Wednesday, December 13, 2006

CCRA readies to punk the Philadelphia Planning Commission, this time even worse than before

OK, so remember last year when the CCRA did an amazing job of taking a shitily designed condo proposal for 1919 Market Street and turning it into a pretty well functioning addition to the urban grid on Market Street West?

If not, here’s a quick recap via the CCRA:
The original design [of 1919 Market Street, the condominium scheduled for the northeast corner of 20th and Market Streets, at right] called for a 27-story residential tower resting on a nine-story unventilated 500-space parking garage with openings to the outside like many unsightly parking garages.

The 39-story “after” proposal [below right], approved by the Zoning Board (subject to CCRA provisos) contains the following revisions:

•Before, there were 500 parking spaces. Now there are 296 slots, one for each unit.

•Before, all parking was situated in a nine-story podium, which covered the entire site. Now parking is three stories aboveground and three below.

•Before, the nine-story garage was unventilated but with perforated walls to permit airflow. Now the garage is ventilated so that all of its facades are fully enclosed. All of the Market Street and much of the 20th Street garage frontages will be wrapped with actives uses—retail at the ground level and apartments on the second and third levels. Except for the entrances, the garage is not visible.

•Before, residents of the Penn Center House living from the third through ninth floors could expect to look south across Commerce Street to the 1919 garage. Now, the 1919 garage rises no higher than the garage of Penn Center House.
Now that is what we like to call proper “design advocacy” on a new development. That’s all we’re asking for, people. Philadelphia is not a desperate school girl anymore, needing to take whatever trash a bunch of shadeball developers throw at her. She can afford to be selective and require her suitors to wash up before bringing their game. At the same time, she shouldn't only date little people.

It’s the not-so-hard-to-find common ground between NIMBYism and Developmania. NIMBYs are at one end of the spectrum, vehemently opposing any new development within a four-mile radius of their rowhome for no reason whatsoever — and that shit is dumb. Proponents of Developmania are at the other, insisting Philadelphia needs to take whatever new project is offered no matter how terribly conceived it is, e.g. an 11-story parking garage on Rittenhouse Square or a behemoth 700-car garage destined to destroy one of most important blocks for successfully linking Independence Mall with the Gayborhood — moronic.

Meanwhile, there’s all this spectacularly great room here in the "middle" between the two polarizations, in which we can encourage tons of sound urban development and, in so doing, make Philadelphia that much more awesome. (For serious, ask the Design Advocacy Group.) We just need the help of a planning body to start requiring that new developments do not regularly go against every known principle of urban design.

Enter the Center City Residents Association. While Mayor Street was off making the Philadelphia Planning Commission (PPC) borderline irrelevant, the CCRA raised $100,000 privately to fund a Neighborhood Plan because they lost all confidence that the PPC would do anything to ensure developers didn’t destroy the city. (And, sure, we know the CCRA proposal meetings have their fair share of NIMBYs and batshit crazzies making noise; but at least their leaders appear to be pushing mute whenever possible.)

And in only a few short weeks, on January 10, the CCRA will unveil their new plan, two years in the making, which promises to be a significant step in the right direction. Moreover, it will invariably bring further attention to the criminal lack of power the Philadelphia Planning Commission currently has. And hopefully this, in turn, will give more fuel to the PPCs new head, Janice Woodcock, and her efforts to bring back some real planning prerogatives to the once venerable Philadelphia Planning Commission.

After all, Big Urbanism is back. Get into it.

UPDATE:
Oh, snap. Inquirer Editorial Board piles it on too:
Nothing about Philadelphia's Byzantine, bloated zoning code is as simple as making the decision that it's finally time to fix it.

Those repairs - actually, a rewrite - should yield a set of rules that encourage the growth that's inevitable, and enviable. At the same time, they should safeguard the character of the city's neighborhoods.

New rules would replace the jumble of outdated regulations that require near-constant tinkering to make way for projects. It's a status quo that leads to patchwork development, encourages dubious deal-making and undercuts strategic planning.
Amen.

Related:
CCRA to unveil neighborhood plan; the planning commission is totally invited and will probably want to take notes [CCRA Official Site]
A little foreshadowing for you: CCRA shows up the Planning Commission [Philadelphia Inquirer via Google Cache]
Big Urbanism - The Year in Ideas [New York Times]
The Design Advocacy Group knows you dig it when they kick it, baby [Official Site]

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