportunity of having hundreds of vacant acres of land on a riverfront that is increasingly seen as a development destination. What new ways of developing postindustrial lands can we think about that will help Philadelphia transition from a post-industrial landscape to embracing new kinds of 21st century industry?

The expansion of the I-95 interchange at Girard Avenue will likely move Richmond Street east onto the Conrail site, so think about how this new infrastructure could integrate into new development while not interfering with the pedestrian riverfront experience. Part of this open land is a railroad viaduct that crosses Delaware Avenue at Lehigh Avenue, which a local community group is considering as a green space gateway in their planning efforts.

CENTRAL
Team Leader: Richard Bartholomew.
BACKGROUND: The central stretch of the seven-mile central Delaware, approximately from Spring Garden Street to Washington Avenue. The land in this section has always been seen as the ripest for potential development, but none of the many plans for the space has been realized. Ed Bacon always envisioned Penn’s Landing at the foot of Market Street to be a logical extension of the vibrancy and activity of Center City onto a newly-public riverfront that has been freed from its port uses.

Today Penn’s Landing is significantly underutilized, largely because of I-95 and Columbus Boulevard, which separate downtown Philadelphia from the Delaware by up to 22 lanes of high-speed auto traffic. Though some pedestrian bridges and decking exist, none of it is vibrant enough to bring
citizens across this great divide to access the central Delaware’s lone significant stretch of public space.

CHALLENGE: Focus on ways to improve the riverfront experience in this central section. Think about ways the swath of auto traffic can be addressed to make this portion of the riverfront a truly public extension of Philadelphia’s downtown, vibrant and inviting to pedestrians. Property values have been increasing in neighborhoods surrounding Penn’s Landing, so think about how to create an experience that will be a great asset to these new residents.

The Penn’s Landing Corporation, a quasi-public development corporation run by the city, controls most of the land in this part of the project area. Much of their holdings are under long-term development leases to private developers. However, some significant opportunities for public spaces remain. The site known as the Incinerator site and Festival Pier at the foot of Spring Garden Street is ripe for development as a public park. This site is owned by the City of Philadelphia.

Think about this space as the next great public space along the central Delaware. Similarly, Penn’s Landing should be reconceived as one of Philadelphia’s most significant public spaces as it links the city with the river and across the river to Camden. With the redesign of the connections across the abyss of I-95 and Columbus Boulevard, Penn’s

“DELAWARE BOULEVARD”
Team Leader: Gary Hack
BACKGROUND: The entirety of Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard as it runs parallel to the Delaware River for most of the seven-mile project area. Originally constructed to improve pier access in the 19th century, it was frequently widened to aid in industrial uses that no longer exist on this stretch of the riverfront. This leaves us with an expansive roadway that not only cuts off adjacent residents from the water, but also creates an auto-dominant pedestrian-unfriendly experience for anyone interested in walking along the central Delaware. It is infamous for its traffic jams in the southern end and does very little to orient itself with the river, feeding cars onto Interstate 95 instead of the river banks.

CHALLENGE: Think about how Delaware Avenue could become “Delaware Boulevard,” a truly pedestrian-oriented roadway that would invite users to the river’s edge. Many exemplary riverfront case studies have a grand traditional boulevard that utilizes measures of traffic-calming and pedestrian amenities to transform their riverfronts into regional destinations — imagine for us what Philadelphia needs to do to create its own Delaware Boulevard.

Many changes to Delaware Avenue are already underway due to the siting of the two casinos. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is ready to begin construction on a new I-95 interchange at Girard Avenue that would bring thousands more cars onto Delaware Avenue. South Columbus Boulevard is already clogged with traffic to the big-box retail center, so building a casino in this area could bring it to a standstill. Both traffic studies submitted by the casino developers recommend new I-95 exits and widening of Columbus Boulevard/Delaware Avenue as the only ways to mitigate the anticipated increase in car traffic. Think about how these development pressures can be addressed along a pedestrian-friendly riverfront boulevard.

NEIGHBORHOOD CONNECTIONS
Team Leader: Denise Scott Brown
BACKGROUND: The “perpendicular connections:” the roads that connect (or fail to connect) with the dense residential neighborhoods adjacent to the Delaware and the river’s edge. The construction of I-95 along the river in the 1960s tore out neighborhoods and cut off communities’ access to the river, some by a huge elevated overpass. Now that urban riverfronts are seen as a place for recreation and repose, the lack of public access to the Delaware is a problem that needs to be addressed. Better connections with adjacent neighborhoods would make the central Delaware a much more attractive place for commercial development as well as public space assets that already exist like Penn Treaty Park and Penn’s Landing.

CHALLENGE: Think about how to improve these riverfront connections so that residents can take advantage of this regional asset in their backyard. Please look at how public access varies across the seven-mile project area, and think about where the opportunities exist to create interesting gateways from the neighborhoods to the riverfront. Think about the I-95 underpasses that cross many pedestrian routes to the riverfront, and how these routes can be attractive connectors despite these intimidating eyesores.

Wide auto-dominated intersections in need of treatment to improve connectivity to nearby humanscale neighborhoods include those at Spring Garden Street, Frankford Avenue, Washington Avenue, and Snyder Avenue. Changing surrounding uses is one potential solution, while streetscaping and reorienting road networks is another. Community members are particularly
concerned by access points near the casino sites and how their neighborhood will connect with such large-scale uses. At the same time, think about the connections along the water’s edge.

Help us think about the connective threads that link people and neighborhoods to the river through the perpendicular feeder roads as well as lengthwise along the river as we begin to understand the potential for a continuous riverfront trail.

 

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