We’re doing a weekly feature spotlighting the Central District Plan and its recommendations as a sort of sneak peek of the draft. The draft of the plan will be released in March, and then you’ll have until May to dig in and provide us with detailed comments. Today’s topic: West Callowhill Focus Area!
The Barnes is complete, the Granary is being built out, Whole Foods will be building a new store close by, and the Mormon Temple has broken ground. There are large, vacant parcels waiting for development both to the north and the south of Mathias Baldwin Park, the Community College of Philadelphia has been growing, SEPTA will be studying a Bus Rapid Transit line in the City Branch trench…. How can we harness all of this great energy and guide it (a little) to set the tone for the area’s future character and scale?
Callowhill Street west of Broad has long been identified by the residents of Logan Square as a desirable place to create a local commercial corridor with shops and restaurants. This would not only serve the tourist crowd coming to the Parkway, but also the growing population that is beginning to fill up the vacant places between Spring Garden and Callowhill Street. Think of the Tivoli development (114 units), or the new Granary (227 units), and imagine how the remaining surface parking lots and obsolete properties could accommodate another 1200 units without breaking into a high-rise sweat. Now also imagine all of those newcomers looking for someplace to get their groceries and lattes as well as have that special dinner out with the visiting relative or 10. New development can reinforce this corridor with a moderate scale appropriate to these gaggles of families, new residents, and tourists who are coming in greater and greater numbers.
Meanwhile, to do this along Callowhill Street, Pennsylvania Avenue and Spring Garden, we need to heal those awkward intersections, crossings, and barren streetscapes that make walking around an unpleasant to mediocre experience. We need public realm improvements that accommodate all of those modes of transportation, replace concrete with greenery and benches, and get some harmony and pleasantness going. In other words, we need some Complete Street-ification.
To capture all the magnificent development potential and the public realm improvements suitable for a growing community, we have a series of strategies.
1) Encourage moderate scales that reinforce street walls and create urban enclosures for pedestrians.
How many more high-rise towers do we need near the Parkway? The rising Granary apartments show us that in this area, the market is happy to support perimeter blocks (the DC or Paris-esque scale exemplified by the Granary) of 6-9 stories. And let’s face it; with the large expanse of the BF Parkway directly south, all you need to have fabulous views is get a story or two above the treeline! Additionally, perimeter blocks restore street walls, put shops along Callowhill Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, provide a welcoming edge and human scale for pedestrians. No more long misty-eyed walks alongside parking lots and dusty parcels with Philly’s unique detritus! Stroll along storefronts! Wave to people at cafes!
2) Use a Cultural Corridor Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to define the public realm with transit nodes that complement new development.
The BRT is coming! The BRT is coming! The BRT is coming! Or, OK, we do not yet know for certain what will happen in the old City Branch rail trench, BUT a BRT route IS POSSIBLE here. This could link the assets of the Parkway to Center City, the Delaware Waterfront and the Centennial district with efficient, easily identifiable and speedy travel. As a bonus in this neighborhood, we would get to have direct connections to the the Inquirer building, Community College, the Rodin Museum, the Art Museum, and the neighborhoods full of commuters to their immediate north. All of these potential stations present opportunities to integrate new development and open spaces, with parklets, plazas, and more. These improvements would not only help define the character of the neighborhood but would also offer up a very different experience for visiting Philadelphia’s “Museum Mile”.
3) Reintroduce streets and modify intersections for a safer, and more cohesive Public Realm that addresses the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, ala Complete Streets.
We recommend reconnecting streets to clean up intersections and re-establish access in places such as 18th and Callowhill and at Hamilton Street between 17th and 18th. In other places such as at 22nd and Pennsylvania, Spring Garden and Pennsylvania, or at 15th and Callowhill Streets, we recommend that these become priority intersections that can be studied in more depth. We can reduce or remove travel lanes and/or adjust curbs to better integrate buses, cars, pedestrians, and cyclists, giving all of them safe and expedient ways to either cross or move on through.
These are some of the highlights of our recommendations for the West Callowhill Focus Area. Don’t be shy. Let us know your thoughts about these recommendations. And look for more information on other recommendations next week.