April 22, 2010
By Kellie Patrick Gates
Thursday evening at the Academy of Natural Sciences, a panel of local experts told five stories of urban planning in Philadelphia.
They spoke of plans that worked, way back to William Penn’s city squares and street grid. They talked about plans that were completed, but, in retrospect, might have been done differently, such as the placement of I-95. And then there were plans that have only ever existed on paper.
Panelists also talked about the impact various groups have had on planning in Philadelphia, from city planners and politicians, to developers and community activists.
Scott Knowles, editor and co-author of Imagining Philadelphia: Edmund Bacon and the Future of the City, spoke on Bacon’s 1959 essay, “Philadelphia in the Year 2009.” Knowles outlined some of Bacon’s hits and misses in both those predictions and on projects he undertook. He detailed how plans for a 1976 Worlds Fair in Philadelphia fell apart. Read more about Bacon’s predictions here.
Harris Steinberg, executive director of PennPraxis, spoke about how important it is for the city to have visions for its future. The impact planning decisions made decades or even centuries ago impact Philadelphians every day, for better or worse, he said.
Craig Schelter, principal of Schelter & Associates and co-founder of the Development Workshop, talked about planning here through the past several mayoral administrations. Plans are great, he said, but only if they are based in economic reality. Schelter spoke of the impact federal urban renewal dollars used to have, and how the drying up of that money has impacted urban planning.
Spencer Finch, director of sustainable development for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, spoke about efforts to finish and connect multi-purpose trails in the Philadelphia region and beyond, and the lessons the PEC has learned through its work.
Jethro Heiko, strategic organizing director of The Action Mill and a co-founder of Casino-Free Philadelphia, spoke of the impact average citizens can have on planning, with a little organizing.
After the panelists told their stories, they were led in a discussion by moderator Ariel Ben-Amos from Young Involved Philadelphia, one of the event’s sponsors. The group also took a few questions from the audience.