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"More Park, Less Way" says action plan for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Over the last 15 years, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway undergone dramatic changes. New museums, bike lanes, trees and pop-up cafes have all been added to the iconic Philly boulevard. 

On February 4, the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation will unveil their latest plan for the Parkway: "More Park, Less Way: An Action Plan to Increase Urban Vibrancy on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway." 
Since last Spring, Parks and Recreation -- in conjunction with Penn Praxis and the Penn Project for Civic Engagement -- has been working with the community to develop guiding principles for low cost, big impact improvement projects that can be implemented in the short-term. Four community meetings were held in late July.

According to Patrick Morgan, chief of staff to Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mike DiBerardinis, that information was incredibly influential in devising the final plan. "The planning process was guided and informed by citizens," he says. "We heard a lot of exciting ideas." Those ideas included adding more pedestrian amenities, improving connections to surrounding neighborhoods, greening improvements and increasing accessibility.

More details will be announced at the plan’s unveiling, which will be held at the Academy of Natural Sciences (1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway) at 5:30 p.m.
If you’d like to attend the event, please RSVP to [email protected].

Source: Patrick Morgan, chief of staff to Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mike DiBerardinis
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Design and Conquer: Benjamin’s Desk taps YAF for expansion ideas

Benjamin’s Desk, one of Philly’s premier coworking spaces, is expanding their Center City digs. This past weekend, in lieu of simply hiring a consultant to do the work, they tapped local talent from the Young Architects Forum (YAF) to generate ideas for the new space.
"It’s important for us to involve not only our current members, but also the local community to collaborate on our plans for expansion," explains Benjamin’s Desk co-founder Michael Maher in a press release.
When Benjamin’s Desk approached YAF—a program from the American Institute of Architects—to lead a design charrette for the new space, the organization jumped at the chance. "We saw it as a great chance for YAF designers to solve a real world problem and actually pitch their ideas to a client," explains YAF's Jeffrey Pastva. "Most don’t have opportunities like this anymore." 
"The event was very successful," says Pastva. "There were a number of very high level solutions given the time constraint." Pastva believes turnout is what made the event so productive—participants from various design fields, including architects, industrial designers, interior designers and students, all participated in the charrette.
"The designers were divided into teams of three, each with folks from various backgrounds," explains Pastva, adding that each team was then given two hours and a number of resources to complete their task. In short: How can Benjamin’s Desk best expand into the eighth floor of the Allman Building at 1701 Walnut Street?
Pastva says the solutions were diverse, thoughtful and practical. "There was something about each solution that was better than the others," he adds.
"Best Of" awards were offered, including Best Overall Presentation, Most Resolved/Practical and Most Innovative. Accorinding to Pastva, Benjamin’s Desk was excited about the ideas generated and may consult teams about certain concepts in the future.
Moving forward, Pastva hopes YAF can use this event as a springboard for other charrettes and networking opportunities. "Designers want real world problems to solve," he says. "Marrying that with networking opportunities for young designers is important to YAF. That’s the idea here."

Source: Jeffrey Pastva, Young Architects Forum
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Update: The "New Vision for South Broad Street" field narrows

As Flying Kite detailed back in late November, Avenue of the Arts, Inc. (AAI) partnered with the Pennsylvania Horicultural Society (PHS) to launch the "New Vision for South Broad Street" competition. The participants' mission was to continue the thoroughfare's original purpose as an arts and entertainment district but with a modern take. Ten architectural and landscape firms submitted ideas, and four were chosen as finalists. Now the list has been narrowed once again. From PlanPhilly:

A judging panel, overseen by Avenue of the Arts, Inc. (AAI) Chairman Dianne Semingson, has chosen Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects, Inc., to participate in Phase II of the “New Vision for South Broad Street” Request for Proposal (RFP) project. The two teams, selected from four finalists (the other two were LRSLA Studio and Cairone & Kaupp, Inc.) are charged with pushing forward a program to reinvigorate South Broad Street from City Hall to Washington Avenue.

The two firms will present refined proposals in early 2013 and one winner will be selected.

NET Impact: Innovative public art comes to the Delaware waterfront

As part of the ongoing effort to re-imagine the Delaware River waterfront as a regional destination, the City of Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy is bringing a large-scale, interactive art installation to the Race Street Pier.  Thanks to a grant from the national creative placemaking accelerator ArtPlace, the installation—tentatively dubbed NET—is set to open to the public next summer.

"The idea is a series of interconnected nets that people can literally climb into and experience the waterfront from a suspended location," explains Margot Berg, Public Art Director for the City of Philadelphia. "It’s kind of like a public hammock space."

The city is working with Numen/For Use, a Croatian-Austrian design collective, to create the art piece at the Pier. "Our office was familiar with their work and thought it would be appealing to work with them,” explains Berg. "They’ve never done an installation piece outside or in the United States and were looking for such an opportunity. So they were on board with the idea."

A big part of the project's appeal was its location on the Race Street Pier and the waterfront in general. "The waterfront is a place where a lot of planning attention is being funneled—where the City is trying to connect people to the place,” says Berg.  "NET will serve as a way for people to experience the waterfront in a new way and make them want to come back over and over." 

Berg is hopeful that NET, in conjunction with the new headquarters of the Live Arts/Philly Fringe across the street and the nearby “Race Street Connector” public art piece, will create a ripple effect of investment along the waterfront. "The idea is to capitalize on the momentum in the area and show how art and culture can do that," she adds. 

Berg and the artists, in conjunction with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, are still finalizing details and ironing out the assembly logistics for the massive installation (a 30-square-foot cube). The team plans for a June 2013 unveiling and a three month-long exhibition.    

Source: Margot Berg, Public Art Director for the City of Philadelphia
WriterGreg Meckstroth   

Happy Trails: Major improvements approved for the Delaware River Trail

The City Planning Commission recently approved the Penn Street section of the Central Delaware River Trail. Paired with current improvements being made to the Washington Green section of the trail, this represents a major step towards implementing new design standards for the multipurpose trail. 
The Washington Green trail, built in 2010, was laid with basic asphalt and meant to be temporary. Now folks with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation are taking the next steps to make it permanent. "The route is being straightened to bring it closer to the river," explains Karen Thompson of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation. "We’re cleaning up the area and removing invasive species to make the trail more user-friendly."
Thompson says these improvements are incremental and will bring that portion of the trail more in line with the new Delaware River Waterfront Corporation design standards for the entire trail.   
Those final design guidelines will be showcased in the Penn Street portion of the trail. "We’re taking all the recommendations from the Waterfront Master Plan and building it here," says Thompson. "To that effect, sustainable design elements include trail-side rain gardens and solar street lights."
The Penn Street trail will connect the future Spring Garden Street greenway to the Central Delaware, where it will run along Delaware Avenue, connect to Penn Street and run though the Sugarhouse Casino parking lot. The Casino has agreed to build the section of the trail through its parking lot, connecting it to an existing trail on the property. 
The Commission’s approval was a big milestone for the project because it has allowed the Waterfront Corporation to move forward with implementation. "The project will go out for construction bid in the next few months," says Thompson. "We hope to start construction at the beginning of 2013 and have it finished by Memorial Day." 

Source: Karen Thompson, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation
WriterGreg Meckstroth

All Aboard: BRT Coming to City Branch

Borne out of the ongoing Central District Plan, the Planning Commission has decided to pursue BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) for City Branch in Logan Square, an old submerged railbed that has been underutilized for years.

While not a new idea on the world stage, this would be Philly’s first foray into BRT. A mode of transit not unlike light rail (but without the rail part), BRT utilizes special buses in dedicated lanes to move people around. In true Philly fashion, the proposed BRT is getting its own spin: the Commission is billing it as a "Cultural BRT," connecting some of the city’s most important arts and civic institutions along its route. 

According to Laura Spina of the City Planning Commission, the current proposal would run buses from the Please Touch
Museum and Mann Music Center, eventually connecting to Girard Avenue where it would cross the Schuylkill and connect to the submerged City Branch cut at 30th and Poplar Streets. Eventually the line would reemerge and run along Race and Arch Streets to link up with the future transit lines along Columbus Boulevard (proposed in the adopted Waterfront Master Plan).

But before any of this happens, a lot of public education needs to take place. “This isn’t your typical SEPTA bus,” says Spina,  pointing to BRT examples in Los Angeles and Cleveland as prototypes for Philly’s new line. “It will run on a much higher frequency in dedicated lanes with enhanced stations.” 

Spina also argues that City Branch is the perfect place for implementing BRT: “It is already a dedicated right-of-way that is separate from the grid, so this cuts down on implementation costs, making it one third the cost of building light rail at a similar scope.”

City planners expect the Cultural BRT to cost about $75 million in total, but it isn’t the price tag that has some groups riled up over the Commission’s plan. “There are two groups of people who are upset over the BRT proposal,” explains Spina, “those that want to use City Branch for light rail and those that want to turn it into a park.” 

ViaductGreene is the most organized group advocating to turn the submerged City Branch landscape into open space that would connect to the long-awaited Reading Viaduct park, but they would have to convince SEPTA, the current landowner, to turn it over for such a purpose. As of now, SEPTA seems to be on the side of BRT. “SEPTA is very much in support of BRT here,” says Spina. “They want to find the best way to utilize City Branch and they want to grow their system.  For them, it’s a win-win.” 

Spina says a lot of the details still need to be hammered out through the Central District Plan, but expects Philadelphia to welcome BRT sooner rather than later. “A big part of the bus line is right there and ready to use," she explains. "Once we finalize the route and gain community support, we want to get BRT up and running to improve transportation choices in Fairmount, while connecting some of the best cultural institutions Philly has.” 

Source: Laura Spina, City Planning Commission
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Broad Street Makeover: An urban design competition yields innovative ideas

It's been almost 20 years since the Avenue of the Arts, Inc. (AAI) was founded to oversee the growth and development of Broad Street from Washington Avenue to Glenwood Avenue. As successful as the organization has been in creating a dining and entertainment destination centered on performing arts, there’s been a growing consensus that the area's image needs an update. 

To do this, AAI has partnered with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) to launch a "New Vision for South Broad Street" competition. The goal is to continue the thoroughfare's original purpose as an arts and entertainment district but with a modern take. Ten architectural and landscape firms submitted ideas, and four were chosen as finalists. Those firms showcased their ideas last week at the Bellevue.    

The final teams—Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Cairone & Kaupp, Inc., Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects, Inc. and LRSLA Studio—were tasked with developing contemporary, implementable plans for improving the Avenue’s streetscape.  They were asked to specifically consider innovative uses of light, sound, transportation, navigation, ecology, and economic and residential development. While the goals were the same, the firms’ ideas weren't.

For Jonathan Alderson, founder of Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects, putting forth an implementable vision was the crux of his firm’s plan. "We wanted to put forth ideas that can happen soon—that are actually do-able," says Alderson, whose vision features the low cost installation of moveable, locally manufactured planters, pop-up performance squares, LED lanterns, bike lanes and mobile light displays. 

For Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, thinking big was the priority. "We saw this competition as a chance to put forth a plan to unite all neighborhoods along Broad Street, from the Navy Yard to Cheltenham Avenue," explained L.B. Young, an associate with Bohlin. "For this reason, our proposal features a number of small and big moves that together create a cohesive identity, so that no matter what part of Broad Street you’re on, you know you’re on Broad Street." Bohlin’s ideas ranged from creating open spaces and rethinking the Avenue’s branding to installing light wells that connect to the underground subway and tying in side streets with lighting and pedestrian connections. 

There were a number of ideas that all four teams seemed to agree on—chief among them activating the Avenue with art.  "It’s called the 'Avenue of the Arts' yet all the art is inside," said Ashley DiCaro of the Cairone & Kaupp, Inc. team. To mitigate this issue, DiCaro’s team (along with the other three) presented plans for turning the buildings inside out, bringing the art to the street. Pop-up performance spaces, large art installations and outdoor concerts were common features in each team’s vision. 

With the public’s interest now piqued, the four teams will officially present their visions this Wednesday, November 14 to a panel of judges and AAI representatives.  A winner will be announced six days later, and by the start of 2014, AAI hopes to begin implementing the winning design. 

Source: Jonathan Alderson, founder of Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects; L.B. Young, associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson; Ashley DiCaro, Interface Studio
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Gay-friendly affordable housing set to break ground in Center City

When it comes to Gay Philadelphia, there’s a lot to be proud of.  After all, the city features one of the country’s most recognizable, tightly knit ‘Gayborhoods’ in Center City, acting as the focal point of GLBT civic life for the region.  Building off this identity, City, State and gay leaders will later this week officially break ground on the William Way residences, a one of a kind, $20 million gay-friendly senior affordable housing project on 13th Street, smack dab in the middle of the Gayborhood.        

“There is only one other type of facility like this in the nation. That’s in L.A.,” explains Mark Segal, who is the publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News and has spearheaded the project thus far.  He says that what makes the William Way residences so unique because of how it has been funded.  “It’s the first effort to use traditional ways to finance and build an affordable GLBT-friendly housing project.” 

By 'traditional,' Segel means 'public' - the project is being financed with a multitude of city, state and federal funds.  One of the funding sources, the Dr. Manus Hirschfeld Fund, is a GLBT advocacy group that was formed in 2004 to support the gay community.  They received an $11 million grant from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency earlier this year.  This money, combined with $8 million in already allocated government grants, allowed the project to move forward to where it is today.    
The new 6-story structure will feature 56 one-bedroom units, a 5,000-square-foot enclosed courtyard, and multipurpose spaces that residents and the community can use. Plans also include roughly 2,000 square feet of retail space that will front 13th Street. 

Living in the residences will be geared towards seniors in the gay community so they have a place to comfortably live without possible stresses of being discriminated against in other public housing.  Even though affordable housing laws dictate that eligibility to live in public housing based on sexual preference is illegal, the building is able to market itself as ‘gay friendly’ to draw special interest from GLBT seniors.  But the facility will be open to anyone that is at least 62 years old and earns less than 60 percent of the Philadelphia median income. 

Due to Hurricane Sandy pushing construction timetables back (the original groundbreaking was set for Oct. 29th), the official groundbreaking is now set for later this week on Friday, Nov. 9 at 11 a.m. at 249 S. 13th Street.  Mayor Nutter will be in attendance and will unveil the official name of the new building.  He will be joined by former Governor Ed Rendell, numerous city and state officials as well as a number of high profile GLBT civil rights pioneers.  Segal believes the project will take up to 15 months to complete and should be ready for occupation in early 2014.        

Source: Mark Segal, Philadelphia Gay News 
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Fast Forward Philly is almost seven minutes in heaven

As part of the annual DesignPhiladelphia festival last Wednesday at the Center for Architecture, 11 presenters from different creative backgrounds fast forwarded through 20 slides at 20 seconds each (that’s a quick 6 minutes, 40 seconds) to answer a question that is typically reserved for the long-winded among us: What’s next for Philly? 
This is what the first annual Fast Forward Philly was all about; presenters were asked to talk, quickly, about their big ideas for the future of the City. And they were asked to do it fast in an effort to keep interest high and energy levels higher. 
Ideas were incredibly diverse; anything from ‘Silicon Philly! City of Innovation & Opportunity’ to ‘Making a Gardenpark in the City’ and ‘Promoting a "Maker" Economy’ were discussed.  But according to event organizers Kathy Lent and Erike De Veyra, enthusiasm was equally shared.  “We never had fewer than a hundred in the audience throughout the evening, and they all seemed quite engaged,” says De Veyra.  “We noticed that attendees sought out the presenters during intermissions and stayed long past the end of the official event to continue their conversations.”
“It was definitely successful.” exclaims Lent. “Despite the untested format and considering the number of other great DesignPhiladelphia events going on that night, the room was full the entire time.”   
The organizers received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both audience members and presenters.

“More than anything, they wanted to know how to find out more about the ideas brought up,” says DeVeyra.   

Michael Burlando and Alex Feldman's presentation on "Philadelphia Summer Olympics 2024" was particularly popular among attendees.

"By first looking backward at the history of greatness in Philly and then projecting forward to point out strategic locations for the integration of Olympic facilities into the city's existing fabric, the sheer novelty of the idea was a perfect fit for the event theme," explains Lent. 
Halee Bouchehrain's "B.Y.O.B.: Build Your Own Building" was another stand-out, providing a glimpse of cost-efficient residential construction.
"Halee presented an alternative approach to the standard developer model which produces over-hyped cookie-cutter apartment units," says Lent. "She introduced the audience to an idea already in practice in Europe, where individual units span the depth of a floor, allowing for multiple window exposures, and interlock with adjacent units above, below, and to the sides, creating more interesting spaces that better meet the needs of the residents than a single-story box."

Ultimately, initiating the conversation on big ideas like these was the goal of Fast Forward.  “We hoped to inspire audience members to learn, connect, and maybe make some of these ideas actually happen,” says Lent. 
Earlier in the year, Lent and De Veyra, both of whom are architects in training, came to the conclusion that there were far too many big ideas going unnoticed in Philadelphia.  “There is a hub of creatives in this city with different perspectives and experiences,” explains De Veyra, “and it would be fantastic if they talked more to each other.”  And so, to facilitate the conversation, Fast Forward was born. 
Erike and Kathy both anticipate that, since Fast Forward was so popular, it will turn into an annual event.  Next time, expect an even greater set of multidisciplinary presenters and ideas.  “By the end of the event, it was clear that nearly every presenter was either an architect or trained in architecture,” remarks Lent, who says that was an unintended consequence.  For next year, she says their goal is to “attract many diverse perspectives on ‘What’s Next for Philly?’”
By appealing to a wider cross-section of forward-thinking Philadelphians, De Veyra and Lent believe this will help differentiate Fast Forward as a forum for up-and-coming doers and thinkers to pitch their vision for the future of the city.  “The world is always changing and needs new, fresh ideas,” says De Veyra. “This is one place we hope to continue sharing that energy and enthusiasm.”    

Source: Kathy Lent and Erike De Veyra, Fast Forward Philly organizers
WriterGreg Meckstroth

With groundbreaking of Paine's Park, Philly positioned to again capture skateboarders' attention

The wait is over.

Paine's Park
, the $4.5 million, 2.5 acre mixed-use skatepark/plaza along the Parkway, officially broke ground last week. This park has long been heralded for its grass roots collaboration with high levels of government; its unique, sustainable design meant to accommodate both pedestrians and skaters; and because it is considered to be the first open space in the country designed specifically with skateboarders in mind.  But with high profile attention already coming to the Park, (the Tony Hawk Foundation recently donated $25,000 for construction purposes), organizers are setting goals high for its future.
“We want to bring national and international events to Paine's Park,” says Claire Laver with the nonprofit Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund. “Thanks to Philly’s well organized skateboarding community in conjunction with the well-oiled Philadelphia Sports Congress, we have a lot going for us to achieve our goals.”
To this end, Laver says the park is built for large events – one of the main features of the new space is an amphitheater that seats 300 people and can accomodate up to 3,000 with portable bleachers. She says the permanence of these features is what will draw international and national event organizers.  “We can cut out a lot of the red tape that national organizers face when putting their events together.”   
Laver and others have their eyes set on large events like the X Games, which came to Philly in 2001 and 2002 but has not come back since.  But she also expects the Park will be perfect for smaller venues. 
“The first annual ‘Philly Cup Skateboard Series’ was held at various sites across the City," says Laver. "In the future, we expect Paine's Park will be utilized for this event as well as other amateur and local events put together by the large skating community here in Philly.”     
While no events have officially signed on to utilize the new space, Laver expects big announcements like these will come with time, especially once the Park opens and people clearly see its design and associated possibilities.    
The Park will undergo two phases of construction, taking a typical break during cold winter months.  It will be completed by May, 2013.

Source: Claire Laver, Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Access to the Schuylkill Banks is about to get a lot easier, safer

Come October 20, accessing the Schuylkill Banks from Fitler Square will be a lot easier thanks to the official opening of the Schuylkill River Parks Connector Bridge that now spans the railroad that currently separates the neighborhood from the waterfront. 
Say goodbye to the at-grade crossing or the moments of disappointment from running or biking down to the current Locust Street park entrance only to get brutally rebuffed and blocked by a train passing by.        
Say hello to a brand new prefabricated bridge which spans 95 feet over the CSX railroad line, and features a 12-foot-wide pathway and ADA accessibility on both approaches.  So it shouldn’t be too tight a squeeze for a multitude of users to be on there at once.    
Another bonus of the bridge is that it will provide a direct link from the Schuylkill Banks to the Schuylkill River Park.  In fact, the opening of the bridge is coinciding with that park's annual Fall Festival
This year’s festival will have a lot to celebrate.  The River Park has been under construction in conjunction with the bridge, but is now completely restored.  New features include new park paving, benches, trash receptacles, an improved dog run, new lighting, an irrigation system, new trees and shrubs and revitalized turf.
The bridge is one piece of a very large puzzle to connect the Schuylkill Banks to the Grays Ferry Crescent Trail Park and beyond along the Schuylkill River Trail.  As part of this plan, a half-mile boardwalk, which is currently under construction, will directly connect to the bridge’s approach and extend down to the South Street bridge.
If you’re in the neighborhood and interested in seeing the bridge's official commemoration, the ceremony takes place at 1 p.m. this Saturday with Mayor Michael Nutter expected to attend -- during the Fall Festival, which runs 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. The events rain date is the next day, October 21 from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. 

WriterGreg Meckstroth

Soak It Up! Philadelphia Water Department's design initiative to create next wave of green projects

The Philadelphia Water Department is once again raising the bar with their green infrastructure/sustainability initiatives, this time partnering with the US Environmental Protection Agency and Community Design Collaborative with the launch of Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up!—a design initiative to increase awareness on how green stormwater infrastructure can revitalize urban areas.

Green stormwater infrastructure has been receiving a lot of attention in Philly in recent years – it is the key strategy behind Green City, Clean Waters, the city's nationally renowned and environmentally sustainable plan to improve the region’s waterways.

“As we evolve Philadelphia into America's most sustainable and green city, the opportunities ahead will be limited only by the confines of our imaginations and the extent of our determination,” says Howard Neukrug, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department.

Seeing Philly as an early adopter of green stormwater infrastructure programs on large scales, the EPA decided to partner with the Water Department on Soak It Up! to encourage and assist the City in their ongoing efforts to improve water quality and sustainability.    

Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! is an offshoot of Infill Philadelphia, a program created by the Community Design Collaborative to help urban areas re-envision their neighborhoods and address specific concerns unique to urban places.   

Soak It Up! feeds off that program, and will host exhibitions, talks, design charrettes and a national competition to explore the vast potential of green infrastructure tools—rain gardens, green roofs, rain barrels and more—and figure out how they can enhance Philly's built, economic and social environment.

Currently, an exhibition of over 40 projects from Philadelphia and other cities including Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh is on display through Oct. 19 at the Philadelphia Center for Architecture, at 1218 Arch Street.  The exhibition provides a sampling of smart, innovative green stormwater project ideas, ranging from simple and small to visionary and large.  The exhibition is open to the public from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon – 5 p.m. on Sundays.   

The exhibition and the other programs currently ongoing are cumulatively aiming to bring together city leaders, designers and community stakeholders and give them the platform to discuss how they can put green infrastructure best practices to work locally.  

“In our work, we’ve already seen how designing with green stormwater infrastructure can transform a park, a block, or even an entire neighborhood,” says Beth Miller, executive director of the Community Design Collaborative. “Infill Philadelphia: Soak it Up! will help produce greater awareness, advocacy, and collaboration around green tools—and the next wave of green projects in the city.”

Source: Howard Neukrug, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department; Beth Miller, executive director of the Community Design Collaborative
WriterGreg Meckstroth

New pedestrian scale lighting adds vitality, safety to Chinatown, Old City, Washington Square West

Ever walk a city block in Philly at night and wonder what gives that piece of street a sense of place? All too often, it’s the details that deliver; small fixtures or amenities in the urban realm that cater to the pedestrian user. Over the years, the Center City District has understood the importance of high quality pedestrian features on city blocks, something that hasn’t escaped their priority list to this day. More recently it has installed 124 pedestrian-scale light fixtures in three areas of Center City: Chinatown, Old City and Washington Square West.   
In Chinatown, ornamental pagoda lights were installed in the 900 and 1000 blocks of Arch Street plus 10th Street between Arch and Race Streets.  New lights were also added along Eighth Street between Market and Filbert Streets. 
In Old City, the CCD added pedestrian lighting to two blocks on Third Street between Market and Race Streets. And in Washington Square West, new lighting was added to the 1000 block of Spruce, and on 11th and 12th Streets, between Spruce and Pine Streets.
These recent improvements are the latest in a series of lighting installments the CCD has been implementing since 1996.  In all, $24 million has been spent and 2,179 ornamental lights have gone up, mostly around Rittenhouse, Washington and Logan Squares.  With 2/3 of all blocks finished in the district, CCD is always strategizing on where to implement the next round of lighting improvements.   “Our goal is to finish the balance of the blocks in the CCD,” explains Paul Levy, President and CEO of Center City District.
The purpose of the program has always been to “add vibrancy to the streetscape, improve safety and encourage people to visit businesses and restaurants,” says Levy.  Lighting is particularly important in fostering the ’24-hour downtown’ that Center City already is, a status Levy and others want to maintain and strengthen. 
Expect other parts of Chinatown and undeveloped areas within Center City to continue seeing pedestrian lighting improvements as development occurs.  “Since most of the remaining (unfinished) blocks are in areas where new development is still occurring, we usually partner with developers when they complete their projects,” says Levy, who says CCD's efforts to cover all blocks will be complete within five years. 

Source: Paul Levy, President and CEO of Center City District
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Which transit stops need improved bicycle parking, amenities? Decide for yourself

In the coming years, increased bicycle connections, amenities and parking will be coming to transit stops across the Greater Philadelphia Region.  If the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has its way, which stops get what will be entirely up to you, the avid cyclist or bicycle enthusiast, to help SEPTA, PATCO, and NJ Transit prioritize their finite resources.

Thanks to Open Plans, the Bicycle Coalition recently created a crowdsource map that asks the general public to recommend which transit stops across Philly need better bike facilities.

The goal is noble: encourage people to bike to transit, park their bike, and then continue onto their final commuting destination.  The method is simple: visit this map and offer your opinion on which transit stops need better bike facilities.  The feedback is critical: the more data the map receives, the more accurate the results will be and the more likely commuters will utilize the new amenities.

The crowdsource map is part of a larger, more regional effort to increase trails to transit commuting.  According to Sarah Stuart, the Policy Director with the Bicycle Coalition, the group has been talking with SEPTA for some time about improving bike facilities at transit stops.  “This has been an ongoing conversation,” says Stuart, “but the challenges have been figuring out where to implement the improvements and how to better connect people to them.” 

With these unanswered questions lingering, SEPTA began collaborating with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) to conduct a ‘Trails to Transit’ study.  Stuart says once this partnership was forged, the Coalition put the two groups in contact with Open Plans, a group she was familiar with through their successful bike share crowdsource maps. 

“I was familiar with Open Plans’ crowdsourcing efforts around bike sharing locations in Philly and New York and thought a similar effort could be conducted for the ‘Trails to Transit’ study.”

Stuart says DVPRC was on board with the idea, but asked that PATCO and NJ Transit be included in the effort.  Stuart agreed, Open Plans signed on, and the map was born.  Collaboration at its finest. 

From here, Stuart says the DVRPC will gather the map’s data, analyze it, and add it to a number of contributing factors to determine which transit stops receive bicycle parking and where trails/bike lane gaps can be filled.  This will then inform the three transit agencies about how to allocate their resources in implementing transit stop amenities. 

Stuart also sees broader implications for the Coalition as well.  “Through all of this data, something we will also have access to, the Coalition will gain a better understanding on how to better advocate for improved bicycle infrastructure for quite some time.” 

The map will be up until Dec. 1, 2012 so be sure to visit the map and advocate for better bicycle infrastructure where you see fit.

Source: Sarah Stuart, Policy Director, Bicycle Coalition
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Dramatic overhaul of Commerce Square plaza means another Center City public space with potential

If you want to talk about common problems in American cities, the conversation can go lots of places. One oft overlooked topic is that of urban design and the important role it plays in city functions. Specifically, the ambiguity of plazas and spaces used by the public but created and operated by private entities often irks the most astute urban designers and landscape architects. These exist all over the American city landscape, usually built as a tradeoff between a municipality and a developer in which the city allows the developer to increase their building height or massing in exchange for some public space. Traditionally, it's been a 'give a little, take a little' mechanism used by cities to encourage a healthy public realm in the parts of town typically surrounded by canyons of inhumanely tall buildings.     

But due to poor designs and a lack of oversight, many of these 'public' spaces have become ambiguous in nature, unclear as to who can use them and when.  Outside of the 9-5 work crowd, many of these spaces are left vacant, underutilized and unsafe.  Goodbye healthy public realm; hello faster paces from 'A' to 'B', nefarious characters and shifty eyes.     

Thankfully, as is the case in cities across the country, with more and more residents living downtown, there is an increased pressure to utilize these spaces in clearer, more definitive ways for the public good. 

In Philadelphia, Thomas Properties Group, Inc. gets this, recently finishing a complete overhaul of their ambiguous plaza at Commerce Courtyard along the north side of the 2000 block of Market Street in Center City. 

Officially open now, the one acre courtyard is noticeably different and more inviting than its previous design.  According to Joseph McManus, Senior Vice President of Leasing with Thomas Realty Partners, the goal of the new and improved plaza is simple: make Commerce Square even more competitive in the office market, yes, but also erase the space's ambiguity and create a great public space for tenants and area residents to enjoy. 

McManus says a lot of the renovation's funding went towards improvements you can't see: infrastructural upgrades such as waterproofing the 575-space parking structure below the plaza and retooling the central fountain. Therefore, the space's more prominent improvements, notably the improved seating options, umbrellas, landscaping and a 25-foot by 25-foot, programmed media wall, are what make the space look and feel more public.

Connecting the space to Market Street was seen as a must to McManus and his team in order to draw people in from the street, frequent the bars and restaurants lining the plaza's edge and create that sense of place people look for in a public space. To that end, two 47-foot pylons now stand at the plaza's intersection with the Market Street sidewalk, creating a gateway to the Courtyard.  Also added are Market Street sidewalk café seating outside the eateries. 

McManus explains that they are currently working with the restaurants to stay open later and have attracted the Chicago-based restaurant Townhouse Kitchen & Bar to occupy the courtyard's northwest retail space.  Also coming soon are potential programmed events and utilization of the media screen for special events.

But McManus and his team are hoping the space can become known for what makes public spaces truly public: informal activities that encourage people to make the space their own.  Ultimately, this will be the true test of Commerce Square's Courtyard success and allow it to earn a more distinguished place in Philly's Center City public space hierarchy.     

Source: Joseph McManus, Senior Vice President - Leasing, Thomas Realty Partners LLC
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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