The conference room of the Center for Architecture, the scene of so many meetings on the future of Philadelphia, can expand depending on the occasion. Last night, for the City Planning Commission’s update and celebration of the city’s master plan, Philadelphia2035, now in its third year of execution, the room was opened up–and it was filled to overflowing. Waiting just before the meeting began, I could overhear students in Penn Design’s planning program alongside public school teachers, architects, and leaders of civic non-profits engaged in spirited conversations about all that now seems possible in this city.
Mayor Michael Nutter, who spoke later, mirrored the overwhelming sentiment. “We need to stop thinking so small in the city,” he said. “We need to start thinking big. We can’t keep being afraid to let people outside the city know about all the great things going on here.”
The evening featured a panel discussion moderated by Marilyn Tayor, dean of Penn’s School of Design, among some of the city’s leading policy makers: commerce director Alan Greenberger, parks and recreation chief Michael DiBerardinis, and chief of staff of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities Andrew Stober, Chief of Staff, Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities. The speakers “biggest wins” for city: the implementation of Bike Share in Philadelphia in 2014 (Stober), the progression of the city’s Greenworks initiative to add 500 new acres of public green space to the city (DiBerardinis), and the further development of (1) the Delaware River Waterfront, (2) Market East, with the renovation of the Gallery, (3) Market West at the 2200 block, and (4) the restoration of the Divine Lorraine (Greenberger).
All that was preceded by the showing of a video the Planning Commission created in 2011 with the launch of the master plan that reveals the city’s planning focus for imagining the City of Philadelphia in the year 2035 (to see the video, click HERE). The video reviews the three central themes that govern the nine planning elements in the 2035 Citywide Vision: Thrive, Connect, and Renew. These foci, in collaboration with the city’s 18 strategic, geographically based district plans, present incremental changes in the city’s infrastructure through various phases of the 25 year plan.
While this is impressive enough, Philadelphia2035 is much larger than its framework as a plan. the American Planning Association recognized this by awarding the National Planning Excellence Award for a Best Practice to the Planning Commission just days ago for their work not only on the strategic plan, but also the zoning reform process and a citizen engagement and education process the Planning Commission calls the Citizens Planning Institute.
Officials spoke about some of the ways the plan is already being implemented. Among the highlights is the creation of an interactive property map for the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority website, the likelihood of SEPTA’s implementing a new fare system in 2014, and, as a sign of waterfront development advancing. the re-use of the former High Pressure Pumping Station at Delaware Avenue and Race Street for the headquarters of the Philly Live Arts festival.
The ways in which these plans are implemented are, of course, dependent on finding clever funding sources through partnerships and collaborative efforts between organizations. The message for the evening rang clear in Greenberger’s belief that the process must “integrate implementation with the planning. [Philadelphia 2035] is a great road map for how to get things done, but it’s not a blue print. What it does do is it builds public will. It’s about taking control of your city. It’s about taking control of your neighborhood.”
In that regard, the stars of the evening were the recent graduates of the Citizens Planning Institute. Graduates who hailed from districts across the city, returned to their communities, they indicated, with a greater sense of the resources, people, and organizations that can help their neighborhoods implement ideas. The success of Philadelphia2035 depends on having educated, in-tuned leaders on a local level who advocate for their communities. There are now five graduated classes of the Citizens Planning Institute working around the city. In the next 23 years, how many more will heed Greenberger’s call and help Philadelphia at long last achieve all its apparent potential.