How 5 riverfront visions formed

March 3
By Matt Blanchard and Alan Jaffe
For PlanPhilly

The public got its first glimpse of the possibilities on the Central Delaware Riverfront on Saturday as local and national architects unveiled images and concepts that could form the basis for an eventual waterfront master plan.

Bury I-95? Restore industrial ruins? Return natural marshes to the South Philly shoreline?
Five hundred citizens packed the Independence Seaport Museum to hear these and other concepts developed during a three-day marathon design workshops run by leading design and planning professionals.

These were not final plans, but rather napkin sketches, inspirational jottings, of how Philadelphia can break with 50 years of bad planning and reconnect its river neighborhoods to the river.
“Today is a day when we can begin again to think audaciously about the future of the city,” said Harris Steinberg, director of Penn Praxis, the lead consultant for the Central Delaware Riverfront planning process.

“The ideas you are about to see are conceptual and real. They are by no means final. The design teams were charged with unleashing us from the straightjacket view of ourselves as a second class city,” Steinberg said. “These ideas crackle with energy dynamism and vision. We have taken a quantum leap toward imagining who we are and what we might become.”

Inquirer: Inga Saffron

Five Angles of Attack
Because the study area stretches seven miles from Oregon Avenue up to Allegheny, the designers divided into five groups, each with a separate mandate.

North – From Spring Garden Street north to Allegheny
Central – Center City, I-95 and Penn’s Landing
South – from Washington Avenue south to Oregon
Connections – Linking neighborhoods to the river
Boulevard – Remaking Delaware Ave

Each group number about 15 neighborhood activists, traffic engineers, architects, and other citizens. Each was led by an esteemed architect, and worked in a marathon charrette from Thursday through to the morning of Saturday’s presentation.
Read on for detailed explanations of each team’s presentation.

The North team
, covering the largely vacant waterfront of Northern Liberties, Fishtown and Port Richmond, focused on the city’s industrial heritage.  They made use of that past by restoring old piers and a power plant, but also by growing new technology centers, and encouraging an exciting blend of activities.
The North team was led by German urban designer Peter Latz, whose projects have included revivals of port cities and post-industrial sites throughout Europe, a landfill in Israel, and a lake district in China.

The soft-spoken, diminutive team leader began the PowerPoint presentation with a biological concept: The Bulb.

Scribbled on the back of a restaurant advertisement, the bulb concept had sparked and inspired his group’s work over the previous 24 hours. The sketch was a line drawing of the northern section of the riverfront with small circles added at intervals. The circles represented “bulbs,” or “onions,” containing the seeds of activity that would take root on the banks of the Delaware and then grow inland through the river ward neighborhoods, where they would flower.

As he spoke, Latz’s bulb drawing became animated, with green shoots reaching inland and blossoming.

The northern plan cultivates a series of sites, starting with the Festival Pier and adjacent incinerator site, which would be kept as open park space, framed in trees and retained for cultural and recreational use.

Farther north, the beauty of Penn Treaty Park would expand around the Peco power station, which Latz would repurpose as perhaps a cogeneration plant using clean technology. “The power station could be a power station in a modern way,” said Latz, whose projects around the world have often respected former land use and preserved existing structures.

While one section of the plant could be used for producing bio-gas, other sections could be reborn as a cultural center or restaurants.

The controversial Sugarhouse Casino site at Shackamaxon Street, would be surrounded by a population of condo towers, low-rise housing, and retail business under Latz’s plan. But he would soften the look and atmosphere with parks and clearwater pools drawn up from the river.

Turning toward the vast industrial area around the former Cramp’s Shipyard, Latz spoke about the proposed reconstruction of the Girard Avenue interchange of I-95, a “pretzel” that blocks the neighborhood from utilizing the river. So, Latz’s team proposed its own reshaping of the interchange – a short-term plan that would extend one half of the neighborhood’s streets toward the water, and a longer-term proposal that would connect all the streets in the neighborhood grid to the riverfront. The proposals would also include the preservation of the old Cramp’s Shipyard building.

Farther north in Port Richmond, Latz seized on the striking ruins of old Pier 18, with its concrete pillars marching out to the water’s edge.

Stabilizing the old coal pier as a romantic ruin, Latz would use it as the southern anchor for an innovative landscape combining waterfront housing, a curving boat basin, a mix of light industrial use, new low-rise housing, and neighborhood parks. The plan would use locks and canals carved along the shoreline to create clear water for boating, and bike and hiking trails to unite the entire area north to south. At the northern end, Pulaski Park would be expanded.

Central Study Area


Central team leader Richard Bartholomew, a principal at the planning and design firm Wallace Roberts & Todd, took on the central section of the riverfront, from Spring Garden Street south to Washington Avenue, and offered one of the most dramatic dreams for reinventing the waterfront.

“The key to the kingdom,” Bartholomew explained, “is I-95.”

The solution: bury it.

The highway currently separates the city from the waterfront, with 400 feet of traffic lanes. PennDot, however, is set to rebuild I-95, and that presents “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to redo it right, Bartholomew said.

The central team proposes running a redesigned Columbus Boulevard over the highway, while keeping the route open. By capping the interstate with the boulevard, the area’s current overabundance of roadway would be reduced to 200 feet.

The reconstruction could reconnect the city grid with the waterfront, and the east-west streets could be sloped upward from the river, opening views of the Delaware from Center City.

The submerging of I-95, meanwhile, would create new open spaces and, Bartholomew proclaimed, would “free Penn’s Landing.”

It would also create about 10 city blocks of valuable development property over the old highway. Such golden money-making opportunities would reduce the project’s cost to public coffers.

The sunken trench through which I-95 currently runs could be used for a parking garage and other uses.

The scale should be kept low throughout the area, he said, as he projected a drawing of a vibrant eastern Market Street sloping down to the river, with a clear view all the way to Camden.

Asked later if a plan to cap I-95 is realistic, physically and fiscally, Bartholomew said PennDot deputy secretary Rina Cutler had encouraged the charrette participants to think out of the box. His group’s proposal is a “complicated, difficult design question,” he acknowledged. “But it is worth exploring, and now is the time to do it.”

The plan also allows for generous walkways and bikeways.

And it calls for another mode of transport: a form of light rail, such as the streetcars returning to many cities, which could connect the north and south ends of the waterfront, and run east and west on Market Street to the train stations. That proposal, by Center City District chief Paul Levy was detailed by the Boulevard team, discussed below.

Connections Team

Can’t get to the river? Don’t see a reason to go? Reknown Philadelphia architect Denise Scott Brown led the team charged with making connections both physical, historical and social between the river and the neighborhoods.

Brown took as her rallying cry one of the principles developed in the PlanPhilly citizen engagement forum: Make a waterfront that feels like Philadelphia.
To do so, Scott Brown aimed to “draw the plan from within” the city – its patterns of life, its industrial heritage – rather than imposing a plan from the top. The connections that matter are not simply physical, they are social and visual, they are links between the present and the past, between the public and the private, and between the city and the world.

The team applied that thinking to 8 “nodes” along the river, brainstorming local, regional and historical connections to each.
For example, the team adopted Penn Treaty Park, renaming it “Penn Treaty Power Plant” to include the neighboring PECO plant.
As the site of Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, the site makes a strong historical and regional connection. Yet the local connection is weak. I-95 isolates the park from those in Northern Liberties who would use it. And the majestic power plant is all but unused, having no interaction with the neighborhood.
To make local connections, the team conceived several strategies.

Activity connections would include things likely to draw regular use, such as a tot lot. Pedestrian connections would include the proper lighting and design of attractive, even exciting, passages under I-95. Visual connections include landmarks, and a sense of ceremony in arriving at the waterfront.
Scott Brown described these strategies working in concert:
“If we consider tunnels, can you light them, so people don’t get scared? Can put a strong activity at either end, and is the attraction so great between them that people will be drawn through?”
“These aren’t designs,” Scott Brown explained of her strategies. “These are instructions to designers.”
The other 7 nodes are too numerous to describe here, but careful examination of the team’s node map tells the story.

The South Study Area

Team leader Walter Hood, professor and former Chair of Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, is known for his unique approach to the design of urban landscapes, and his approach to Philadelphia was no exception.

Though the idea seems impractical, Hood’s group looked at what would happen if you allowed the Delaware River to return to it’s natural limits along the line of the 100-year floodplain.
Flood South Philly?  Not exactly.

Hood led the audience through the twists and turns of the team’s creative process, showing images of a restored shoreline of marshland where today’s maps show several piers at the northern edge of the working port.
Hood’s effort was an intellectual one: By thinking about the river’s natural edge, do we arrive at a new perception of how it might relate to the neighborhoods?

Can we imagine restored streams wending back up into the Pennsport neighorhood? Or a series of parks spreading in a “dendritic” or root-like way, bringing pieces of the riverfront to the neighborhood?
Using water images like “infiltration” and “sedimentation,” Hood imagined the transformation of today’s Wal-Mart and Home Depot into a landscape ruled by the swell and flow of the river, a natural river park.

The fine-grained urban fabric of Pennsport would be extended into this park to make a very natural city-river connection.
Under Hood’s plan, Pennsport residents would no longer experience the riverfront as a succession of barren, windswept lots and industrial buildings. It would be a living green edge, with its waters lapping right up to the community door.

As for the proposed Foxwoods casino, Hood’s team placed it in the Southwark Power Station, a site that, after the 100-year flood, had become a tiny island offshore South Philadelphia.

The Boulevard Team

Perhaps the most ambitious of the five working groups, the Boulevard team went way beyond its task of creating a people-friendly waterfront boulevard, to reforming I-95, adding a new mass transit line and creating possibilities for a new neighborhood above highways.

Team leader Gary Hack, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design, led the audience through the group’s several visions, each more ambitious than the last, with the gentle challenge that Philadelphia be half as courageous as Boston, home of the multi-billion dollar Big Dig.
He began with the boulevard itself.
“We ought to commit ourselves to create a boulevard along the entire length of the waterfront of Philadelphia,” he said.

Hack described a boulevard with no more than 3 lanes going in each direction, softened by a park-like median, broad sidewalks and businesses gathered close to its edge. It would be urban and walkable, with bike lanes and several points of direct access to the water.

What’s more, the boulevard would incorporate a new light rail line serving the waterfront from Allegheny Avenue down to Oregon Avenue, with a perpendicular spur running down Market Street.

The brainchild of Center City District chief Paul Levy, the line would run modern trolleys like those in Portland, Oregon, and connect the river to the Convention Center, City Hall, the Market Street West office district and 30th Street station beyond.

“Street cars are being installed once again in many cities around the world,” Hack said.
To the north, today’s Delaware Avenue dies near Penn Treaty Park. So the waterfront boulevard would follow a line closer to the river, following the line of Beach Street across vacant properties to Allegheny Avenue. To the east, they would create a river’s edge park. To the west, development possibilities for the remaining vacant land would be endless.

“It needs walkways along that water,” Hack said of the new road. “It needs to have a bicycle route along the river. I guarantee you, if that bike route is put in place, it will be filled with cyclists within a few months.”

Hack envisioned the boulevard following the line of Delaware Avenue south through Center City, where it would do something peculiar – slowly rise about 30 feet to be on a level with Front Street.
This rise, part of a sophisticated existing plan by Wallace, Roberts and Todd Architects, would enable the Center City Street grid to be extended over I-95, with new buildings built atop the highway. The space under a raised Delaware Avenue would be open for a regional parking facility, and could become a park-and-ride facility for the new transit line.

What’s more, Hack’s group suggested reconfiguring the fly-over ramps from I-95 to I-676 to be sunken at the same low level as portions of I-95 by Penn’s Landing.  This gesture would enable construction of about 18 city blocks of new prime real estate above both highways, healing the wound between Old City and Northern Liberties.

The idea has appeal because both I-95 and the Vine Street Expressway are sunken in trenches in Center City, yet they both rise above ground for the sole purpose of getting over Septa’s Frankford El line.  What if they just went under it instead?

Finally, in South Philadelphia, the boulevard would run along a large waterfront esplanade, perhaps in the area occupied by Wal-Mart today. The new street-car line would terminate at about Oregon Avenue, the northern boundary of the working port, and the resulting plaza could become a destination point for people from Pennsport, hosting farmer’s markets and the like.

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Here are brief biographies of the five experts who led the effort:
• Peter Latz, professor and chair of landscape architecture and planning at the Technical University Munich-Weihenstephan, who has gained widespread recognition for innovative planning to reclaim outdated industrial sites with an eye toward ecology and societal needs. His work has been published and exhibited internationally, and was recently featured as part of the renowned “Groundswell” exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Latz was the 2001 recipient of the Grande Medaille d’Urbanisme from the Academie d’Architecture, its highest prize; and winner of the first European Rosa Barba Prize for Landscape Architecture in 2000.

• Walter Hood, professor and former Chair of Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, known for his unique approach to the design of urban landscapes. He has worked extensively in a variety of settings, most recently in designing the landscape for the Autry National Museum in Los Angeles, the landscape design for The Menil Collection in Houston, and the archeological gardens at the University of Virginia. Hood has also exhibited and lectured on his project and theoretical works nationally and abroad.

• Richard Bartholomew, a principal in Wallace, Roberts and Todd, has directed many of WRT’s projects is his 30-year career. His professional service has been enriched by active involvement in civic and professional organizations and through his teaching at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts (now School of Design), where he was on the faculty from 1974-1992. The Anacostia (D.C.) waterfront renewal project was a major undertaking for Bartholomew.

• Denise Scott Brown, principal of the world-renowned Philadelphia firm Venturi Scott Brown & Associate, is an architect, planner and urban designer whose work and ideas have influenced architects and planners globally. She is a respected theorist, educator and scholar whose 40-year career has encompassed a broad range of interdisciplinary work and projects in architectural design, urban design and campus planning.

• Gary Hack, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design and its Paley Professor of City and Regional Planning. He has designed development plans for more than 30 cities in the United States and abroad, including the Prudential Center in Boston, Rockefeller Park in New York City, and the Metropolitan Plan for Bangkok, Thailand. A former chair of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, Hack was a member of the team that won the design competition for redevelopment of the World Trade Center site.

The exercise consisted of five distinct parts, with these charges:

Team Leader: Walter Hood
BACKGROUND: The southern stretch of the seven-mile central Delaware, approximately from Washington Avenue south to Oregon Avenue. This section of the site is entirely cut off to the public by private development and existing port and Homeland Security functions. Once entirely industrial, portions of this riverfront have been developed in recent years by multiple users, such as the Sheet Metal Workers’ Union and the big box development that dominates this part of project area. The United States Coast Guard occupies the site of the birthplace of the United States Navy at the foot of Washington Avenue.

Under the mayoral administration of Ed Rendell, the city used land accumulation and tax incentives to turn Columbus Boulevard south of Reed Street into a bigbox retail shopping center. This destination for auto-based retail has translated into significant traffic problems on this portion of Columbus Boulevard, which is often backed up for miles on the weekends.

On December 20, 2006, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board sited a slots only gaming facility on a vacant parcel just north of the big-box center, sending shockwaves through the adjacent dense South Philadelphia neighborhoods. Residents see more sprawlstyle development as marking the demise of their tight-knit cohesive residential communities, as well as interfering with port labor jobs at the southern edge of the project area that have helped many families in Philadelphia for generations.

CHALLENGE: Focus on ways to improve the riverfront experience in this southern section. Most of this land was developed at a time when the Delaware Riverfront was not recognized as a regional asset, so now we must think about how we can adapt this large-footprint, big-box sprawled fabric into a more inviting atmosphere along the riverfront. I-95 also acts as a barrier to adjacent residential neighborhoods, so consider how to ease this divide, which is currently blocking citizens from the riverfront. Beautiful riverfront vistas go unnoticed because they are blocked by Wal-Mart’s loading and dumpster area, so thinking about urban infill here could be a solution.

Think about how to allow the working port to thrive amongst such a mix of uses. Finally, neighborhood residents are extremely worried about the threat of a casino at Reed Street. Help us think about how public space around the slots parlor could be designed to minimize the negative impacts of the casino, and what alternatives for private development exist there if a gaming effort failed on that site.

Team Leader: Peter Latz
BACKGROUND: The northern stretch of the seven-mile central Delaware, approximately from Spring Garden Street to Allegheny Avenue. The land on this section is in many different stages of post-industrial development: some old structures have been torn down and replaced with new condo buildings, while other structures remain on old industrial lands that have not seen activity since the glory days of the Cramp Shipyards and Port Richmond Terminal.

Though there is much vacant privately-owned riverfront land, property values in these riverward neighborhoods have been steadily increasing for years, with Northern Liberties and Fishtown neighborhoods seeing Center City prices in an area largely neglected ten years ago. One of these former industrial sites was in the running for the two state gaming licenses, while another more expansive one is an old railroad yard that once was the world’s largest privately-owned railroad tidewater terminal. The land is owned by CSX/Conrail, so the railroad company is thinking about how to redevelop it southern parcel of land currently cut off from public riverfront access. The Pennsylvania Industrial Development Corporation has a proposal in the
works to use that site for light industrial transfer.

On December 20, 2006, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board sited a slots-only gaming facility on a vacant parcel at Shackamaxon Street. Though the Gaming Control Board said that adjacent neighbors offered very little resistance during the public input period, residents have since assumed a leadership role in the opposition to casino development along their riverfront.

CHALLENGE: Focus on ways to improve the riverfront experience in this northern section. Development pressures on portions of this stretch of the riverfront appear the strongest, with a 715-foot tower already having gone through the city permitting process, and numerous other condo proposals in the pipeline. Think about how such a dramatic increase in private development can be used to further the public good and the creation of a pedestrian-friendly riverfront.

Neighborhood residents are extremely worried about the threat of a casino landing at Shackamaxon Street. Help us think about how public space around the slot parlor could be designed to minimize the negative impacts of the casino, and what alternatives for private development exist there if a gaming effort failed on that site. With two gated condo towers already on the river, think about how to make the Delaware an attractive destination for residents in adjacent neighborhoods.

Think about how to exploit the incredible opportunity of having hundreds of vacant acres of land on a riverfront that is increasingly seen as a development destination. What new ways of developing postindustrial lands can we think about that will help Philadelphia transition from a post-industrial landscape to embracing new kinds of 21st century industry?

The expansion of the I-95 interchange at Girard Avenue will likely move Richmond Street east onto the Conrail site, so think about how this new infrastructure could integrate into new development while not interfering with the pedestrian riverfront experience. Part of this open land is a railroad viaduct that crosses Delaware Avenue at Lehigh Avenue, which a local community group is considering as a green space gateway in their planning efforts.

Team Leader: Richard Bartholomew.
BACKGROUND: The central stretch of the seven-mile central Delaware, approximately from Spring Garden Street to Washington Avenue. The land in this section has always been seen as the ripest for potential development, but none of the many plans for the space has been realized. Ed Bacon always envisioned Penn’s Landing at the foot of Market Street to be a logical extension of the vibrancy and activity of Center City onto a newly-public riverfront that has been freed from its port uses.

Today Penn’s Landing is significantly underutilized, largely because of I-95 and Columbus Boulevard, which separate downtown Philadelphia from the Delaware by up to 22 lanes of high-speed auto traffic. Though some pedestrian bridges and decking exist, none of it is vibrant enough to bring
citizens across this great divide to access the central Delaware’s lone significant stretch of public space.

CHALLENGE: Focus on ways to improve the riverfront experience in this central section. Think about ways the swath of auto traffic can be addressed to make this portion of the riverfront a truly public extension of Philadelphia’s downtown, vibrant and inviting to pedestrians. Property values have been increasing in neighborhoods surrounding Penn’s Landing, so think about how to create an experience that will be a great asset to these new residents.

The Penn’s Landing Corporation, a quasi-public development corporation run by the city, controls most of the land in this part of the project area. Much of their holdings are under long-term development leases to private developers. However, some significant opportunities for public spaces remain. The site known as the Incinerator site and Festival Pier at the foot of Spring Garden Street is ripe for development as a public park. This site is owned by the City of Philadelphia.

Think about this space as the next great public space along the central Delaware. Similarly, Penn’s Landing should be reconceived as one of Philadelphia’s most significant public spaces as it links the city with the river and across the river to Camden. With the redesign of the connections across the abyss of I-95 and Columbus Boulevard, Penn’s

Team Leader: Gary Hack
BACKGROUND: The entirety of Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard as it runs parallel to the Delaware River for most of the seven-mile project area. Originally constructed to improve pier access in the 19th century, it was frequently widened to aid in industrial uses that no longer exist on this stretch of the riverfront. This leaves us with an expansive roadway that not only cuts off adjacent residents from the water, but also creates an auto-dominant pedestrian-unfriendly experience for anyone interested in walking along the central Delaware. It is infamous for its traffic jams in the southern end and does very little to orient itself with the river, feeding cars onto Interstate 95 instead of the river banks.

CHALLENGE: Think about how Delaware Avenue could become “Delaware Boulevard,” a truly pedestrian-oriented roadway that would invite users to the river’s edge. Many exemplary riverfront case studies have a grand traditional boulevard that utilizes measures of traffic-calming and pedestrian amenities to transform their riverfronts into regional destinations — imagine for us what Philadelphia needs to do to create its own Delaware Boulevard.

Many changes to Delaware Avenue are already underway due to the siting of the two casinos. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is ready to begin construction on a new I-95 interchange at Girard Avenue that would bring thousands more cars onto Delaware Avenue. South Columbus Boulevard is already clogged with traffic to the big-box retail center, so building a casino in this area could bring it to a standstill. Both traffic studies submitted by the casino developers recommend new I-95 exits and widening of Columbus Boulevard/Delaware Avenue as the only ways to mitigate the anticipated increase in car traffic. Think about how these development pressures can be addressed along a pedestrian-friendly riverfront boulevard.

Team Leader: Denise Scott Brown
BACKGROUND: The “perpendicular connections:” the roads that connect (or fail to connect) with the dense residential neighborhoods adjacent to the Delaware and the river’s edge. The construction of I-95 along the river in the 1960s tore out neighborhoods and cut off communities’ access to the river, some by a huge elevated overpass. Now that urban riverfronts are seen as a place for recreation and repose, the lack of public access to the Delaware is a problem that needs to be addressed. Better connections with adjacent neighborhoods would make the central Delaware a much more attractive place for commercial development as well as public space assets that already exist like Penn Treaty Park and Penn’s Landing.

CHALLENGE: Think about how to improve these riverfront connections so that residents can take advantage of this regional asset in their backyard. Please look at how public access varies across the seven-mile project area, and think about where the opportunities exist to create interesting gateways from the neighborhoods to the riverfront. Think about the I-95 underpasses that cross many pedestrian routes to the riverfront, and how these routes can be attractive connectors despite these intimidating eyesores.

Wide auto-dominated intersections in need of treatment to improve connectivity to nearby humanscale neighborhoods include those at Spring Garden Street, Frankford Avenue, Washington Avenue, and Snyder Avenue. Changing surrounding uses is one potential solution, while streetscaping and reorienting road networks is another. Community members are particularly
concerned by access points near the casino sites and how their neighborhood will connect with such large-scale uses. At the same time, think about the connections along the water’s edge.

Help us think about the connective threads that link people and neighborhoods to the river through the perpendicular feeder roads as well as lengthwise along the river as we begin to understand the potential for a continuous riverfront trail.

Below are PDFs that show the concepts that each team formulated.

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