All things related to Philadelphia2035, our city's Comprehensive Plan

Urban Creeks and Streams

Darby Creek

Darby Creek with newly terraced banks to mitigate flooding.

We all know of the three rivers that help shape Philadelphia (Delaware, Schuylkill and Wissahickon), but supporting these river systems are large creeks and streams, contributing to the tremendous watershed resources in the region. Creeks which fall within the city limits have suffered ecologically for centuries. The earliest settlements used the rivers and creek as water power and water resources for manufacturing and processing raw materials. Early industries included leather finishing, paper making, iron, steel and fiber processing. The need for local transportation and transport of goods created added pressure on the river and creek systems.  Canals boats and ships of all types were used in river trade along with the petro chemicals and wastes generated as a result.

Historically, public policy was geared toward viewing the creeks as a nuisance to be controlled or a waste conduit. Flooding was tamed through the use of pipe, dams and walls, which created excessive run-off problems downstream. Constrained stream banks can cause water to flow more swiftly when the volume is increased during a rain event. The increased velocity erodes the natural stream bank more quickly, adding excessive silt and transporting debris and soils into sensitive estuaries. Impervious surfaces which contribute to the large volume of run off during storm events add to the erosion problems. Sewage and chemical waste, once commonly directed to creeks and rivers, has mostly been mitigated as a result of the Clean Water Act. However, the ecosystems which supplied local fish and food were disrupted long ago by the constant barrage of urban waste and excessive water.

A map of the streams and creeks that run through Philadelphia.  Source: PWD

A map of the streams and creeks that historically ran through Philadelphia. Source: PWD

The red lines are channelized streams and creeks.  Source: PWD

The red lines are channelized streams and creeks. Source: PWD

















Now public policy has, over the last several decades, worked to correct the damages of the past. Small interventions include: reduction of impervious surfaces, green roofs, vegetative replanting especially trees, buffer zones between areas of development and sensitive waterways continue to increase the health of our creeks and rivers. Even small steps by home owners such as rain barrels and rain gardens reduce the amount of run-off flowing into storm drains during storms. Other more intensive measures are being undertaken by both state and local government to try and restore health to our river systems.

An example is the Darby Creek. MORE

Spotlight on a District – Destination Frankford

Rendering of our upcoming Pop-up Gallery

Rendering of our upcoming Pop-up Gallery


Destination Frankford is an example of how the Planning Commission is aggressively implementing district plans and expanding its role in revitalizing Philadelphia neighborhoods. The idea for this project came from the Frankford Gateway Focus Area in the Lower Northeast District Plan. It’s a great example of tactical urbanism. PCPC, along with a number of local partners including the Frankford Community Development Corporation and Globe Development Group, is investing in targeted, small scale projects designed to attract further funding and investment. So what is Destination Frankford?

Destination Frankford is an arts-based initiative using creative placemaking to enhance and expand the resources of the Frankford’s growing arts, artisanal industry, and creative business economy.

Tactical urbanism is self-explanatory (think pedestrian plazas, pop-up gardens, storefront improvement projects, etc). So what is creative placemaking? According to ArtPlace America (Destination Frankford’s main funding source), successful creative placemaking places artists and art at the center of planning, execution and activity; leverages the creative potential already present in a place; creates opportunities for people of all income levels and backgrounds to thrive in place; supports economic diversity in the community; creates interesting places that capitalize on distinctiveness; creates a place where people want to go and linger; contributes to a mix of uses and people; fosters connections among people and across cultures; encourages pedestrian activity; creates a place where business wants to be; and convinces people that a place can have a different and better future.

That’s a long definition! You may be asking yourself how exactly Destination Frankford will accomplish all of this in 18 months? Three ways, mainly:

Designs for the sculpture and signage are still in progress, but the Destination Frankford Gallery opens on Saturday, April 19th at the corner of Frankford Avenue and Paul Street.

Located near the Margaret-Orthodox Market-Frankford El stop, the gallery will host “Reclaim, Rediscover, Reanimate” from April 19 – June 28, 2014. Local artists will exhibit their work and the community will gain an opportunity to view contemporary art. Three separate exhibitions will each focus on one part of the theme.

“Reclaim” will include twenty-one members of Philadelphia’s Dumpster Divers, “Rediscover” will involve seven local photographers, and “Reanimate” will present sculptures from members of Philadelphia Sculptors.

On Saturday, April 19th, we are kicking it off with a block party featuring live music, food trucks, and a local crafts market.

In the meantime, we are hard at work renovating 4667 Paul Street and the adjacent lot for the Art Gallery and a new park to be designed by the Community Design Collaborative and developed by the Frankford Community Development Corporation. Check out these before and after photos:


Before: the raw space

Before: the raw space

During construction: With help from the folks at Globe Dye Works

During construction: With help from the folks at Globe Dye Works














Keep up to date with all things Destination Frankford on our awesome website designed by Frankford’s own Nimblelight.

Destination Frankford is supported by a grant from ArtPlace America, a collaboration of leading national and regional foundations, banks and federal agencies accelerating creative placemaking across the US.

Fun Friday: The Sounds of Philadelphia



Earlier this week the Library of Congress American Memory program announced the 25 sound recordings that they will preserve with special archival efforts this year.  Each year, the Library chooses what they deem as sound recordings that reflect the history and culture of America for these special preservation efforts, over and above their usual cataloging and storage.

That got us wondering – if we had to pick sounds that reflected the history and culture of Philadelphia, what would you choose?  All cities have the usual noises of sirens, construction cranes, cab horns and the hustle & bustle of street life, but what sounds make Philadelphia unique?

Some of the ideas that we thought of: The roar of the crowd at Citizens Bank Park when the Phillies get a home run.  The magnificent organ at Macy’s being played as we shop in the grand atrium space.  The Mummers string bands strolling down Broad Street on New Years Day.  The ringing of the Rodman Wanamaker Memorial Bell on each hour (many think the bell is in City Hall, but it’s across the street in the PNB building).  The sound of the el going by overhead when we’re walking down Frankford Avenue. The quiet of the woods as we hike through the Wissahickon Valley.

Send us what sounds you wish we could save to show (tell?) the world the uniqueness of Philadelphia.

Civic Design Review tomorrow (no fooling)

EDIT: Ok, we were fooling a little bit. We spaced and failed to mention that the meeting was split into two. 700 Schuylkill proceeds today (April 1), while 1800 Arch and 701 Market will take place on April 9th.

Yes, tomorrow’s April 1st, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything insincere about tomorrow’s meeting of the Civic Design Review committee. We toyed with releasing an April Fool’s edition of the agenda, but we didn’t want to risk dissuading any interested parties from coming to tomorrow’s proceedings.

This week’s CDR meeting will explore some high-profile projects that have been making waves across the blogosphere and throughout the design and development worlds:

700 Schuylkill Avenue: Also known as CHOP’s planned jump across the river, they are presenting their plans for Phase I of riverside development to the committee.

Major public realm topics to be addressed: how this large-scale development interfaces with its multiple access points, including the river itself, the South Street Bridge, and Schuylkill Avenue, which has welcomed several hundred residential units over the past several years inside Naval Square.

At a special Civic Design Review meeting, scheduled for next Wednesday, April 9th, at 1:00 p.m., we’ll also be discussing two other big projects:

1800 Arch Street: Known to most as “that new Comcast tower”, CDR provides an opportunity for new details on a project that’s already made headlines around the globe.

Major public realm topics to be addressed: Like its existing predecessor, this tower has both street-level and subterranean areas open to the public. Unlike its predecessor, this building contains a hotel in addition to offices, creating the need for two significant entrances, on on each numbered street. How these entrances interact with the concourse level and the street will surely be discussed, as well as the treatment of Arch Street.

701 East Market Street: Just last week, we heard major announcements about the 1100 block…but no pretty pictures. A few steps ahead is this proposed addition to the Lit Brothers building, which would add a major residential component to a historically commercial street.

Major public realm topics to be addressed: the siting of this tower means that it does not have major impact along the street of its stated address. The entrance is actually proposed for Filbert Street, a street that we’re willing to bet is not familiar to most of you, even if you frequent the Market Street area. How does a project like this affect a street that currently behaves like a service street?

Though far from one another, these projects each propose to occupy high visibility locations, so we anticipate interest and attendance will be high tomorrow.


With a Side of Bacon: How Philly measures up to Seussville

“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” – Dr. Seuss

What is it that makes a great neighborhood? Is it the corner coffee shops? Is it 8-foot tall security walls with turrets? In today’s blog, let’s see how Philadelphia measures up to Dr. Seuss’ vision of a utopian community. If it pleased us as children, it must certainly hit some primal chord that makes us know that Philadelphia is just a comfy place to be.  Just look at all these happy not people:



First off, what runs through it? RIVERS. Potable water sources, places to bathe our bodies and our souls, nutrition for farming, natural barriers to protect us, and environments for recreation, and a means of transport. Well, guess what!? We have TWO of them!  The Schuylkill River Development Corporation has been tirelessly bringing life to the Schuylkill with kayak programs, tours, and trail development. Way to go!  And things are now moving along the Delaware, too. 

The Schuylkill River at night.  Courtesy:

The Schuylkill River at night.


A shaded sidewalk in the city.

A shaded sidewalk in the city.






Secondly, even though we don’t have elephants romping in their midst, we do have street trees! If you haven’t gotten your free tree through Philadelphia Parks and Rec yet, apply today!



Third, we’ve got open space. Plenty of it. Fairmount Park is one of the largest urban park systems in the world, and Philadelphia Parks and Rec is still working hard to add 500 new acres to its inventory to make sure that every resident is within walking distance of a park.

Fourth, Dr. Seuss shows modest, but readable signage. We’re not sure how Philadelphia measures up here, since we are constantly battling the clutter of billboards, out-of-scale window dressings, and projecting and LED signs, but it’s fair to say that we fight tooth and nail on sign controls to make our built environment a little bit better.

Gaudi at his best. Courtesy:

Gaudi at his best.

And finally, the age old question: How can we get some Dr. Seuss architecture in here? As our city’s economy picks up, we’re not faced with the old claim that we have to sacrifice good design for the sake of development.

Thanks to Civic Design Review, architecture firms and developers who take pride in their work, an updated zoning code that allows for contextual design, and a population that demands better design at every turn, we might just be able to get some Whoville up in Philly. Dare we dream…