Although the newly emerging “Philadelphia 2035” is a comprehensive plan to energize this historic city for more improvements over the next 24 years some of the improvements will be visible within the next year in many neighborhoods including Francisville.
The Philadelphia City Planning Commission is developing “Philadelphia 2035.” The CPC created a website, phila2035.org, for the draft of the 24-year plan to hopefully create citizen engagement in the planning process. Originally the website’s feedback portion was only going to last until March 31 but after much public debate that deadline was extended. The CPC decided to push back that deadline to give the residents of Philadelphia more time to read the plan fully and see how it will affect their lives.
“We wanted to make sure that small businesses would get the time to delve further into the plan,” said Alan Urek, the director of strategic planning and policy at the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.
“We also received a lot of feedback on the website and welcome it. We’ve received a range of responses from ‘you have a typo on this page’ to demanding more time for the public to read the draft and fully understand it,” Urek said.
The extension period for public review will not delay the May 2011 approval deadline or the scheduled final public release in June. The revisions on this planning document have begun and will continue throughout the month of April. Any adjustments from the public will be made within that time period.
“It is the fact that we took the time to get the public’s opinion that makes this plan different from the other plans that were attempted,” said Richard Redding, CPC’s director of community planning.
Another aspect that makes this draft seem different is the fact that the City’s zoning codes were updated. The original zoning codes were outdated with many experts saying those codes were not written in a way that made it easy for the public to understand. Voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure for the creation of a new zoning code in May 2007. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission also made sure to take the public’s comments into consideration when the zoning codes were updated.
The draft planning document is split into two different components: citywide and district. The citywide plan will be released to the public by the middle of June, depending on the final approval scheduled for that time. The city is divided into 18 districts with at least eight neighborhoods in each district to cover all 150 neighborhoods of Philadelphia. All district plans are expected to be completed by the end of 2015 at the pace of four district plans to be completed each year.
“We also feel that we have insight into what each neighborhood wants due to all the meetings we had with the public to get their opinion,” CPC’s Redding said. Part of Redding’s role in the comprehensive plan is to bridge the gap between the citywide plan and the district plans.
There were several public meetings at different days and times in hopes of bringing in as much public opinion as possible.
The comprehensive plan involves steps such as increasing housing choices, improving access to healthy foods, restoring vacant lots and renewing or preserving the historic sites of Philadelphia.
Ridge Road, now Ridge Avenue, was once the major commercial corridor in Francisville. Residents from the neighborhood and beyond flocked to businesses along the corridor. However, activity on the corridor slowly died off over the years.
“Ridge Avenue is a tough nut to crack because Ridge Avenue was filled with jazz clubs and womens clothing stores,” said David Fecteau, a city planner at the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. Fecteau is assigned to the Lower North district of Phildadelphia, which includes a portion of Francisville. He is just one of the city planners assigned to this particular neighborhood.
For the past several years, that once vibrant Ridge Avenue corridor has been a consistent focal point for the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp. and its director, Penelope Giles. The organization partnered with Interface Studios and People for People Inc. in 2007 to create an individualized plan for the neighborhood called “Moving Francisville Forward: a Blueprint for the Future.”
“Penelope Giles has asked us for some kind of formal recognition… for their plan,” Fecteau said.
Giles is not the only resident of Francisville that believes credit is due to the organization.
“We wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for Penny,” said Sharon Hale Jenkins, a long-term resident of Francisville and member of Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp.
According to City Data, Francisville has a population of approximately 4,457 people. The neighborhood consists mostly of African Americans (75 percent) while Hispanics and Caucasians are tied for the second largest racial group in Francisville. Asians and other classified races only make up a small percentage of the area. The largest employment opportunity is within the sales field in which approximately 18 percent of males work in this type of occupation while females account for 39 percent.
“There are a couple more thrusts of the city wide plan that hold a lot of promise for Francisville. One of them is housing choice,” Redding said.
This is particularly useful considering that roughly 35 percent of the population of Francisville lives below the poverty line. There are many affordable housing projects currently underway in the neighborhood.
Community groups such as the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp. also felt that affordable housing should be present in their neighborhood and their development plan.
Another issue for the small, historic Francisvile neighborhood is the problem of vacant lots that the CPC’s district and city wide plan intend to address.
“There are still many vacant lots that we are trying to stabilize,” Giles said.
The Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp. is also working on the greening aspect of the city wide plan already. However, some residents believe that there is more help needed for a different problem.
“I don’t feel like vacant lots are much of a problem. I mean they’re there, but they are already being taken care of,” said Katie Searl, resident of Francisville.
Searl said she believes that many of the vacant properties must be fenced and planted with sufficient greens to create a lot of green, open space in the neighborhood.
Searl’s biggest concern is the trash that seems to be everywhere especially on street corners and in the parks themselves. She said she is also concerned with the fact that although there are many places to be outside and walk a dog there is nowhere to put the waste.