This year I’ve got a wish list of ten ideas for the city. But, do wishes come true? It is heartening to look back and see that progress has been made on the several of my 8 wishes for 2012. Others, not so much. To be fair, a year in city time is really short, and some of my wishes will take years to be realized. So what was my record? Here’s the breakdown of what became a reality, what’s getting there, and what’s remains a dream:
Pedestrian space is the place: I hoped to see bold designs for the city’s new pedestrian plazas and parklets that are helping reclaim underused slivers of street as public spaces. Philadelphia now has six parklets and two more in the works, and a few pedestrian plazas coming soon too. I particularly liked Woodland Green’s creative use of natural materials, so design points there. But it was great to see the parklet boomlet extend beyond Univeristy City: Fishtown, South Street West, and Logan each have parklets now. The Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities just issued its 2013 call for parklets. (Parklet guidelines here.) Where should the next parklet be?
Bank vacant land: For a while last year it looked like Philly’s vacant land strategies were really chugging along, and then the budget and property tax reform debates kicked into high gear and that was that. My wish to see Mayor Nutter sign land banking into law last year didn’t come true. But now that the state has done its part, passing legislation that enables municipalities to establish land banks, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez intends to hold hearings on the city’s legislation early this year. I still want to see a city land bank established to facilitate a transparent, strategic approach to the disposition of vacant property (debt-free and with clear title). Maybe 2013 will be the year?
Get the Reading Viaduct: The city may not be making much progress negotiating with Reading International to gain control of the Reading Viaduct, but the reclamation and reuse of the Reading Viaduct remains a hot topic of conversation in Philly. In 2012 we saw plans by Studio Bryan Hanes and Urban Engineers to turn the short SEPTA-owned Spur into a new park. Now all that’s needed is funding to pay for construction. Still, if anything major is going to happen, the city needs to acquire the elevated portion of the viaduct from Reading International. Period.
Buy-in: Last year, I wished for buy-in. I think Philadelphians are engaging with planning and zoning issues in deeper ways. Stick with us, Philly. I’ve been impressed to see how many people continue to stand up for wonky things like zoning reform or attend district plan meetings. The district planning process and eventual zoning remapping are set to bring a lot of planning and development decision-making down to the block level, so it’s important to stay invested in these processes. These processes will shape our neighborhoods for many years to come.
Complete the Connector: The south side of the Race Street Connector opened in 2011 with much fanfare, but felt incomplete. The letters spelling CITY and RIVER remain hard to see, the benches are tilted, and the LED artwork is awkward. That said I hoped that the north side would be completed post haste, but this connector street is still half finished, and looks half-baked. Early in 2012 EOTS reported that Phase 2 of the Connector was still in design review phases, with the promise of progress late in the year. Maybe in 2013 we’ll see the north side all gussied up with some better lighting and a nice new crosswalk at the I-95 onramp?
Mobilize on I-95: Early in 2012 there was talk about rethinking the planned reconstruction of Philly’s stretch of I-95, but the conversation seems to have fizzled out. In the coming years PennDOT intends fully rebuild our very own Delaware Waterfront highway due to its “structural obsolescence.” But I’m still wondering: Why is it wise to recreate mid-20th century infrastructure to serve our city in the 21st century? The highway-rebuilding project is extraordinarily expensive, and we’re not sure where the money will come from, so it’s not too late to change the course of this planning discussion. But PennDOT would have to have a serious change of engineering heart to go for it. The window of opportunity is closing. Who’s up for the challenge?
Survey history: Philly preservation is in rough shape. There still has been no effort to revive comprehensive or strategic survey work for the city’s myriad unprotected historic resources. Without a more complete survey of heritage resources there is no chance that the city can set rational historic preservation priorities. My wish last year was to start surveying the city again so that the Commission can set rational preservation priorities. Too often we’re caught in the position of not knowing what we have until its on the chopping block. Can PennDesign carry the survey torch if no one else can?
Seriously, Un-litter Us: Oy. The city’s trash problems – from illegal dumping to litter – aren’t getting any better. Bike baskets, storm drains, and vacant lots aren’t the appropriate places to put refuse, y’all. And part of the reason I think we don’t see enough trashcans around the city is because people fear the inappropriate dumping that can come with sidewalk cans. Between the lack of places to put litter and bad behavior, Philly remains stuck singing the litterbug blues.
Ashley Hahn is an independent writer with a background in historic preservation and city planning. She started Eyes on the Street for PlanPhilly in 2011 and was PlanPhilly's managing editor from 2015-2017. Ashley has lived in 12 zip codes that she can think of, including neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She is a Philadelphian by choice.