By Alan Jaffe
Members of the Port Richmond section brought concrete and creative ideas to the table Thursday night, as PennPraxis offered its vision for redeveloping the Delaware waterfront from Oregon Avenue in the south to Allegheny Avenue — where the meeting was held – in the industrial north.
The Port Richmond Community Group, a grass-roots civic organization born in a back yard on Tulip Street, as one member recalled, had invited the University of Pennsylvania designers to update them on the planners’ progress so far. But the group also came prepared with its own plans, some of them two years in the making, to bring Port Richmond back to the river.
In a small community room in a building on Temple University’s Northeast Hospital campus, Harris Steinberg, executive director of PennPraxis, offered the presentation on the Central Delaware Waterfront Planning Process, which has been evolving in civic engagement sessions like the one Thursday night. He explained that it is “a vision plan, not a master plan,” that will provide a framework for the future. Meetings with diverse neighborhoods up and down the riverfront are “the hallmark of this project,” he said.
He tailored this presentation, to some extent, for the residents of Port Richmond. He noted that their waterfront once boomed with factory work, and many in the neighborhood were employed there. Now there may be recreational or residential possibilities on the river, and the project’s goal is to find the best, most appropriate new uses for the land. “We want to make the community grow toward the river in
a way that is very much Port Richmond,” he said.
The northern Philadelphia stretch is unlike other sections along the central Delaware because it contains the two existing public parks in the planning zone: Pulaski and Penn Treaty parks. Among the ideas being developed for the document that will be presented to Mayor Street and his successor is an expansion of green space on the waterfront, including a park or natural area every 2,000 feet, like “a string of pearls along the river’s edge,” Steinberg said.
He also discussed proposals for changing Interstate 95, including the possible sinking or capping of the portion near Penn’s Landing and extending roads under the highway toward the river elsewhere.
One longtime Port Richmond resident, Margaret Rutley, asked if altering I-95 meant wiping out houses in the neighborhood, as it had in the past. Steinberg said no homes would be lost in the proposals, and there are no plans for additional ramps from the highway.
In small group sessions after the presentation, the community group members embraced plans to improve access to Port Richmond’s share of the waterfront.
“We have too much ugliness” in the area, said Theresa Costello, a leader of the Port Richmond group. “But we have something beautiful” in the river.
She suggested expanding Pulaski Park and creating an open-air stage, a covered pavilion, and places to fish. Under and around I-95, currently a no-man’s land of cement, she suggested community gardens and landscaping.
Mickey Flaville, a water department employee and 20-year resident of Port Richmond, said the PennPraxis planners should take a look at Pleasant Hill Park, which is located off I-95 near Linden Avenue, as a model for what Port Richmond could have. Pleasant Hill has residences that come down to the river, a boat landing, fishing spots, and places to picnic, Flaville said.
Allegheny area architect David S. Traub, who called Pleasant Hill “one of Philadelphia’s forogotten parks,” has worked with Costello and her group for two years on a Port Richmond riverfront plan. It calls for the creation of a streetscape from Pulaski Park inland to Campbell Square, about eight blocks away on Allegheny Avenue. The plan would “pull people to the river,” Traub said.
Cissy Cohen, who has lived in the area for 28 years, would like to see Philadelphia’s historic architecture and flavor brought to her neighborhood. And she suggested a sign when the project is done that would say, “Welcome to Port Richmond – We’re here, too!”