Value Session 2: South Philadelphia

The second of three public forums took place Wednesday, Dec. 13 at the George Washington Elementary School, 5th and Federal Sts., 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. View video1 and video2.

The Longshoremen's Waterfront Values

Dec. 13
By Linda K. Harris
For PlanPhilly

Longshoremen, of whom about 100 showed up Wednesday night at George Washington Elementary School, can boast of working in a booming industry. For them, the Central Delaware River is a natural flowing highway for a growing commerce that puts food on the family table and pays college tuition bills. But the longshoremen showed up in large numbers for the second of three civic engagement forums on the future of the waterfront because they are worried. They’re concerned that condos, casinos and other private development – and add to that recreational bike and hiking paths -- will dominate the banks of the Central Delaware, taking up valuable space that could provide room for expansion of the shipping and cargo business that keeps them working. They fear being pushed aside, their good-paying jobs lost, or replaced by lower-paying toil. “Today, redevelopment means high-rises, condos. They’ve forgotten that the city and this state were built off the Delaware River,” said Boise Butler, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1291. “The jobs I’m so concerned about are the family-sustaining jobs. I’m concerned about $29-an-hour jobs being replaced by the service industry, which I don’t have anything against, but they’re not the family-sustaining jobs I would like to see grow.” Both Butler and James Paylor Jr, vice president of the International Longshoremen’s Association AFL-CIO, said larger ships and increased global trade have energized the cargo business, which is poised for even more growth. “We need a deeper river and more space,” Paylor said. “Here’s what we’re concerned about the casinos. They could create congestion at existing facilities … the next step would be to close us down. They should make it compatible with a working port. Other competing ports are spending billions to update, modernize and expand.”

Paylor said about 45,000 jobs are directly connected to the Philadelphia port industries. In addition to the 1,200 members of the ILA, there are truck drivers, warehouse workers, freight forwarders and brokers, government inspectors and office personnel. And there could be many, many more jobs, he said, if the city invests in developing modern facilities for the port.

“Philadelphia and Baltimore are sitting in a very good position, but they’re not prepared for what is coming,” he said. Butler said he would like to see businesses, retail stores and warehouses that don’t need the waterfront in order to exist, encouraged to locate somewhere else. Paylor expressed a similar notion. “They built casinos in the middle of the desert and millions of people came. Why do they have to be on the waterfront? Butler said the river is a place where many people can make a good living, but if the banks of the Delaware are filled with casinos and condos, only a relatively few will benefit financially. “They make a few people richer instead of creating jobs for middle-class people," Butler said.
Brian Shanahan lives in Whitman and is a member of the ILA. He showed up Wednesday night to give voice to his interests. “We need to expand and they’re not addressing that issue. They’re looking at bike paths and condos. We need more room to grow if we’re going to be a major port in this country. We want to give our children a chance to have good jobs.”

In the general discussion that followed the smaller group meetings Wednesday, Bill Waffle, an architect from Queen Village, expressed a newfound optimism, based partially on the discussions of Wednesday evening.

When he moved to Philadelphia 12 years ago, he said, he didn’t sense that the city was very dynamic. “I thought, this is a great place I’ve moved to. Rigor mortis is going to set in next week.” But now, he said, “the city is returning to the idea of planning. The city is talking about growing.” State Rep. Bill Keller, who worked 25 years as a member of ILA, said after the public forum that he believed the longshoremen’s concerns were being heard. “I believe from now on, the ILA will have a voice in the process.” Keller said he wanted to make sure that none of the 45,000 jobs was lost and that the port continued to be able to take advantage of the expanding industry. “We want to get ready so that Philadelphia can get its fair share of that growth.”

Linda K. Harris, a former Inquirer reporter and editor, lives in and writes from South Philadelphia

Second Forum on Civic Engagement - South Philadelphia

Dec. 13

Wednesday evening, hundreds of participants gathered at George Washington Elementary School in the Pennsport/Dickinson Narrows section of South Philadelphia for the second of three civic engagement forums being held this week to identify what values residents most treasure about their neighborhoods and their relationship with the Delaware River. This second session brought together diverse voices of citizens concerned with quality of life issues, passionate union members worried about the impact a waterfront revisioning and casinos may have on their jobs, and a handful of politicians who, depending on the location and inclination of their South Philadelphia constituencies, asked about the pace and the inclusive nature of the Central Delaware Riverfront planning process.

Participants said they were excited by the positive energy in the jammed discussion groups, the dedication of people last night who came together and engaged each other and talked frankly through divisive issues, such as casinos, dredging, the environment, development and how to keep the working port healthy. State Rep. Bill Keller, whose 184th District includes the working port, invited Boise Butler, president of Local 1291 of the International Longshoremen's Association and James Paylor, Jr., Vice President of the International Longshoremen's Association, AFL-CIO, along with about 100 longshoremen and stevedores to the meeting because he felt their interests had to be fully represented throughout the planning process.

“I met with (Philadelphia Councilman) Frank DiCicco today in order to discuss concerns that the ILA was left out of this process,” Paylor said. “Our industry is thriving and Philadelphia is ignoring the golden egg that is out there.

“For every dollar of cargo value that comes into the port, six dollars goes into the regional economy. We want to make sure we are participating in something legitimate.” By meeting's end, Paylor said he was happy with the process and pleased with his longshoremen, who pitched in at all levels of discussion.

"At first, I thought it was window dressing, but now I do believe the politicians would make a wise decision not to ignore the information that came out of these meetings." For his part, Harris Steinberg, the Director of Penn Praxis, which is the lead consultant on the project mandated by Mayor Street, welcomed the longshoremen's attendance and urged them to continue to participate in the value sessions.

"This dialogue is vitally important to the foundation we are going to lay for the principles that are put forward for development," Steinberg said. "The more voices that are heard, the stronger the civic foundation for this plan will be, and that's ultimately what this is going to rest on. The voices of the longshoremen, the voices of those who have recently moved here, the voices of the organizations who have been working up and down the waterfront, the voices of long-term neighbors who have been here for many generations, the voices of those who are just interested in the waterfront for whatever reason, the developers, the professionals, but most importantly, the people on the ground who represent multiple different interests and communities. We need, want and urge all of you to bring as many people as possible to these sessions."

Steinberg also reiterated the respect the planning process would show the working port.

"The idea is to maintain a balance of existing industry port uses and functions with new elements of public access and the creation of a public realm. We are committed to maintaining that healthy balance. The port's jobs, functions, and expansion are all a critical part of Philadelphia's working identity."

The facilitators for this open and transparent process, PennPraxis, of Penn's School of Design; Harris Sokoloff, an expert in civic engagement with the Penn Graduate School of Education; and the Philadelphia Planning Commission, began the evening's exercise by telling the participants the rousing public discourse that would follow is a proven way to capture and use the voice of the people to help lay the foundation for creating a lasting vision for that waterfront.

"Deliberation requires a thoughtful consideration of different views on an issue. It involves weighing the pros and cons of each view, working through different perspectives, and seeing where people agree and disagree," Sokoloff said.

"Those areas of agreement - what some call common ground - become the basis for common action. The fact that people from different special-interest groups deliberate in public to create common ground enables them to work more constructively with each other to decide what trade-offs they are willing to make and to resolve areas of tension. This builds a stronger sense of the "public" in a community."

He also complimented the group for maintaining a respectful posture toward fellow participants and listening well, despite dealing with issues that can cause emotions to run high.

“There were some different kinds of voices heard tonight then on Monday night,” said Sokoloff. “On Monday, the predominant concerns were about community, open space, family, safety, and some concern about locally owned businesses. Tonight, we heard all of those concerns but added the voices unique to the southern end of the 7 miles of waterfront. Those were concerns for the quality of life of people whose livelihoods depend on shipping and the waterfront as a place for international business. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why it is important to have a forum at this end of the waterfront, so we can hear those voices and hear how they can complement the voices from the north.”

Several layers of individual reflection and group discussions at the neighborhood level produced a group presentation that characterized certain values and goals and led to a sharper understanding of the common ground, or shared direction for action, that emerged through the deliberations; a clear statement of the tensions the group found in the choices discussed; and a sense of the trade-offs the participants were willing to make related to the forum issue.

The main "values" or takeaways from Wednesday night's discourse were:

1. Valuing green space, open space
2. Sustaining the industrial port
3. Quality jobs on the waterfront are the economic engine for the city
4. Safety comes with traffic control, crime control, no fear, public transit
5. Sense of community that starts in the neighborhoods
6. Neighborhoods protect and enhance community as a whole
7. Protect the history, the traditions, the Mummers Parade
8. How schools and churches fit into the waterfront as icons
9. Appreciate the diversity of economics, ethnicity, culture in our neighborhoods
10. Get our arms around the long-term solutions vs. short term solutions

“I just graduated from Haverford and I did my thesis on the development of Penn’s Landing and stressed that it should be built on a pedestrian scale, it should be designed as a part of a big picture, and a part of the larger city context,” said Pankhuri Agrawal of West Philadelphia. “I think it’s important that the waterfront is built on a human scale, and that there are seamless connections, Philadelphia is a pedestrian city and that’s what works for the city.”

“It’s a shame that the Delaware is a 5-minute walk from Old City and most people don’t even know that it exists.”

In some respects, these values mirrored the values listed below that were established during the first engagement forum, Monday night, in the Kensington-Port Richmond section of the city.

Those values were:

1. Safety - children can play outside, you can walk in the neighborhood
2. Family values - small businesses that thrive, places to worship, locally owned businesses.
3. Easy access - you can walk or bike or bus to it.
4. Diversity - ethnic, lifestyle, multi-generational, economic, diversity of uses, architecture.
5. Open space and green space - public spaces, playing spaces.
6. History - existing neighborhoods, old buildings, old architecture. Historic identities.
7. Jobs - river related and ports related jobs. Jobs for youth.
8. Green technology - work with the environment.
9. The plan - looking for something that protects the values already mentioned.
10. Recreation - using water and land where they meet. Recreation for families.
11. Affordable housing - for seniors.

Steinberg had this to say when the meeting adjourned after three intense hours.

"The civility of the discourse was absolutely staggering. There was a lot of tension coming in tonight. The way that was handled exceeded our expectations."

We Want Your Feedback

Praxis is also looking for feedback on the value sessions. On the website you will find a link that shows you the top values that came out of Wednesday's forums.