Your View: Comparing Alexandrias waterfront plan with Philadelphias

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To the editor:

I recently reviewed planning documents for transformation of the central Delaware River waterfront in Philadelphia, as part of the Citizens for an Alexandria Alternative Waterfront Plan effort to learn about riverfront revitalization efforts of other cities and inform current discussion.

The Delaware River waterfront has historically been Philadelphias front door, a center of activity, industry and commerce, like the Potomac River has been for Alexandria, on a smaller scale.  

The value of the waterfront as an amenity for Philadelphia was neglected and over time, the area suffered from uncoordinated development and poor maintenance. Initial concepts to transform the area were sectional, with city government support for dense commercial development in one area, and neighborhood support for increased access, parks, trails, and neighborhood connections in other areas. Subsequent decisions opened the way for a comprehensive look at the central Delaware waterfront.   

A nonprofit organization, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, was established in 2009 by Mayor Michael Nutter for the sole purpose of overseeing and guiding development of the waterfront. More than 30 private and public organizations with interests in the state of the waterfront became members. This group of stakeholders and partners identified principles to provide direction for the waterfronts master plan and its implementation. A firm with notable credentials headed the planning and design team; it was involved in designing Battery Park in New York.   

The resulting Master Plan for the central Delaware River waterfront is a 25-year prospective for transforming a 6-mile portion of the central Delaware River waterfront from its current jumble of vacant land and ad hoc development, to a vibrant destination location for recreational, cultural, and commercial activities for residents and visitors that supports Philadelphias transformation to a 21st-century lifestyle city.  

The plan reflects a larger area and different characteristics than Alexandrias waterfront, but there are similarities such as mixed commercial development with service retail, restaurants and other uses that support year-round activities, increased programming of free and sponsored events, multimodal transportation and a transit plan, and integrating new development with the character of adjacent neighborhoods. A network of civic and public spaces is to be created, with a park every half mile located at the end of key streets to create value for the adjacent neighborhood and the city as a whole. 

As a point of reference, Alexandrias proposed plan includes an increase of 1.85 acres in public parks (distinct from public space which will also be increased). In the discussion of the value of commercial development versus that of parks, a parks economic value can be overlooked. A number of cities have used the guidelines developed by the Center for City Park Excellence and the resulting valuation can be surprising: in 2008, Philadelphias mayor announced the estimated combined economic value of Philadelphias park system to be $1.9 billion in services, income and taxes to the city.     

Philadelphias waterfront strategy differs from Alexandrias. While acknowledging that public funding is currently scarce, Philadelphia will initially target public funding toward a few specific projects to generate a critical mass of activity to leverage important private economic development.   

Alexandrias proposed plan calls for steering private economic development towards uses that would pay for new infrastructure and public amenities.

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