The central Delaware riverfront is central to Philadelphia’s future. In major cities like New York and Chicago, the redevelopment of former industrial waterfronts with a mix of housing, retail, offices, industry, parks and recreational activities has driven new economic growth and brought life back to the water. Today in Philadelphia, we have an extraordinary opportunity to redevelop the central Delaware riverfront as an open, green, active recreational amenity and connected community. A revitalized central Delaware will create a burst of energy for the entire city, allowing for the expansion of Center City and river neighborhoods and attracting more residents, workers and visitors.
At this very moment, hundreds of millions of square feet of new housing, entertainment and retail sites are planned along the 7-mile riverfront. How these properties are built and how they are complemented and supported by public investments will define the future of the riverfront for the next century.
In 2006, Mayor Street signed an executive order assigning PennPraxis (the clinical arm of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design) the task of creating a vision for the future of the central Delaware riverfront. In thirteen months, PennPraxis worked with residents, state and city government leaders, property owners and experts from across the country to set out a civic vision for the central portion of the Delaware riverfront. Four thousand Philadelphians participated in the creation of this homegrown vision, A Civic Vision for the Central Delaware, which was released in November 2007.
This document, An Action Plan for the Central Delaware, is a guide to the implementation of that civic vision. Its goal is to lay out a clear plan of action for the redevelopment of the river in the next ten years. Building on the foundation supplied by the civic vision, this action plan recommends that the riverfront is redeveloped over the next ten years in agreement with the vision, in a manner that opens the riverfront up to residents, improves the health of the city’s economy and improves environmental conditions along the river’s edge.
This action plan describes what actions need to be taken, who has the authority to take each action, how much it will cost and what funding resources are available to pay for it. This action plan does not attempt to predict the hundreds of unknowable factors that may impact market conditions, nor does it attempt to control what private developers build. Rather, it creates a public framework within which private development can happen in a more rational, predictable, and orderly process and it provides critical strategies and detailed action steps for creating a vibrant, active riverfront filled with new investment.
A coalition of fifteen central Delaware neighborhood associations is leading the charge to implement An Action Plan for the Central Delaware’s ten major objectives over the next ten years—the initial phase of the thirty-year vision (3). These diverse neighborhoods have come together because of a shared belief that the riverfront is central to Philadelphia’s future and will be the catalyst for our future vitality.
The steps and results detailed in this action plan are concrete and doable. These are not pie-in-the-sky dreams that are suggested without the certainty that they can be accomplished. Other cities have successfully completed each of the short-term actions (2008 to 2012) and longer-term actions (2012 to 2018) outlined. With civic and political will, Philadelphia can complete them as well. The vibrant waterfront shown in these pictures can exist.
To implement the Civic Vision for the Central Delaware through this action plan, we will need an effective waterfront development and management organization, strategic public investments, clear zoning and a complementary package of investments, incentives and regulations. We will need strong leadership from the mayor and City Council. We will need an open and transparent process that residents can believe in. We will need a true public-private partnership with riverfront owners based upon a mutual understanding of how extending transit and streets, regulating traffic and investing public funds in new parks and a greenway with trails will provide economic benefits for property owners and the city.
The civic vision advances the principles of public access, connectivity and quality land development through an integrated series of networks. A Civic Vision for the Central Delaware proposes the following major shifts in the riverfront environment:
THE POWER OF A VIBRANT CENTRAL DELAWARE RIVERFRONT
1. Generates economic development.
2. Provides recreation and fun.
3. Creates new river neighborhood assets.
4. Reduces pollution and improves river health.
The central Delaware riverfront area extends between Oregon Avenue in the south, Allegheny Avenue in the north, I-95 to the west and the Delaware River to the east. It encompasses the neighborhoods of Whitman, Pennsport, Queen Village, Society Hill, Old City, River’s Edge, Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Kensington and Port Richmond. Key existing businesses include big-box stores and the industrial port to the south and two gated residential condominium towers and hotels in the center and north. Proposed businesses include two casinos and twenty-two residential towers.
A Civic Vision for the Central Delaware was the result of a year-long planning process led by PennPraxis, the outreach arm of the School of Design of the University of Pennsylvania. The creation of the vision was commissioned by executive order of Mayor Street in 2006 and overseen by a forty-six member advisory group comprised of state and city officials, civic-group leaders and people from other riverfront agencies. The planning process involved meetings with over four thousand members of the public and riverfront stakeholders. The efforts of all of these parties resulted in a planning document meant to guide growth over the next thirty years on the central Delaware riverfront. The civic vision received the national Charter Award from the Congress for New Urbanism in March 2008.