Wednesday evening, hundreds of participants gathered at George Washington Elementary School in the Pennsport/Dickinson Narrows section of South Philadelphia for the second of three civic engagement forums being held this week to identify what values residents most treasure about their neighborhoods and their relationship with the Delaware River.
This second session brought together diverse voices of citizens concerned with quality of life issues, passionate union members worried about the impact a waterfront revisioning and casinos may have on their jobs, and a handful of politicians who, depending on the location and inclination of their South Philadelphia constituencies, asked about the pace and the inclusive nature of the Central Delaware Riverfront planning process.
Participants said they were excited by the positive energy in the jammed discussion groups, the dedication of people last night who came together and engaged each other and talked frankly through divisive issues, such as casinos, dredging, the environment, development and how to keep the working port healthy.
State Rep. Bill Keller, whose 184th District includes the working port, invited Boise Butler, president of Local 1291 of the International Longshoremen's Association and James Paylor, Jr., Vice President of the International Longshoremen's Association, AFL-CIO, along with about 100 longshoremen and stevedores to the meeting because he felt their interests had to be fully represented throughout the planning process.
“I met with (Philadelphia Councilman) Frank DiCicco today in order to discuss concerns that the ILA was left out of this process,” Paylor said. “Our industry is thriving and Philadelphia is ignoring the golden egg that is out there.
“For every dollar of cargo value that comes into the port, six dollars goes into the regional economy. We want to make sure we are participating in something legitimate.”
By meeting's end, Paylor said he was happy with the process and pleased with his longshoremen, who pitched in at all levels of discussion.
"At first, I thought it was window dressing, but now I do believe the politicians would make a wise decision not to ignore the information that came out of these meetings."
For his part, Harris Steinberg, the Director of Penn Praxis, which is the lead consultant on the project mandated by Mayor Street, welcomed the longshoremen's attendance and urged them to continue to participate in the value sessions.
"This dialogue is vitally important to the foundation we are going to lay for the principles that are put forward for development," Steinberg said. "The more voices that are heard, the stronger the civic foundation for this plan will be, and that's ultimately what this is going to rest on. The voices of the longshoremen, the voices of those who have recently moved here, the voices of the organizations who have been working up and down the waterfront, the voices of long-term neighbors who have been here for many generations, the voices of those who are just interested in the waterfront for whatever reason, the developers, the professionals, but most importantly, the people on the ground who represent multiple different interests and communities. We need, want and urge all of you to bring as many people as possible to these sessions."
Steinberg also reiterated the respect the planning process would show the working port.
"The idea is to maintain a balance of existing industry port uses and functions with new elements of public access and the creation of a public realm. We are committed to maintaining that healthy balance. The port's jobs, functions, and expansion are all a critical part of Philadelphia's working identity."
The facilitators for this open and transparent process, PennPraxis, of Penn's School of Design; Harris Sokoloff, an expert in civic engagement with the Penn Graduate School of Education; and the Philadelphia Planning Commission, began the evening's exercise by telling the participants the rousing public discourse that would follow is a proven way to capture and use the voice of the people to help lay the foundation for creating a lasting vision for that waterfront.
"Deliberation requires a thoughtful consideration of different views on an issue. It involves weighing the pros and cons of each view, working through different perspectives, and seeing where people agree and disagree," Sokoloff said.
"Those areas of agreement - what some call common ground - become the basis for common action. The fact that people from different special-interest groups deliberate in public to create common ground enables them to work more constructively with each other to decide what trade-offs they are willing to make and to resolve areas of tension. This builds a stronger sense of the "public" in a community."
He also complimented the group for maintaining a respectful posture toward fellow participants and listening well, despite dealing with issues that can cause emotions to run high.
“There were some different kinds of voices heard tonight then on Monday night,” said Sokoloff. “On Monday, the predominant concerns were about community, open space, family, safety, and some concern about locally owned businesses. Tonight, we heard all of those concerns but added the voices unique to the southern end of the 7 miles of waterfront. Those were concerns for the quality of life of people whose livelihoods depend on shipping and the waterfront as a place for international business. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why it is important to have a forum at this end of the waterfront, so we can hear those voices and hear how they can complement the voices from the north.”
Several layers of individual reflection and group discussions at the neighborhood level produced a group presentation that characterized certain values and goals and led to a sharper understanding of the common ground, or shared direction for action, that emerged through the deliberations; a clear statement of the tensions the group found in the choices discussed; and a sense of the trade-offs the participants were willing to make related to the forum issue.
The main "values" or takeaways from Wednesday night's discourse were:
1. Valueing greenspace, open space
2. Sustaining the industrial port
3. Quality jobs on the waterfront are the economic engine for the city
4. Safety comes with traffic control, crime control, no fear, public transit
5. Sense of community that starts in the neighborhoods
6. Neighborhoods protect and enhance community as a whole
7. Protect the history, the traditions, the Mummers Parade
8. How schools and churches fit into the waterfront as icons
9. Appreciate the diversity of economics, ethnicity, culture in our neighborhoods
10. Get our arms around the long-term solutions vs. short term solutions
“I just graduated from Haverford and I did my thesis on the development of Penn’s Landing and stressed that it should be built on a pedestrian scale, it should be designed as a part of a big picture, and a part of the larger city context,” said Pankhuri Agrawal of West Philadelphia. “I think it’s important that the waterfront is built on a human scale, and that there are seamless connections, Philadelphia is a pedestrian city and that’s what works for the city.”
“It’s a shame that the Delaware is a 5-minute walk from Old City and most people don’t even know that it exists.”
In some respects, these values mirrored the values listed below that were established during the first engagement forum, Monday night, in the Kensington-Port Richmond section of the city.
Those values were:
1. Safety - children can play outside, you can walk in the neighborhood
2. Family values - small businesses that thrive, places to worship, locally owned businesses.
3. Easy access - you can walk or bike or bus to it.
4. Diversity - ethnic, lifestyle, multi-generational, economic, diversity of uses, architecture.
5. Open space and green space - public spaces, playing spaces.
6. History - existing neighborhoods, old buildings, old architecture. Historic identities.
7. Jobs - river related and ports related jobs. Jobs for youth.
8. Green technology - work with the environment.
9. The plan - looking for something that protects the values already mentioned.
10. Recreation - using water and land where they meet. Recreation for families.
11. Affordable housing - for seniors.
Steinberg had this to say when the meeting adjourned after three intense hours.
"The civility of the discourse was absolutely staggering. There was a lot of tension coming in tonight. The way that was handled exceeded our expectations."
WE WANT YOUR FEEDBACK
Praxis is also looking for feedback on the value sessions.
On the website you will find a link that shows you top values came out of Wednesday's forums ... FEEDBACK. Your answers will be posted instantly.
Using the values produced in each session, the questions are:
1.) Give us examples of these values in your neighborhood?
2.) What could you do to strengthen them?
3.) What gets in the way of them?
You will be asked to identify yourself but we would not publish email addresses.
ONE MORE FORUM THIS WEEK
Please remember, there is one more value session this week:
Thursday: 6:15 to 9 p.m., Independence Seaport Museum, Penn's Landing. Registration and light refreshments start at 5:30 p.m.
The forum is free and open to the public. RSVP at www.planphilly.com/registration or by fax to 215-573-9600. Include your name, address, neighborhood, phone number and e-mail address.
These values forums will be followed in late January with expert
presentations by professionals from around the country who will share their waterfront design and planning experience in areas like landscape design, transportation infrastructure, housing and development, and the reuse of industrial sites. In early February, citizens will come together to marry citizen values with expert knowledge to develop common-ground planning principles for the design of the Central Delaware.