Steering committee meets

Following the advice of the steering committee, the facilitators for the Central Delaware Riverfront Planning Process and the Philadelphia Planning Commission, sent an open letter to Mayor Street today bringing him up to date on the civic engagement exercise he mandated and pointing out concerns the project’s advisory group identified after hearing steady community opposition to planned riverfront casinos. The letter will also address concerns about the timing and the scale of the proposed projects.

The recommendation for the open letter came out of a discussion Monday morning about the citizen-driven values for the waterfront that emerged during public forums last week and calls for those values to be protected if casinos are sited in river ward neighborhoods.

The Gaming Control Board is set to approve licenses for Philadelphia casino applicants this Wednesday. Philadelphia Councilman Frank DiCicco, a member of the Central Delaware Waterfront steering committee, has called for a six-month delay in the licensing process.

During Monday’s initial meeting of the steering committee, whose job it is to guide the larger advisory group through the exchange and dissemination of ideas throughout the planning process, many attendees felt the strident opposition to casinos that surfaced at the three public forums in Kensington, Pennsport and Penn’s Landing should be directly addressed by the advisory group. Members representing neighborhood groups said they were worried about the ongoing credibility of the planning process if the issue of waterfront casinos was not dealt with directly by the project’s leaders.

“There are several key points to be made,” said steering committee member John Childress. “There is strong community opposition to things as they are, which means the current timetable for the casinos. We as a committee have not had adequate time to review this, or the approval of those licenses. Obviously, a planning process for the entire Delaware River waterfront should occur before casino licenses were granted.”

Harris Steinberg, who directs Penn Praxis, the lead consultant for the year-long planning process, agreed to help compose the open letter to the mayor in a way that would reflect the conversations and values of the group.

“You have to trust us with the authority as consultants for the group to do that and we can do that,” he said.

Harris Sokoloff, an expert in civic engagement with the Penn Graduate School of Education who is facilitating the public forums, said the letter will be written on behalf of the advisory group and will reflect what was heard during Monday’s meeting.

“I think we have our marching orders. Remember, this letter is not about us as individuals,” Sokoloff said to the steering committee. “It is for you. It is on your behalf. If you think about what you represent, that is the voice we are trying to get out there loud and clear.”

The letter points out the mission of the advisory group, the tremendous buy-in to the process by the citizenry, and asks the mayor for his support in getting the casino projects wrapped into the longer look at revisioning the Central Delaware waterfront.

The advisory group as a whole agreed that the top challenge for the process is ensuring that the values that are emerging from public discourse are supported and respected by whatever development is created on the waterfront.

“The mayor got this process for you and he has done a good job to this point of making the gaming board hear from us,” said Planning Commission director Janice Woodcock, who also signed the open letter.

Here are the values that emerged from last week’s the public forums.
Thursday, Penn’s Landing
Walk-ability – green space, the human scale, to walk without interruption, satellite parking
Safety – people on street, lighting, police protection, no slots barns
Ecological protection – green space, sewage, runoff control, green LEED construction.
Big Sky – green space vision, broad sight lines, public access to river’s edge, low lying buildings, density, open space
Diversity – cultural, economic, generational, ethnic, activity, occupational, business, ecological.
Historic preservation – our past.
River itself – recreation, industry, open space, drinking water, touch-ability, contemplation, history, dredging, no dredging
Integration of river with rest of the city.
Community – civic engagement.
Tension between the working river and pretty “playing” river.

The main “values” or takeaways from Wednesday night’s event in South Philadelphia were:
Valuing green space, open space
Sustaining the industrial port
Quality jobs on the waterfront are the economic engine for the city
Safety comes with traffic control, crime control, no fear, public transit
Sense of community that starts in the neighborhoods
Neighborhoods protect and enhance community as a whole
Protect the history, the traditions, the Mummers Parade
How schools and churches fit into the waterfront as icons
Appreciate the diversity of economics, ethnicity, culture in our neighborhoods
Get our arms around the long-term solutions vs. short term solutions

Finally, listed below are the values that were established during the first engagement forum, Monday night, in the Kensington-Port Richmond section of the city:
Safety – children can play outside, you can walk in the neighborhood
Family values – small businesses that thrive, places to worship, locally owned businesses.
Easy access – you can walk or bike or bus to it.
Diversity – ethnic, lifestyle, multi-generational, economic, diversity of uses, architecture.
Open space and green space – public spaces, playing spaces.
History – existing neighborhoods, old buildings, old architecture. Historic identities.
Jobs – river related and ports related jobs. Jobs for youth.
Green technology – work with the environment.
The plan – looking for something that protects the values already mentioned.
Recreation – using water and land where they meet. Recreation for families.
Affordable housing – for seniors

The members of the Steering Committee are: Janice Woodcock, Executive Director of the Planning Commission; Jennifer Lewis, Northern Liberties Neighbors Association; Steve Weixler, Society Hill Civic Association; John Childress, Executive Director African American Chamber of Commerce; Paul Levy, Executive Director, Center City District; Stephanie Naidoff, Commerce Director, City of Philadelphia; Frank DiCicco, councilperson, 1st District; Shawn McCaney, William Penn Foundation and Fred Druding, Jr., of Whitman Council.
Civic Association alternates are Sandy Salzman, New Kensington Community Development Corp., Cynthia Philo of the Old City Civic Association and Kirk Brown of Dickinson Narrows.

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