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University City: Friends of 40th Street unveil goals for corridor

By Kara Savidge and Christine Fisher
For PlanPhilly

Friends of 40th Street, a coalition of organizations dedicated to revitalizing the 40th Street corridor, held its fourth and final public forum to share its findings from the project so far.

Harris Sokoloff, faculty director of the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, mediated the discussion following PennPraxis’s presentation.

Comprised of PennPraxis, University City District and Sustainable Communities Initiative-West, among a slew of other community stakeholders, the Friends are working to revitalize the corridor and surrounding communities. The study focuses on the area from Baltimore Avenue to Lancaster Avenue.

The Friends have held three other forums since June 2011. Attendees at each, who ranged from students and neighborhood residents, to business owners and institutional representatives, were asked about the strengths, weaknesses and needs of the corridor.

All of the forums, including the final Oct. 25 meeting, were held at the University Square Apartments, subsidized senior housing at 39th and Market streets. Many of the building’s residents were among the attendees including Sia Rah, an eight-year resident and three-year president of the resident’s association.

She said she’s come to all of the meetings, including those initially held by PennPraxis in May 2004.

“In 2003 I moved here and not long after I started coming to these meetings, they asked us what we wanted to see happen — I wrote down a good bakery and I got it,” Rah said.  “In some sense there was a question of whether the building would stay or the university would take it.”

Throughout the area, which is heavily influenced by the presence of neighboring University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, the role the schools play in the area was a primary concern for many at the forum.

“They wanted to see how many people are interested in what’s going on in the neighborhood, so I thought those who truly are interested should let them know and keep abreast of what development Penn is planning,” Rah said. “I hope this building remains for seniors — it could very easily become part of the improvement.”

Harris Steinberg, executive director of PennPraxis at the University of Pennsylvania, presented the Friends’ final report: “Civic Goals and Urban Design Strategies for the 40th Street Corridor.”

After introductions from UCD and SCI-West, Harris Steinberg, executive director at PennPraxis, led a presentation of the completed “Civic Goals and Urban Design Strategies for the 40th Street Corridor.” The document compiles the input gathered at the summer forums, and translates them into urban design and civic development goals.

Aspects of the plan address public space, transportation, preservation and development and scale and density, and consider urban design factors that play into each.

Following the presentation, Harris Sokoloff, the faculty director of the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, along with Steinberg, invited questions from the attendees.

Some raised the concern that the strategies presented didn’t accurately reflect the needs of the community. One proposed upgrade that was voiced by many was the need for an elevator at the 40th and Market streets stop on the Market-Frankford subway line.

Steinberg asserted that the document is intended to be a tool for community groups to work with, rather than a set of specific practices and upgrades to be adopted, and to allow citizens to be involved in the discussion. He said the items dictated in the plan were not tailored to any one specific spot or area.

“It’s not meant to be prescriptive or a checklist,” Steinberg said. “We can’t depend on design to solve all of our problems.”

Sokoloff suggested the terms on which the neighborhood should address the document.

“[Ask yourself] how can you use these guidelines to your advantage?” Sokoloff said.

The document is available on the Friends of 40th Street website, as well as several locations throughout the city including the Walnut Street West Library, People’s Emergency Center and the University City District, among other spots.

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