An image from the University of Pennsylvania’s Civic Design Review submission for a new college house at 3300 Chestnut. Image courtesy of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
After some light agendas in the beginning of 2013, March finds us with a jam-packed Civic Design Review schedule. West Philadelphia owns the agenda, with four university-related agenda items.
As a reminder, CDR is a new advisory process mandated by the zoning code. How is something both mandatory and advisory? Well, the review of projects that hit certain triggers is a mandatory activity, but the output of that review does not necessitate action by the developer. What CDR does is provide a standardized and predictable format for reviewing the impacts that a project might have on the public realm. So what’s on the docket for March? Read on… READ MORE
Many of you may have noticed that the PCPC adopted a plan last week that focuses on a particular corner of the Central District. For those who haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet, here’s a bit of background on how we came to focus on this area and why.
When we talk about the Central District we usually mention the many nationally-known cultural venues, great restaurants, gleaming office towers and vibrant neighborhoods. What usually doesn’t come to mind is industry, when in fact it’s been part of Center City’s history from the start. That’s understandable since many of the industrial powerhouses, like Baldwin Locomotive Works and Packard Car Company, are long gone.
This overhead shot shows the area covered in the plan, color-coded into areas of differing personalities and conditions.
Currently 14% of all land in the Central District is zoned for industrial use; however only 6% is still used for industry – think the Federal Mint on 5th Street or the East Asia Noodle Company in Chinatown or the design/construction companies on Washington Avenue. A large concentration of the industrially zoned land can be found in the former Callowhill Industrial District. This area between Old City and Northern Liberties, stretching from 2nd Street to Broad Street, was envisioned as a 20th century industrial complex to serve Center City, with 19th century industrial buildings at the western end (Hey Eraserhood!) and the superblocks created at the eastern end in the late 1960s. While it was moderately successful as an industrial center in the early years, many other uses have now started to come into the area and the industry has been transitioning out.
To determine the future of this area our office hired URS Corporation (in conjunction with Studio Bryan Hanes, McMahon Associates and BAE Urban Economics) to create a Strategic Plan for the area, which the Planning Commission adopted at its meeting last week. Future zoning, transportation, stormwater management, and overall development were all evaluated and we have some exciting recommendations: READ MORE
Carpenter Square: one of oh-so-many developments getting into (or coming out of) the ground in 2013
Many of you know that the zoning code encourages or requires commercial uses on the ground floors of buildings in various zoning districts. As a blanket statement, mixing uses is a good thing, for reasons that we think most people reading this would be able to provide. Of course, we see with some frequency in Philadelphia those areas where there’s a zoning mismatch in either direction. The first scenario is high supply, low demand: neighborhoods with significant population decline or a loss in median income levels now have reduced spending power and cannot support as much commerce as it once could. The second is low supply, high demand: this often happens in areas where the population is growing, or new development has created a destination that draws lots of people. As an area becomes denser or more frequently frequented, we find that there’s a lack of retail options to meet consumer demand.
We bring this up because there’s been a lot of recent announcements about tenants signing leases for retail spaces in projects currently under development. In most cases, the conditions that make these projects viable in the first place (to finance and build, that is) indicate that there’s not going to be a lack of interest on the part of store and restaurant owners…though that pesky market can be hard to predict sometimes. We thought we’d do a little tour of recent and current developments, take our best guess, and ask to hear from you: what do you think will fill these spaces? What do you hope would fill them, or wish that they might have? Can you think of future developments that might change the tenant mix again? Read on, and let us know: READ MORE
In the coming weeks we will be spotlighting the Central District Plan and giving you a seek peek at the draft. The draft of the plan will be released in March for comments and then, hopefully, adopted in June. Transportation upgrades, green Infrastructure projects, improvements around Franklin Square and North Broad Street are just a sampling of the topics and geographic areas that will be highlighted. So stay tuned.
This week we will focus the attention to the area around City Hall, particularly our thoughts on how the public realm can be improved to create a better destination and user experience in Philadelphia’s Civic Center.
Why is there so much blacktop around here? Sometimes we feel like it’s a game of Frogger trying to get around our Civic Center.
The Civic Center possesses a plethora of public gathering spaces. Some are successful but in need of refurbishment such as LOVE Park and some have long been considered underperforming – we’re looking at you Reyburn Plaza/MSB Plaza/Thomas Paine Plaza or whatever you’re calling yourself these days. These spaces represent our civic center; they are places we collectively use and visit whether we are just passing through to catch a train home, queuing at LOVE Park to order lunch from the food trucks, gathering on the apron of Penn Center to view and judge the Mummers parade, or play popular board games with the giant game pieces on Reyburn Plaza. Ok, maybe not the last one – the pieces don’t move, we’ve tried.
Those game pieces are just art – we’ve tried playing with them and they just won’t budge.