Former deputy mayor Andrew Altman reflects on his tenure in Philadelphia

Despite his admittedly short stint as Philadelphia’s planning chief, Andrew Altman believes he helped lay the groundwork for his hometown to finally develop a cohesive plan for the Delaware River –– including the creation of the Delaware Waterfront Corp.

“If I were to look back, I do feel I was able to move the waterfront forward,” Altman says. “I think I was able to build on all the work Penn Praxis [and others] did, which I think was extraordinary.”

In Altman’s view, the key to solving the Penn’s Landing problem lies not in some grandiose scheme, but in starting with the public spaces –– including the park planned for Pier 11 –– and using those as building blocks to private development.

“Particularly in this market, with private development being slower, you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket, but starting with what we can control, which are the public spaces, which is what connects people in the city,” Altman says.

Nor does he believe Center City needs one signature project –– like the proposed 63-story American Commerce Center skyscraper –– to propel it forward.

Instead, Altman believes the way to spur growth is to forge stronger ties between the city and the “key drivers” of the local economy.

“I don’t think it’s just about one project,” he says. “I think you have to look at the economic base of Philadelphia –– research, health and education, the arts and culture institutions. That’s the driver –– and that’s where the growth is going to be.”

It’s clear, as Altman talks about the city’s potential, that this self-described “Philly kid” has mixed feelings about not being able to stick around.

“It’s never easy to leave. My mother is still in Philly. She still calls me with tremendous guilt every week,” he quips.

But the “unusual” opportunity to helm the 2012 London Olympics’ legacy effort was one he couldn’t refuse.

“For me, personally, it’s probably one of the greatest challenges I’ll have in my lifetime,” he says.

–– Robert DiGiacomo

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