Central Delaware waterfront advisory group meets

Dec. 4
Central Delaware Waterfront Advisory Group meets

   Full agenda, wide-ranging discussion mark session … more

The Central Delaware Waterfront Advisory Group meeting Monday was a standing-room only affair marked by a thorough review of the group’s excursion (click impressions) to New York to study that city’s zoning, development and renewal efforts, followed by a call from advisory members and invited stakeholders who represent the industrial workforce on the river to make sure those groups are included in the year-long process of rethinking the future look and function of the waterfront.
     And, with the second stage of the civic engagement process set to begin with three crucial community grassroots value sessions next week, advisory board members in Pennsport complained that the process was moving too fast while Mary Isaacson, a representative from Mike O’Brien’s 175th congressional district, voiced concern that news of the casino licensing process would dominate the civic engagement sessions.
     It was also recommended that flyers be used as well as the internet to inform citizens about upcoming events. Praxis will implement that idea.
      In answering the diverse concerns, PennPraxis Director Harris Steinberg made it clear that the process would continue on its current timetable, would remain inclusive and welcome all participants, and whatever vision for the waterfront that emerges would be totally shaped by the engagement of citizens and the establishment of their set of values for that space.
    He also made it clear that Praxis is “agnostic” on casino development and is charged with working through whatever realities will exist on the waterfront in order to enable the best possible enduring vision.
    “The mayor, through his executive order, created what he felt was a representative sampling of people, civic associations, state agencies to help advise this process. This group is not coming up with a final plan,” said Philadelphia Planning Commission director Janice Woodcock, who is the chair of the advisory group. “The final plan will come out of a civic process and the upcoming value sessions are critically important for all voices to be heard.”
      State Rep. Bill Keller, whose 184th District includes the working port, invited Boise Butler, president of  Local 1291 of the International Longshoremen’s Association and James Paylor, Jr.,  Vice President of the International Longshoremen’s Association, AFL-CIO, to the meeting because he felt the interests of the port’s workforce were not being adequately represented in the advisory group discussion.
    “The one thing I am very interested in in this whole debate and discussion is the industrial waterfront. I’ve heard about public access and creating an oasis. What I haven’t heard is one mention of the industrial waterfront from your trip to New York,” Keller said. “When we had breakout group discussions every group talked about the industrial waterfront and how important it is.”
     Steinberg acknowledged the significance of seeing the river makeover through many prisms and welcomed input from citizens who make their living on the river.
    “Thank you for reminding us of that. We have heard that message loud and clear,” Steinberg said. “The Williamsburg-Greenpoint plan in Brooklyn does include industry and will continue to. That is the model that seems to mesh the most with Philadelphia although on a much smaller scale than us.
     “The idea is to maintain a balance of existing industry port uses and functions with new elements of public access and the creation of a public realm. We are committed to maintaining that healthy balance. The port’s jobs, functions, and expansion are all a critical part of Philadelphia’s working identity. We would be more than happy to come and meet with members of the unions.”
     Ed Kirlin, a community activist from Pennsport, was concerned about the pace of the project and worried that the civic engagement that comes out of the value sessions would be minimized by the distraction that would come with soon-to-be-granted casino licenses, and holiday and Mummer’s Parade preparations.
     “The entire community is tied up in a casino fight and people are in overload trying to understand where we are now in history not where we will be in 15 years,” Kirlin said. “We encourage you to slow down a bit.”
    Praxis intends to meet with the Pennsport Association in order to hear the civic group’s concerns, particularly about traffic and infrastructure concerns, and figure out how to add value sessions in early 2007 where necessary.
      “The timeline was established by the mayor,” Steinberg said. “We are trying to move this on multiple tracks. This is the beginning of a much longer process. I understand there is a lot of tension around this, a lot of anxiety. We will do our best to hear all voices and move this along in a way people feel comfortable with.”
     John Childress, Executive Director of the African American Chamber of Commerce and a member of the steering committee, said the group needs to find a way to be more inclusive as it does its work.
    “We may need to make a list of all the different interests and all the stakeholders,” Childress said. “That list can serve as our guideline to make sure the longshoremen are involved, the developers are involved.”
     The meeting closed with the announcement of a Praxis traffic analysis of Delaware Avenue that is being produced to coincide with the Dec. 20 casino licensing approvals and a discussion of the importance of rallying citizens to attend the upcoming value sessions, which will serve as the vanguard for the work that follows.
    “The value sessions are vitally important as the foundation we are going to lay for the principles put forth for development.” Steinberg said. “I know it is happening quickly but I ask everyone to work as hard as they can to bring people out for these sessions. We will also try to get additional sessions because of casino issues while still working within the time frame at hand.”

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