Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Philadelphia 2040: Neighborhood Choice

Philadelphia is in the midst of an urban planning renaissance. I say this not simply because we are currently revisiting a zoning code that was drafted in the ’60s, and I say it not simply because we have a new, energetic Executive Director of the Planning Commission (Alan Greenberger), or a Mayor who wants to “reestablish the Planning Commission as the nation’s preeminent city planning agency.” Nor is this because the City is gearing up to create a new comprehensive plan, done last in the ’60s as well, and has initiated a project called Imagine Philadelphia. I say this because I have seen Philadelphians pack local bars to listen to the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (my, what Geeks we are!) and because I have sat in auditoriums filled with friends and neighbors eager to learn more about sustainability, and I have seen neighborhoods turn out to reclaim their street from cars, and plant trees.

Recently graduate students in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design were tasked with creating three distinct “Vision Plans” for Philadelphia. “Vision Plans” such as the Civic Vision for the Delaware Riverfront, paint a broad picture for what the future of a city could look like. Unlike Comprehensive Plans, or Neighborhood Plans, they deal with larger more comprehensive moves, and do not focus on those small or parcel specific details that are the hallmarks of other plans. Vision Plans, such as the ones developed by the UPenn students (full disclosure, I am one of said students) are particularly timely; they can provide the goals, values, and well, vision, that could guide the Zoning Code Commission and the Imagine Philadelphia’s work.

Some vision plans like Penn Praxis’s aforementioned ‘Civic Vision’ look to the near future, and others, such as the ones drafted by the planning students, look a bit further out (2040). These graduate students were split into three groups, and tasked with creating a vision for Philadelphia thirty years hence. They were asked to imagine a Philadelphia in 2040 that was a global city. They were asked to imagine a Philadelphia in 2040 that was “Green” and “Mobile.” And they were asked to imagine a Philadelphia in 2040 that was a city of thriving, healthy neighborhoods.

You can explore the “Neighborhoods” plan here.

None of these visions, a city of neighborhoods, a green and mobile, or a global city, are mutually exclusive. What is ultimately important is that Philadelphians remain engaged in these broader efforts, create together their own vision for Philadelphia and work together to make it happen.

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