PennPraxis

Value Session 3: Independence Seaport Museum

  • Nearly 350 people take part in the third riverfront value session Dec. 14 at Independence Seaport Museum ... view the video.
  • How participants from Society Hill worked through their value systems.
  • Old City residents come to a consensus.

Huge Attendance at Penn’s Landing Session

Final 2006 Civic Engagement Value Session
Independence Seaport Museum
Dec. 14

Thursday night’s large turnout for the last of the Central Delaware Riverfront Planning Process value sessions, where the people of Philadelphia have been coming together to discuss in forums their hopes and dreams for the waterfront and the neighborhoods that sit around it, put the total attendance for the three civic engagements at over 800 participants.

“The level of attendance at the values sessions sends a very strong signal that Philadelphians from Pennsport to Port Richmond to beyond care passionately about the future of the Central Delaware,” said Harris Steinberg, who directs PennPraxis, which is overseeing the creation of a master plan for the Central Delaware Riverfront.

“Civic engagement is alive and well in Philadelphia and the values expressed thus far will help define the way we think, talk and act along the waterfront for generations to come,” he continued. “Philadelphia should be proud of the level of civility and respect shown in these sessions. We’re demonstrating that an issue that touches so many people in so many different ways can be discussed openly and respectfully with all voices having a chance to be heard.”

At last night’s session at the Independence Seaport Museum at Penn’s Landing, about 350 citizens from Society Hill, Old City, Queen Village, Northern Liberties and neighborhoods across the region gathered and talked very openly, honestly and civilly about what they want to see occur in terms of planning and development on seven miles of Delaware River waterfront.

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, see the public meetings as a way to capture and use the voice of the people to help lay the foundation for creating a lasting vision for that waterfront. Sokoloff set the tone for the evening’s frenetic pace by jumping up onstage and engaging the group as a whole with a preamble that made it clear that a neutral moderator and a clear set of ground rules are essential to productive deliberation. He also said listening well was a major goal.

Moderators guided the intricate deliberations, making sure that all participants got an opportunity to share their ideas and that no one or two people dominated the forum.

Following some contemplative individual introspection participants were sorted by neighborhoods and broke down into small discussion groups where they discussed, argued about and shared their ideas about how neighborhoods and the city should value and intersect with the riverfront.

A longshoreman made it clear that he was concerned that a new riverfront plan might not protect vital jobs. The confluence of I-95 and Delaware Avenue and the river ward communities was an oft-heard subject of conversation. Next week’s anticipated approval of slots licenses that could result in two riverfront casinos was incendiary in nature and on many minds, as was traffic congestion and lack of parking, historic preservation, eminent domain, green technology, educational opportunities, public access and mass transit.

"Tonight we had a great many people who live in neighborhoods off the waterfront - from Mt. Airy, West Philadelphia, Northeast and Northwest Philadelphia. Their voices complemented those we heard in Kensington and Pennsport, bringing in a concern not just for the riverfront in their locales, but a concern for the entire riverfront," Sokoloff said.

"That is, we heard strong echoes of the earlier values of accessibility, safety, community, indistry and diversity, some other values were also emphasized. Values like the river itself, integration with the rest of the city and ecological protection. Clearly there are interesting differences across communities, but what strikes me is the common ground that emerges when people from different communities come to talk about what they value."

The 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 consolidated “values” from Thursday night’s discussions were:

  • Walk-ability - green space, the human scale, to walk without interruption, satellite parking
  • Safety - people on street, lighting, police protection, no slots barns
  • Ecological protection - green space, sewage, runoff control, green LEED construction.
  • Big Sky - green space vision, broad sight lines, public access to river’s edge, low lying buildings, density, open space
  • Diversity - cultural, economic, generational, ethnic, activity, occupational, business, ecological.
  • Historic preservation - our past.
  • River itself - recreation, industry, open space, drinking water, touch-ability, contemplation, history, dredging, no dredging
  • Integration of river with rest of the city.
  • Community – civic engagement.
  • Tension between the working river and pretty "playing" river.

“One of the most interesting things I heard was the organic relationship between the river and the land exemplified by the people who work on the river in boats,” said Ryan Berley of Old City. The main "values" or takeaways from Wednesday night's event in South Philadelphia were:

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

Finally, listed below are the values that were established during the first engagement forum, Monday night, in the Kensington-Port Richmond section of the city:

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

“A lot of people are pulling in the same direction through this,” said Janice Woodcock, Director of the Philadelphia Planning Commission. “Planning should be a collaborative process that draws its energy from the community.”

While this planning and engagement exercise is a civic context within a political structure, at its heart the project is apolitical,” said Steinberg.

For a full report, check out www.planphilly.com

Society Hill’s Values for the Riverfront

Dec. 14
How Society Hill arrived at a “values” set

By Linda K. Harris
For PlanPhilly

On Thursday evening, the last of three public forums was held at the Independence Seaport Museum to gather ideas and ideals that will form a grand plan for the future development of the Central Delaware River. About three dozen residents of Society Hill were among those who turned out to join in the discussion.

An affluent neighborhood filled with restored historic homes and elegant multi-storied new residences, Society Hill extends from Lombard Street north to Walnut and from Front Street west to Eighth Street. It is a community that enjoys theaters, fine restaurants, coffee shops and all of the amenities that are needed for daily living.

In the introduction to the public meeting, Harris Sokoloff, an expert in civic engagement with the Penn Graduate School of Education, encouraged the group to “speak your mind freely and make room for others to do the same.”

And that is precisely what happened.

The Society Hill contingency broke into four smaller groups and were led by moderators Bob Walker, Steve Newman, Beth Perry and Lisa Santer.

Mike and Marion Pulsifer are newcomers to Philadelphia, having moved here in September. While there are many things that attracted them to the city – the cultural life, the sense of community, its convenient location between Washington and New York – the waterfront was not one of them.

“You can walk all around Manhattan and they have a bike path,” said Mike Pulsifer. “I’ve walked to the river several times, but there’s no destination. This museum is the most exciting doggone thing on the river.”
Marion Pulsifer said she’d like to see lighting and landscaping along walkways. “It’s not an inviting access,” she said.

Laura Lane has lived on the east end of Society Hill for 19 years. She laments the lack of accessibility to the river that runs so near to her home, a concern that was repeated throughout the discussions all week. The traffic on Interstate 95 and Columbus Avenue came under fire repeatedly from residents who said it intimidated them or made it impossible for them to get to the river which, in fact, they said, belongs to them.

In addition to the river, Lane wanted to make sure access to the sky was preserved, meaning that she wanted the scale of construction kept human.

“I don’t want to be closed in by buildings,” she said.

Along with accessibility, Elayne Bloom was concerned about the safety of the riverfront. “We value safety and we have it in Society Hill, but we feel we don’t have safety on the waterfront.”

Residents suggested cafés, small shops and entertainment venues as attractions.

“There aren’t enough people using the waterfront which contributes to the feeling that the waterfront isn’t safe.”

Casinos were not what they had in mind, and some residents expressed disappointment that the casinos seemed already to be on their way, and that nothing could be done about it, even though they weren’t really welcome in the neighborhoods.

After much interaction and discussion, the Society Hill groups re-formed into one and compiled a joint list of their concerns. They were:

  • accessibility to the river
  • safety
  • open space and open vistas
  • sense of community, meaning integrating the riverfront and its activities into the neighborhood

When the more than 300 people who attended the evening sessions, regrouped, Bernice Hamel, a 20-year resident of Society Hill, drew a hearty response when she addressed the crowd.

“Some of the communities we live in right now were reborn by the people who live there. People organized, pioneers came into the neighborhood.”

The same thing can happen with the riverfront, she said.

“As skeptical as we are, we should keep a level of optimism, and I do think there is hope.”

Linda K. Harris writes from and lives in South Philadelphia 

Old City Considers its River Values

By Matt Blanchard
For PlanPhilly

At one time, no neighborhood in the city was more intimately connected to the Delaware River than Old City. It was right at the foot of Market Street that Ben Franklin himself stepped off a ship one morning in 1723. He strolled up to Second Street and spent all he had on three puffy bread rolls.

At a public forum about the future of the Central Delaware Waterfront Thursday night, about 50 residents of Old City assembled to discuss the area’s modern relationship to the river, and to debate what values should shape future development there.

Old City itself has certain changed. As one of the original comeback neighborhoods in Philadelphia, the area has completed the shift from wholesalers and light industry to art galleries and luxury lofts, and is now seeing a spate of new housing construction. From just 225 residents in 1970, Old City’s population topped 2,650 in the year 2000. The dense block of Second Street where Franklin bought his rolls is now where Philadelphia and South Jersey go to party.

And the route to the river has changed. Long concrete bridges carry pedestrians across the trench of Interstate 95 at Market, Chestnut and Walnut Streets, whereas north of Market, the highway and its system of ramps rise to form a concrete wall, blocking views and access to the Delaware.

With the recent approval of the Bridgeman’s View Tower, a project that will rise over 700 feet north of Old City on the river at Poplar, a sense of urgency charged Thursday night’s discussion.

“I feel like this is our last chance,” resident Heidi Nivling told the crowd. “We can do something special – it doesn’t have to be bigger and grander – but we can be something special and unique if we hurry up.”

“We would like to see the pedestrian scale of Philadelphia extended to the waterfront, rather than see soulless commercial development,” said architect Linda O’Gwynn.

Just as in the Kensington and South Philadelphia public sessions, PennPraxis moderators split the Old City contingent in two, and then subdivided them again into discussion groups of five. Each discussion group was to develop a list of 5 values they thought defined their neighborhood, and then consolidate their list with larger groups until all 50 residents stood behind 5 or 6 basic principles.

The process was contentious at times, but consensus was reached through exchanges like the following about the value “Open Space.”

“Open space is fine, but we live down here because it’s an intense urban environment,” said architect Thomas Purdy. “As the river passes this intense density, you should feel that. It shouldn’t be another West River Drive.”

“It’s like extending the city to the river,” someone else chimed in.

“How about open space, balanced with density and human scale?” suggested moderator Louise Guigliano.

“Yes. But we don’t have enough about the connection between the city and the river.” Purdy replied.

“Yeah,” someone else interjected. “There should be something to do on the waterfront when you get there.”

The Old City delegation managed to translate its hopes and dreams into six values to guide future development. They are:

  • Pedestrian accessibility through lively paths.
  • Open space and natural elements balanced with density.
  • Preservation of the area’s history.
  • Diversity of culture and activities (or as one woman said: “It shouldn’t just be an entertainment world.”).
  • Improved Zoning and Enforcement.
  • Maintaining a sense of community and neighborhood on a human scale.

As the group broke up, seemingly satisfied, resident Jay Nachman leapt up at the front for a final plea, raising a water bottle overhead for emphasis.

“I still believe we’ve got to cover I-95 and build over it! You could have all that area for development,” Nachman said. “If people buy into that vision – help me translate that into a value!”

Nachman found support, but was jumping the gun. Building a basic consensus about values is the first baby-step to a better riverfront. The discussion of specific design ideas – on which there is no shortage of opinions – is a knot to be untied later.

Matt Blanchard lives in, teaches in and writes from Philadephia