By Thomas J. Walsh
It was only an update, but like most meetings of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, the room at 3rd and Fairmount was full, with 50 or more people in attendance to look at plans underway for the Spring Garden Greenway. It’s a local effort to spruce up a barren and forlorn corner at 2nd Street, along with the stretch of the wide boulevard that extends to land across Delaware Avenue, with schemes that include both public and private properties.
A big part of the effort is going toward beautifying and rendering safer the ill-lighted, unsafe and blighted area under Interstate 95, where the entrance and exit to the Market-Frankford El stop are located. That is being undertaken in cooperation with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, and “will warrant its own meeting,” said Matt Ruben, the NLNA’s president, at the start of Thursday night’s gathering. Requests-for-qualifications are out now to artists for the underpass work.
As for the overall master plan, it should be ready by mid-October, Ruben said. He and Jeff Goldstein, an architect and a principal with DIGSAU, along with several others, briefed the crowd on the general thinking so far.
“We are hoping to make a statement,” Ruben said. “This is just the beginning tonight.”
Greenway to parking lot?
Actually, Ruben has already made a few other forceful statements – particularly to members of the newly formed, newly “transparent” organization that supplanted the Penn’s Landing Corp. – the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. The DRWC holds 11 acres that include the old incinerator site directly across Delaware Avenue from the terminus of Spring Garden Street – the natural end point for the neighborhood to extend the greenway to the riverfront and the “space that everyone here loves to hate,” as he put it.
During summer meetings of the DRWC, the NLNA made it clear that the rumored potential use of a portion of the 11 acres as temporary parking (“temporary” when defined as up to five or six years) for the new SugarHouse Casino would be ill-advised.
“We basically said to them that we are building a path to the river and we expect something to be there when we’re done,” Ruben told the crowd. “We’ll be done in a little over a year, and we made the point very forcefully that a parking lot is the lowest and worst use.
“We made the point very forcefully that with [those] acres of land that we could continue Spring Garden,” Ruben said. “Not literally continue Spring Garden Street, but visually continue it as a park across to the water and still have seven acres left over for private market development that could make a lot of money for the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, and that linear park would be twice the size of Pier 11.”
Here he was referring to the small “finger pier” just south of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge that is being turned from a spit of fenced-in industrial wasteland into the DRWC’s inaugural project, within the auspices of the seven-mile waterfront overlay district informed by the PennPraxis plan. Pier 11 is part of the plan that envisions extending streets down to and, where possible, going into the river, including Spring Garden Street. As such, Ruben argues that it only makes sense, financial or otherwise, to do so as soon as possible – especially since the NLNA’s plans represent momentum in the short-term for the overall PennPraxis vision.
“We also made the point that such a parcel has to be actively marketed,” Ruben continued. “If leased for temporary parking for the casino, it takes it off the market for three to six years, and more importantly, it takes it out of the mind of the development community.”
Ruben, though, said he’s not optimistic about the former incinerator site. He said some members of the DRWC have been in contact with SugarHouse, but that “no straight answers” have been forthcoming.
Calls to several DRWC officials were not immediately returned Friday.
Goldstein said the web site seeking comments for the 2nd and Spring Garden Greenway project has been viewed about 12,000 times, and more than 200 suggestions have been made there. Four principles emerged as guidelines for the project:
• Provide an inspiring connection
• Create a “linear park” with an emphasis on walking and bicycling
• Using the streetscape as a natural ecosystem as much as possible
• Bring the personality and attitude of Northern Liberties to its “front door”
It’s about “extending the river up Spring Garden Street, not literally, but figuratively,” Goldstein said.
At least $200,000 in funding is in place to date, much of it from Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (through its “Take Me to the River” program) and the William Penn Foundation. The NLNA is also working the Philadelphia Water Department and Transport Workers Union Local 234, which contributed $30,000. The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania is contributing trees and other street plantings.
The group is also working with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council on a longer range plan to convert all of Spring Garden Street, from the Delaware to the Schuylkill River, into the city’s main link for the East Coast Greenway, which will connect Canada to Key West via off-road bicycle trails. The PEC is looking at the project in a five-year timeframe, Ruben said, but there is no funding yet for that broader effort.
Contact the reporter at www.ThomasJWalsh.info.
ON THE WEB:
“Springtime for Spring Garden Street (Part 1)” (Aug. 4, 2009): http://www.planphilly.com/node/9489
“Springtime for Spring Garden Street (Part 2)” (Aug. 4, 2009): http://www.planphilly.com/node/9567
Northern Liberties Neighbors Association: http://www.nlna.org/
Interface Studio, “Spring Garden Greenway:” http://interface-studio.com/currently/spring-garden-greenway-collaborative-map/#current