Through the Philadelphia 2035 plan, the City Planning Commission is attempting to define a unified vision for the city’s growth over the next 25 years. Beyond this comprehensive plan, the city aims to guide development through individual plans in 18 districts it has divided the city into.
The first two district plans, set for completion in December, are the West Park and Lower South districts. West Park is comprised primarily of the Parkside neighborhood and encompasses the Philadelphia Zoo, Centennial District and large parts of Fairmount Park.
Andrew Meloney, a community planner with the planning commission and the project manager for the West Park district, said that four main components went into each district plan. Land use is a major one, and an aspect that coensides with the zoning code remapping that’s currently underway.
“We look at the entire area of each district, survey it, and try to get the best understanding of what’s currently on the ground,” Meloney said.
From there, land use recommendations are proposed based on several processes, including high density development around transit areas, creating commercial corridors and developing neighborhood centers.
“The zoning code hasn’t changed in a good 50 years– its [changes have] been sporadic,” Meloney said. “The idea is to overhaul, and that proposed land use will lead to zoning remapping so the code matches what the plan says should go there. Lots of areas in the city are mapped incorrectly.”
Capital facilities such as libraries, parks and playgrounds, and the lack thereof or use of existing ones, form the second component, in an effort to maximize funding and resources. Lastly, the plan looks at major ideas of housing and transportation, as well as considers urban design studies.
“From the district plan side, those were the important things we knew we could effect,” Meloney said. “We’re 70 percent through the first district plan and close to making a lot of these recommendations happen.”
Beyond studies executed in each district, the planning commission has held three community forums in the West Park district, and intends to do so for each plan. Meloney said the turnout at the first meetings was “really good,” and a mix of residents and community stakeholder representatives from institutions in the area such as St. Joseph’s University on City Avenue, the Centennial District and Please Touch Museum were in attendance, among others.
At the meetings, attendees voiced concerns and hopes for future neighborhood growth. In an area that draws many tourists and citywide visitors to destinations such as the zoo and Fairmount Park, one of the main concerns voiced by residents was the role that these attractions play in the area.
“People don’t always feel they’re a part of what’s going on in this major tourist hub in the city,” Meloney said. “There’s a fee for entrance–it’s kind of a grand attraction, not your every day kind of thing. People think ‘that’s not for us, that’s for people who are visiting.'”
Meloney said that the City Planning Commission is working with these institutions to make them more accessible to the neighborhood. Additionally, events like farmers’ markets have been proposed to increase neighborhood use of Fairmount Park.
Beyond the meetings, the commission created a steering committee to involve community leaders, groups and block captains to help shape each district’s plan.
Lucinda Hudson is involved with the district’s committee as president of the Parkside Association. She and the organization’s other members founded the association in 1977 to protest the Mann Center’s attempt to lay cement in Fairmount Park at the 5100 block of Parkside Avenue. Since then, its mission has been to support low and moderate income families in the West Parkside community.
Hudson has served as president since 1997.
“I’m very territorial–I don’t just let things happen to this community, I’m a part of things happening,” Hudson said. “I’ve been on the steering committee since the beginning, and I’ve basically supported all the planning things they embarked on.”
Hudson said that she’s been reporting back to the association with developments from the plan throughout the process. She added that the planning commission has been receptive and “absolutely congenial” in incorporating hers, the association’s and the community’s concerns.
“There are three or four people who have voiced suspicion of the plan but in a community this large there’s never going to be complete satisfaction,” Hudson said. “As a whole it’s a wonderful thing, and the community at large supports it.”
Though she said the Mann Center became much more accessible to the community in the last year, she agrees with community sentiments regarding the Please Touch Museum. The museum relocated to Fairmount Park’s Memorial Hall in October 2008.
Under the Clinton administration, West Philadelphia and specifically West Parkside was designated as an empowerment zone. Under the federally funded initiative, the community received $4.38 million to help finance low and moderate income housing.
Hudson said that these housing projects will make Parkside the “jewel in the crown of West Philadelphia.” Additionally, she emphasized the importance of the ShopRite supermarket that opened at 52nd and Jefferson streets in 2009 and the role it has played in supporting the community.
Previously, she said the redlined neighborhood existed for 35 or 40 years without a grocery store and was turned down by numerous chains that said the neighborhood couldn’t support a store of its own. Hudson said she feels the planning commission’s district plan will help advance the goals of the community and the Parkside Association, especially in creating a thriving commercial corridor.
“We’re not an industrial business park, and we need to attract more service minded businesses to support citizens here,” Hudson said. “The rehabilitation work, the work with the plan and the work Parkside is doing – all of that coming together is going to make a vast difference in the way people live here.”