Planners ask residents what they want for the northern half of the Central Delaware

More than anything, the Philadelphians who gathered in Fishtown July 19th to share their ideas for the northern half of the Central Delaware Master Plan want more – specifically, safer, better-lit and livelier means to get from their neighborhoods to the waterfront.

The ideas that roughly 30 people gave planners for what should be found once folks arrive at the Delaware River waterfront were quite varied.

Open space suggestions included parks for skateboarding, dog walking and ice skating, a between-the-piers river swimming pool, and small, quiet, natural spots with benches to take it all in.

Similar to the sentiments expressed at last week’s public input session concerning the southern half of the Central Delaware Master Plan, Monday’s attendees wanted dense, low-rise residential development mixed with restaurants, shops and retail establishments.

Regina Gorzkowska, a long-time advocate for Port Richmond’s Pulaski Park, said that planners should be careful to use and build on the successes that are already on the riverfront rather than start from zero everywhere. This doesn’t just apply to man-made structures, she said. “There is an urban forest” growing in some areas, she said. These trees should be protected, and the public should be given access to them. That alone would create parkland, Gorzkowska said.

Fishtown resident Chuck Valentine echoed her sentiments. Right now, he said, the stretch of land where the Pinnacle Casino project would have been placed is “gorgeous”. People go to that spot, although there is no official access there, or anywhere else between Pulaski Park, near the intersection of Richmond Street and Allegheny Avenue, and Penn Treaty Park, at Delaware Avenue and Columbia Street.

The feedback given at the event, held at the First Presbyterian Church on Girard Ave., will be given to the team of planners, led by Alex Cooper of Cooper Robertson & Partners, who are putting together the Master Plan for the Central Delaware – the long-range guide meant to steer improvement of the waterfront between Oregon and Allegheny Avenues for decades to come.

The information gathered Monday will be combined with the input given at a similar session that focused on the southern part of the Central Delaware that was held last week at the Independence Seaport Museum. The formats of the meeting were similar, although the geographic focus was not.

In their early analysis work, the master planning consultants selected three key spots to focus their work on, said Tom Corcoran, president of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, the quasi-governmental organization which is overseeing the planning work. Last week’s participants gave special attention to the area near Washington and Columbus. Monday night’s group spent about a third of the two-hour workshop thinking about the foot of Spring Garden Street, site of a former incinerator, Festival Pier and a lot of parking.

Most people said green space was in order for the site, but it should not consist solely of parkland.

“A mix of some cafes and shopping, benches for bus stops and transit. Bookstores and other things that people like to do,” suggested Mary Stumpf.

“It should be a gateway to the water at the end of Spring Garden,” said Alec O’Neill. O’Neill said the events at Festival Pier are great, but all that parking is “not the highest use” for riverfront property, and much of the space now goes unused much of the time.

Basically, said Valentine, he wants to take what Fishtown already has and stretch it out to reach the water. “It should be just like a regular neighborhood, but the water would add something special to it,” he said.

During the portion of the night that focused on the large Spring Garden parcel, participants, who were seated in small groups, were given a bunch of photographs that depicted various neighborhood styles and elements. They were asked to write down what they saw that would be a good fit for the site, and what they saw that they definitely did not like. They were also given small sticker circles to vote with – blue meant bring it, red meant keep it away.

Angie Dixon, a planner with Hurley-Franks & Associates planning and urban design firm that facilitated the meeting, said the information received about the Washington Avenue site last week and the Spring Garden site Monday would be synthesized over the next several weeks. Of particular interest will be photographs that elicited strong reactions, positive or negative, she said.  A combination of the public’s desires and the professionals’ analysis will yield possible approaches for the Master Plan, she said.

This will help the  planners as they create a number of different alternatives for the Central Delaware that will be presented to the public on Sept. 22 at Festival Pier.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com.

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