Philly to add 100K folks within 25 years, planners say

Twenty five years ago this month, Philadelphia hosted Live Aid at the dear, departed John F. Kennedy Stadium, a sprawling venue that could jam in 100,000 people without breaking a sweat. 

Twenty five years from now, city planners are betting that a whole JFK-load of newcomers will call the city home. That’s right – Philly is set to expand by 100,000 citizens by 2035, according to official estimates.

That bit of information came to light Tuesday at the monthly meeting of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, during an update of the city’s Philadelphia2035 long-term comprehensive plan.

“We’re very comfortable with this,” said Alan Urek, the commission’s director of strategic planning and policy. “We think it’s modestly aspirational.”

The predication comes on the heels of Philadelphia’s first population gain in almost 60 years, in a story PlanPhilly broke last December. The city’s population on July 1, 2008, wass 1,540,351 – about 23,000 more than were officially on the books as of 2000.

Urek said his staff arrived at the 100,000 number by using a range of population forecasts, from historical trends that indicate a further eroding of population to a possible boom scenario, and employing many varying assumptions.

At the least, Urek said he envisions much-needed improvements to Philadelphia International Airport coming to fruition – a sensible assumption given the steady drumbeat from business leaders and politicians about that project’s importance. And he’s hopeful about “changes to policies that allow development to happen more swiftly.”

The Philadelphia2035 plan includes a “suitability index” that pre-figures geographical areas for that population growth, or places that can absorb it. Urek said this is the “supply side” of the equation.

POD regs
Craig Schelter said he was “furious” – angry enough to depart his summer home in Cape Cod and hop on a plane in Providence, R.I., Tuesday morning to attend the Planning Commission meeting later in the day.

It was one of those seemingly dry issues that arouse the greatest irritation, and the Planning Commission Tuesday voted to delay – at the urging of developers and community groups – the adoption of plan-of-development regulations for the Central Delaware Riverfront Overlay District for at least a month.

(See details of the Commission staff’s recent report here, under “POD regs.”)

“We have tried to stay in contact with the staff on this” and made phone calls seeking updates, Schelter told the commissioners, on behalf of the Developers Workshop. “We were not given the courtesy of a response.”

An email from attorney and activist Paul Boni was read into the record by Alan Greenberger, the Planning Commission’s executive director and deputy mayor. Boni, too, urged the body to put off a decision until August, and commissioners agreed to do so.

Schelter complained that the commission’s report on the June 8 public hearing was made available only hours before Tuesday’s hearing, even though it was his organization that prompted June’s public hearing on the issue. “I think that’s pretty outrageous,” he said in an interview afterward. 

Zoo station
There was also an “information only” presentation on the Philadelphia Zoo’s new parking and transportation plans, presented by Nina Bisbee, the Zoo’s vice president of facilities.

The Zoo has been working on a new traffic and transit study for its surrounding neighborhood, around 34th Street and Girard Avenue, since 2003. Combined with the recently completed Centennial District master and economic development plans, it has resulted in a concept plan for a new “Centennial District Intermodal Transportation Center” in partnership with PennDOT, Fairmount Park, the Streets Department, SEPTA, the Philadelphia Commerce Department, and Planning.

Bisbee is targeting 2013 to 2014 as a realistic time frame for the changes and additions.

Cornel Pankey
Greenberger reported the sad news of the death of community planner Cornel Pankey, one of the commission’s most senior staffers, having worked there for more than three decades. Pankey was a “pretty special guy,” Greenberger said. “In 33 years, you do an awful lot of work in one place. … We’re going to miss Cornel. Whenever he spoke, he had a lot of really good things to say.”

Staffer Michelle Webb, who gave a presentation at Tuesday’s meeting about the revision of a Navy Yard parcel, is being transferred and promoted to a job at the city’s Department of Streets, where Greenberger said “they intend to do more planning.”

Unlike previous years, there will be an August meeting – Aug. 17.

A scheduled “information only” presentation on the development at 401 Race Street – the proposed “Franklin Place” hotel at the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge – was pulled from Tuesday’s agenda for unexplained reasons. 

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