Nutter encourages restraint on zoning code during Phila2035 update

A standing-room-only crowd at the Center for Architecture burst into applause, interrupting surprise guest Michael Nutter as he explained the importance of being patient with the new zoning code that his Administration built over the last five years. The event was an update on the Philadelphia2035 Citywide Vision, and the Mayor was in fine form, praising the Planning Commission as one of the best planning organizations of any city in the country. The day before, the American Planning Association had recognized Philadelphia with a National Planning Excellence Award for a “Best Practice” for its integrated planning and zoning

“This town is really showing its colors in a lot of ways,” Nutter said, commending the renewed emphasis on process that brought the new zoning code and comprehensive plan together more or less simultaneously, and for the first time in 50 years.

“You have to have clarity,” he added. “You have to know what the rules are. It shouldn’t matter who you are and it shouldn’t matter who you know.”

But the planners, zoners, environmentalists, developers, and city employees gathered for the event reacted most approvingly when Nutter said—perhaps for the first time on record—that the new zoning code should be allowed to work for a time before more changes are made to it. The comment was a tacit criticism of some members of City Council who passed a series of bills changing portions of the zoning code soon after it was implemented last fall. The Administration has maintained that it’s too soon to know how the zoning code is working—let alone try to “fix” it—but Nutter himself had not spoken out prior to Thursday evening.

During a panel discussion earlier in the evening, Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger made an eloquent defense of the planning discipline. The goal of planning, he explained, is not to see every piece of an individual plan put into place—“Nobody can see that smartly into the future,” he said—but to build the public will to participate in the planning process.

“There is a future that we can construct, based on a value system,” Greenberger said.

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