Final 2006 Civic Engagement Value Session
Independence Seaport Museum
Thursday night’s large turnout for the last of the Central Delaware Riverfront Planning Process value sessions, where the people of Philadelphia have been coming together to discuss in forums their hopes and dreams for the waterfront and the neighborhoods that sit around it, put the total attendance for the three civic engagements at over 800 participants.
“The level of attendance at the values sessions sends a very strong signal that Philadelphians from Pennsport to Port Richmond to beyond care passionately about the future of the Central Delaware,” said Harris Steinberg, who directs PennPraxis, which is overseeing the creation of a master plan for the Central Delaware Riverfront.
“Civic engagement is alive and well in Philadelphia and the values expressed thus far will help define the way we think, talk and act along the waterfront for generations to come,” he continued. “Philadelphia should be proud of the level of civility and respect shown in these sessions. We’re demonstrating that an issue that touches so many people in so many different ways can be discussed openly and respectfully with all voices having a chance to be heard.”
At last night’s session at the Independence Seaport Museum at Penn’s Landing, about 350 citizens from Society Hill, Old City, Queen Village, Northern Liberties and neighborhoods across the region gathered and talked very openly, honestly and civilly about what they want to see occur in terms of planning and development on seven miles of Delaware River waterfront.
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, see the public meetings as a way to capture and use the voice of the people to help lay the foundation for creating a lasting vision for that waterfront. Sokoloff set the tone for the evening’s frenetic pace by jumping up onstage and engaging the group as a whole with a preamble that made it clear that a neutral moderator and a clear set of ground rules are essential to productive deliberation. He also said listening well was a major goal.
Moderators guided the intricate deliberations, making sure that all participants got an opportunity to share their ideas and that no one or two people dominated the forum.
Following some contemplative individual introspection participants were sorted by neighborhoods and broke down into small discussion groups where they discussed, argued about and shared their ideas about how neighborhoods and the city should value and intersect with the riverfront.
A longshoreman made it clear that he was concerned that a new riverfront plan might not protect vital jobs. The confluence of I-95 and Delaware Avenue and the river ward communities was an oft-heard subject of conversation. Next week’s anticipated approval of slots licenses that could result in two riverfront casinos was incendiary in nature and on many minds, as was traffic congestion and lack of parking, historic preservation, eminent domain, green technology, educational opportunities, public access and mass transit.
"Tonight we had a great many people who live in neighborhoods off the waterfront - from Mt. Airy, West Philadelphia, Northeast and Northwest Philadelphia. Their voices complemented those we heard in Kensington and Pennsport, bringing in a concern not just for the riverfront in their locales, but a concern for the entire riverfront," Sokoloff said. "That is, we heard strong echoes of the earlier values of accessibility, safety, community, indistry and diversity, some other values were also emphasized. Values like the river itself, integration with the rest of the city and ecological protection. Clearly there are interesting differences across communities, but what strikes me is the common ground that emerges when people from different communities come to talk about what they value."
The 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 consolidated “values” from Thursday night’s discussions were:
“One of the most interesting things I heard was the organic relationship between the river and the land exemplified by the people who work on the river in boats,” said Ryan Berley of Old City. The main "values" or takeaways from Wednesday night's event in South Philadelphia were:
Finally, listed below are the values that were established during the first engagement forum, Monday night, in the Kensington-Port Richmond section of the city:
“A lot of people are pulling in the same direction through this,” said Janice Woodcock, Director of the Philadelphia Planning Commission. “Planning should be a collaborative process that draws its energy from the community.”
While this planning and engagement exercise is a civic context within a political structure, at its heart the project is apolitical,” said Steinberg.
For a full report, check out www.planphilly.com