When it comes to urban planning, Philadelphia has a history of thinking big. The home of William and Hannah Callowhill Penn’s 17th-century city layout, the Champs-Élysées-inspired Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Edward Bacon’s modern-meets-colonial reimagining of Society Hill — today’s Philly both needs and deserves big thinking in order to rise and thrive.
That’s why The Citizen, in partnership with Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation and Fitler Club, hosted “Philadelphia Thinks Big” on Tuesday, April 26 at Fitler Club, as part of our Development … for Good speaker series.
About 90 attendees joined a panel to learn about and discuss three big projects: Philadelphia’s Navy Yard, with Gregory Reaves of Mosaic Development Partners, the capping of I-95 at Penn’s Landing, with PennPraxis’ Julie Donofrio, and, a century after its creation, the Ben Franklin Parkway, with Diana Lind, of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.
Moderating the panel: Martha Cross of the City’s Department of Planning and Development, and, standing in for Harris Steinberg of the Lindy Institute, David Brownlee, architectural historian and professor emeritus at Penn.
The event’s overall message: Redeveloping civic spaces that all Philadelphians will enjoy requires redeveloping our approach to public spaces. The central question, said Donofrio, should be, “How are we able to accommodate all the people in our city and make everybody feel welcome?”
Lind said the first step is to “Find ways to widen the circle beyond The Philadelphia Citizen, to reach a wider group of people who see themselves in this space, who see themselves as part of the transformation of this city.”
Still, Lind knows not everyone will be immediately comfortable with every plan. “We are going to have to make some tough choices here. The Parkway was created to ennoble Philadelphians, to lift us up with its beautiful architecture and grandeur. But when you’re on the Parkway, it’s cut through by traffic. There’s a decent homeless population … If we are going to transform the Parkway, we have to recognize that … it needs to be jolted. It needs to be rethought.”
Mosaic, Reaves’ development firm, serves traditionally under-resourced neighborhoods such as Fairhill, Strawberry Mansion, Brewerytown, Southwest Philly, South Philly, West Philly and Frankford. He said, “We go there because people who look like us need us to be there … Most developers don’t think of BIPOC communities when they’re building developments.”
He said the Navy Yard will test Mosaic’s approach on a much larger scale, by “considering everyone intentionally in an inclusive way.” He added, “Philadelphia cannot be a great city with a 25-percent poverty rate.”
The panel also discussed the impact of climate change, public transit and city leadership on their projects.
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