Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Community Planning Guidelines Approved!

By Greg

Last month I posted about a set of Community Planning Guidelines that the Philadelphia City Planning Commission was considering. Yesterday at its monthly hearing, the Planning Commission officially approved those guidelines. This is an important step forward for the City.

Many neighborhoods have been creating community plans, at great time and expense, but there was no real link between these plans and City policy. On the flip side, the Planning Commission had no way of ensuring that these community plans were inclusive and open, or that they were consistent from neighborhood to neighborhood.

These new guidelines would require community plans to meet a set of criteria in order to gain "acceptance" by the Planning Commission. These criteria include involving the Planning Commission in the planning process, having open community meetings, being consistent with the City's official plans, reaching out to stakeholders, and having competitive bidding for plans paid for with public dollars.

On the Planning Commission's part, it will issue an acceptance letter and post accepted plans on its website, creating a catalog of current accepted plans for each part of the city. These plans will generally serve as the basis for future public planning efforts, and for policy recommendations related to zoning, land disposition, and capital funding. In this way, community plans will be directly related to City policy decisions.

One former long-time Planning Commission staff member testified yesterday, cautioning that these guidelines could give the green light to outsourcing community planning. However, in some ways these guidelines are more a response to the multitude of independent community plans that have already surfaced of late. There are certainly challenges and potential pitfalls to community-run planning processes. However, when done well they produce plans that have the kind of buy-in that is difficult to achieve through a City-run planning process.

Philadelphia is lucky to have such a passionate citizenry, willing and wanting to be involved in the planning of the city's neighborhoods. And now these guidelines create a link between these community planning efforts, the public process, and the policy instruments for making the plans reality. For a city long-known for disconnected and piecemeal efforts when it came to planning and development, this is a breath of fresh air.

It is important that the Planning Commission now take these accepted community plans seriously. If neighborhood groups get an acceptance letter from the Commission, but then see the plans have little impact into city policy decisions, they will become skeptical. Likewise the Planning Commission should take a hard line on the issue of acceptance. It should become known that groups without accepted plans are not going to get traction with the Planning Commission when they want to push for rezoning, land disposition, capital projects, or other policy topics. Gaining acceptance needs to mean something in order to gain participation and buy-in from neighborhood-based organizations.

Finally, it is critical that the Planning Commission work with other City departments and agencies to ensure that they too take this acceptance process seriously. If communities learn that the Office of Housing and Community Development or the Redevelopment Authority are not giving any value to accepted community plans, then that will be a major blow to the program's legitimacy. The Planning Commission's Executive Director is also the City's Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. These guidelines will only have impact if they become universal City policy, and that kind of mandate has to come from the top.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Urban Farming Links

By Greg

While we wait for the blizzard here in Philly, I thought I'd get us thinking about spring with a few links to urban farm-related news.

First, in my day job we are building a mini-farm and grower's cooperative in West Philly. Here's a blog by one of the farm managers talking about the project's progress. I'll be sure to post more on this project in the coming months. Stay tuned.

I was interviewed recently by two U. Arts students working on a masters thesis to aggregate all of the urban farming resources and projects in Philadelphia. Philly has a ton of urban ag projects, but they are not well linked to each other. These students are hoping to identify what "needs to happen to transform the urban agricultural movement into a cohesive, effective system." Check out their blog.

Finally, across the country, in San Fran folks are turning an abandoned freeway ramp into a temporary urban farm. This looks pretty cool. Check it out!

For those of you on the east coast, enjoy the snow. Dream of spring.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Retooling Industrial Sites

This should be interesting (this Friday):

What: The Retooling Industrial Sites exhibit will showcase over 50 projects from more than 30 design firms. The projects include some of the leading examples of industrial reuse in Philadelphia as well as projects from cities across the country that demonstrate the exciting possibilities for transforming former industrial areas into productive uses—including urban manufacturing. The exhibit highlights the growing interest in revitalizing industrial sites and the important role design plays in the integration of industrial and residential areas. The exhibit is presented by the Community Design Collaborative in partnership with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation as part of Infill Philadelphia: Industrial Sites, the third phase of the Collaborative’s initiative to promote workable, innovative design solutions to revitalizing older, urban neighborhoods.

When: Friday, February 5 from 5:30-7:30 pm. Meet the designers and see the innovative projects. The exhibit will be on view through March 26 and open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm.

Where: Center for Architecture, 1218 Arch Street, Philadelphia 19107

More: Submissions selected for the exhibit represent a diverse mix of built and un-built projects from warehouse conversions to Brownfield redevelopment to new industrial buildings; they range in scope from single buildings to neighborhood master plans. The projects include manufacturing facilities, office buildings, schools, community centers and mixed-use housing. The featured projects pay homage to the industrial past and provide a vision for a new industrial and urban renaissance.