Exploring the past, future of Philly neighborhoods during annual Jane’s Walk

In the spirit of Pennsylvania-born author and urbanist Jane Jacobs, Philadelphians took to the streets of University City Friday to survey the changing landscape of the neighborhood.

As the skyline on the west bank of the Schuylkill River continues to expand vertically, the “Jane’s Walk” sought to highlight the neighborhood’s past while viewing recent and future development. With the growing student bodies and campuses of Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania, the walk dealt with the often thorny subject of gentrification in the neighborhoods surrounding Drexel.

From the 12th-floor office of Wexford Science & Technologies near 36th and Filbert Street, Peter Cramer, Wexford’s director of development, and Drexel University architect Nancy Rogo Trainer went over maps and plans detailing the development of a nearby 14-acre parcel that was once home to University City High School. The lot and a strip of row homes, known colloquially in the neighborhood as “Black Bottom,” still stood as a sliver of the past facing toward the vacant patch of land. The proposal for the space, like much of the area’s development, is high-rise residential housing with commercial space on the ground floor and community garden at the corner of 36th and Filbert Streets.

As 15 or so walkers took to the street, they stopped to view Drexel’s URBN Center for Arts and Design, which opened in 2013, and The Summit, a high-rise mixed use student apartment building with retail on the ground floor. The Summit and Lancaster Walk, a grassy park area on Drexel’s campus, meet at the Terminus of Lancaster Avenue, the launch point for the rest of the tour.

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The group viewed buildings, new and old, on the Lancaster Avenue Thoroughfare. At one point they stopped at the Community Education Center meetinghouse that was built in 1901. They listened to local historian Scott Maits point out former garages and gas stations left over from Lancaster Avenues role in the Lincoln Highway System. These buildings have been converted over time into apartments and pizza shops. Group leader James Wright describe the effort to persevere Lancaster Mews, a building slotted for demolition that was able to achieve historic status and the effort to convert a shuttered bank into a yet to be determined community space.

The “Jane’s Walks” in Philadelphia is part of a global event taking place this weekend. You can learn more about them and the Philadelphia connection at JanesWalk.org.

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