Where are we, Houston?! Surface lots, highways everywhere, low-slung buildings. When you look at it from up here, you can appreciate how critical recent programming has been to making this park a place again. Now to tackle the surrounding areas…
Today we cover another Focus Area of the draft Central District Plan: Franklin Square.
First, let’s all get on the same page with a very abbreviated timeline of our beloved Square:
17th Century: Cattle grazed, farmers abound(ed)
18th Century: Soldiers trained (what with the revolution and all)
19th Century: Residents relaxed (rowhouses existed on walkable streets adjacent to the Northeast Square of Penn’s original plan)
20th Century: Urban isolation, piece by piece: First we tore out a chunk on the east side in building the Ben Franklin Bridge in 1926. Ok, fine. Then in 1963, we built our new Police HQ on the south side, walling off points south from the square. I mean, interesting building, but it didn’t have to go there. Then in 1972, we took on the tremendous Commuter Tunnel project that gave us Market East Station and a new underground approach into it from North Philadelphia, thereby undermining the western blocks (we mean that structurally: the commuter tunnel limits construction options on top). Then in the 1980s, we demolished the north side blocks for the Vine Street Expressway. The good news? We were really thorough! We did not miss a cardinal direction in our endless pursuit of making this space totally inaccessible and unattractive. The better news? We got over it in the early 21st century with a brilliant reanimation of the space. Merry go-rounds and mini golf, children everywhere. This brings us to NOW: time to reconnect.
Ridge Avenue and Mt. Vernon Street…of the FUTURE.
The Broad Street and Ridge Avenue focus area is situated halfway between Temple University and the densest core of Center City – that’s good company. It’s on the periphery of established neighborhoods and neighborhoods that are experiencing significant growth and redevelopment. It’s a three minute ride to City Hall on the Broad Street Subway, and there is also the Broad Ridge Subway Spur going…somewhere (Chinatown, mostly… the spur made more sense when 8th and Market was one of the busiest corners in America, and it will grow in ridership once again once we fix Market East…coming soon…we hope…)
Anyway, as measured from City Hall, the intersection of Broad, Ridge and Fairmount, the center of the focus area, is approximately one mile away. Just one mile; the same distance from City Hall to Eakins Oval, or City Hall to 30th Street Station, or from City Hall to 2nd and Market Streets in Old City. So why does the thought of this seemingly quick stroll up Broad Street seem like an insurmountable journey to a far away land? Perhaps the perceived distance can be attributed to the deteriorated physical condition one experiences along this stretch. Deteriorated sidewalks, vacant lots, curb cuts and surface parking disrupt the continuity associated with desirable urban environments.
The goal of making this location a Focus Area in the Central District Plan is to re-conceptualize this area and propose steps we can take to create a seamless transition of energy from Center City, Temple University area, and surrounding neighborhoods. Our recommendations for the focus area fall within three main headings. Here is a peek at our thoughts: READ MORE
Two things we feel we should share with you today:
1) Our boss talking planning, zoning, sustainability, and engagement with Generocity.
2) The draft of the Central District Plan is out there and ready for your eyes (and subsequent comments)!!! We will be accepting comments through May 15 on all aspects of the plan.
These two items are very much related, as many of the administration’s economic development priorities, including the awesome-ification of Market East and North Broad, are located within the Central District and are linchpins to its continued growth and success. The plan focuses on zoning re-mappings that can create value in these areas.
The Cultural Corridor Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is envisioned as a speedier (than typical bus) service operating between the Delaware River waterfront and the Mann Music Center. It will connect the civic center area including the Convention Center, the Parkway museums and attractions, and the largest landscaped urban park in the world. It is one of the “big ideas” in the Central District Plan (the full draft will be released for public comment on Tuesday, March 19th).
We know. We know. You’re thinking how can a “bus” be “rapid”? Especially if you’ve ever been on a bus in Center City!?
Is it a bus? A train? A caterpillar? Source: www.montgomeryplanning.org
Well, think of some things that make transportation “rapid”: dedicated travel lane, as in a separate tunnel for subways, or an elevated structure for an El; actual stations with platforms spaced more than a few blocks apart; potential to pay your fare prior to boarding (such as turnstiles); frequent service (every 15 minutes or better); and branding (such as use of orange for Broad Street Subway and green for trolley lines, etc.).
Now, keep all those things in mind, but imagine a bus service employing those strategies rather than a vehicle on rails. So? You ask how is that better – or even possible – on narrow Central District streets? It won’t be easy, but many of the characteristics of BRT can be incorporated into a new transit line.
Vacant Building at 11th and Chestnut
Have you ever walked down the 1000 block of Chestnut and lamented that some of the beautiful buildings are just languishing behind
plywood? Or attended First Friday in Old City and can’t believe that so many buildings remain shuttered when others have been rehabbed into apartments and galleries? One of our ideas in the Central District plan hopes to tackle that issue: The No Use to New Use Task Force.
The No Use to New Use Task Force concept developed as a part of the planning process for the Central District. During the planning process, the Planning Commission staff set up various stakeholder and public meetings to hear comments and ideas. One of the most common issues we heard is that there is little connection between Independence Mall and City Hall. Tourists leave the National Historic Park and find themselves on run down commercial corridors that don’t have the same vitality of other areas of Center City.
East Chestnut Street is one of main connector streets and it suffers from chronic vacancy, poor retail choices and few incentives for anyone to explore these streets, especially at night. Although there are a few bright spots (such as the 700 block that has improved greatly over the past few years), these blocks need help. The biggest piece of the puzzle is the vacancy, not just of some of the storefronts, but also most of the upper floors in the buildings are vacant. Other sections of the Central District suffer from vacancy on corridors that have seen redevelopment, such as 2nd & 3rd Streets in Old City and the eastern section of South Street.