Talking about best practices

When Philadelphia Mayor John Street called for a revisioning of the Central Delaware Riverfront last year he said he was looking for people who were passionate about planning.
Judging by the day-long interaction between 18 expert panelists and over 300 members of the public at the Independence Seaport Museum Saturday, the mayor’s expectation that Philadelphians would rise to the challenge of tackling the daunting task of creating a long-term plan for seven miles of waterfront is being met. The powerpoint presentations are in pdf. form at the end of this story.
The three panels on the agenda were simply titled “The River,” “The City,” and “The Road Ahead”

“The River” addressed the unique challenges that come with balancing ecology, development and a variety of uses. “The City” discussion delved into particular issues of the real estate market, infrastructure development and urban design challenges facing Philadelphia; and the “Road Ahead” focused on civic design implementation strategies and possible roles for advocates, political officials, and public-private partnerships.

Major takeaways from the nine power point presentations designed to show local and national best practice standards and the ensuing panel discussions included:
* “balance a sustainable environment with good economic will;
* “this process is a marathon, not a sprint and we are in it for the duration;
* “don’t forget to allow civic interaction to be the most dominant part of the process;
* “something has to be done about the way I-95 segregates the city from its waterfront;
* “respect the diversity of uses that make up the DNA of the waterfront, especially the working port;
* “while Philadelphia was asleep, other cities were developing great waterfront plans, so let’s use those visions in our new plan;
* “let’s clearly articulate what we want the waterfront to be;
* “long term values should trump short term gain, but what you do in the short term should buttress long-term goals;
* “appreciate the realities that incentives deliver when working with developers;
* “don’t be afraid to ask for federal money.”

The opening remarks by Janice Woodcock, City of Philadelphia Planning director, and Praxis director Harris Steinberg set the agenda and called for “a day of imagining, hearing best practice from folks who have met the same challenges we face in other cities.”
“What you will hear will not be encyclopedic or academic,” said Steinberg. “These speakers will illuminate issues for us and give us the impetus to move forward with optimism, hope and excellence.” 

Following a presentation on the history of the Delaware River and the waterfront by Mami Hara of WRT Design, the panelists got to work.

THE RIVER
Howard Neukrug, Director of the Office of Watersheds, Philadelphia Water Department, began the presentations with an overview of the Delaware River’s history and best practices relative to storm water management and natural watershed restoration processes as they relate to large development projects such as casinos, new infrastructure, a working port, and other facets of development along Delaware Avenue in Philadelphia.

Next up was Gil Kelley, Director of Planning, City of Portland, Oregon, who addressed the issue of how a city plans for a waterfront with a mix of uses that are constantly evolving. He talked about how Portland, like Philadelphia, has opportunities for public open space, but it also has a strong history of port uses that are still active on both the southern and northern ends of our project area. 

Jose Alminana, Principal, Andropogon Associates discussed how environmentally sensitive design fits into the planning process. The audience heard about interesting, ecologically sound and smart waterfront development being done around the country and internationally that can serve as models for Philadelphia.  

Local respondents who participated in a group discussion after the presentations were Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum; International Longshoremen’s Association VP Jim Paylor; and Patrick Starr from the Pa. Environmental Council. 

THE CITY
Alex Krieger, former chair, Harvard Graduate School of Design, led off the “City” section of the presentation by talking about the type of urban design plan Philadelphia needs to consider if it is going to create our 21st century vision for the waterfront. Krieger discussed the necessity of weaving together diverse uses and ownership into a coherent vision.
Antonio Di Mambro, Principal, Antonio Di Mambro + Associates, offered some examples of large-scale infrastructure changes that reconnect previously disconnected portions of cities in the U.S. and around the world, specifically Venice. Di Mambro also issued the challenge of prioritizing local infrastructure improvements.
W. Thomas Lavash, Principal, Economics Research Associates, discussed the realities of the real estate market in Philadelphia, and what public and private development models we must consider to help us imagine how to develop the Central Delaware, including public investment and its role in stimulating private equity.
Alan Greenberger of the Design Advocacy Group; Rina Cutler from PennDOT; and Michael Larice of PennDesign, joined the group discussion that followed the presentations.

THE ROAD AHEAD
The last segment, the “Road Ahead” focused on roles for advocates, political officials, and public-private partnerships.
Connie Fishman, President, Hudson River Park Trust, talked about all the hard work New York City did in establishing implementing bodies, strategies and finding funding sources in creating the five mile stretch of the Hudson Riverfront that brought residents much needed recreational facilities and open space.  
Tom Corcoran, Cooper’s Ferry Development Association, walked the assembled through the progress Camden is making in reconnecting its citizens to its developing waterfront.
Peter Steinbrueck, Councilman, City of Seattle, the final speaker, discussed the role the government and the political communities
played in the creation of the acclaimed Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle. He also pointed out how the Alaska Viaduct challenge is similar to the I-95 challenge.
Paul Levy of the Center City District; Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp.’s John Grady; and Michael DiBerardinis of the Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources joined in a discussion following the presentations.

Praxis’ Steinberg was grateful to the 18 experts for giving the public a frank and useful array of ideas.
“Their straight-talk offerings were viewed by many as the perfect tonic for a debate that has been polarized by the highly-charged casino and port interests,” he said. “They helped raise the bar considerably – allowing us all to understand that we are in this for the long run, that it’s not a quick fix and that the public dialogue must involve an honest and open discussion about the trade-offs we must make and the partnerships we must build.
“The respondents underscored the strength of our local community to meet the challenges and embrace the opportunities that we face along the central Delaware.  They represent critical interests that will impact not only the civic vision that will emerge from this process but the long-term viability of an implementation coalition.”

Full stories on each aspect of the day as well as photo slideshows and a video will be posted on this site Sunday afternoon.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.