The development of Philadelphia seems to be well underway under the careful guidance of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. Despite the many changes that have occurred in Hunting Park, the commission has a lot more in store for revitalizing the neighborhood.
The commission is a government-funded organization run by nine members under the City Charter of Philadelphia. Its major responsibilities include the modification of a comprehensive plan for the city, handling a public works budget, and zoning and recommendations when the city acquires or disposes of real estate. In addition to its chartered tasks, the commission also handles economic and community development, urban design and the improvement of public spaces.
David Ortiz is a community planner and works as the intermediary between Hunting Park and the commission.
“I’m really exciting to start our district plan, we have a lot of great community organizations out there. Specific to Hunting Park: Esperanza, Hunting Park United has a very active community group and also the Hunting Park Friends,” Ortiz said.
Their involvement in the Hunting Park community has not gone unseen. Emmanuel Davis, 27, recalled when he was a small child in the 1980s and 1990s and the ominous feeling his neighborhood once possessed.
“I remember when I was little, the park was always a scary place to go, especially after dark,” Davis said. “It almost seemed like a ghost town, especially when night fell and you saw people lurking around. Now I’m glad that I can at least walk around here and bring my little girl to the park.”
PCPC is developing the city’s first comprehensive development plan in 50 years. The plan includes smaller plans for 18 districts across the city that should be completed over the next four years. Hunting Park is part of the North planning district, which PCPC will start on next Fall. Part of that planning includes the future of Roberto Clemente Middle School.
“We’re also participating with the school district for the potential sale of the old Roberto Clemente School,” Ortiz said. “It’s been a big blight on the community so we’ve been trying to get the school district to release that property. “
With no substantial industrial or commercial use for the real estate, Ortiz foresaw demolition as the school’s best bet in hopes to build property that all of the community can use.
The city of Philadelphia puts in about $100 million a year toward major commission programs, but Gary Jastrzab, executive director of the commission, said he thinks twice that amount was actually needed for the proper upkeep and revitalization of the city.
“We should be spending twice as much as is available. We should be spending about $200 million a year on city facilities to bring them up to code standards and to adequately maintain them. Right now the city does not have that capacity,” Jastrzab said.
To maximize efficiency, PCPC has searched for opportunities to consolidate facility buildings wherever possible. Another long-term goal for PCPC is to transform parts of the old industrial area near the Clemente School into commercial and residential properties.
“We’d want to keep some industrial areas, but we’d probably prefer to see some commercial or residential. Also it is well serviced by SEPTA lines so I think in those areas we’d like to see some residential,” Ortiz said.
In neighborhoods along the edge of the boulevard on Hunting Park’s west side, abandoned factories and warehouses still stand. These buildings are now home to stray cats, debris and waste. As an eye sore for many residents in that area, some remain concerned about potential drug use in the area and look forward to the removal of these properties. Jhenia Wilson, a 10-year resident of Hunting Park, is ready for change.
“Honestly, I’m sick of it,” Wilson said. “I’m tired of looking at it, I’m tired of seeing it, and I’m ready for something new.”
And something new may be on the horizon for parts of the industrial area. According to a 2010 comprehensive report on the status and future of the neighborhood surrounding the Industrial properties, the commission recommended that those areas become a “neighborhood commercial and retail core,” similar to the piazza on Second Street and Girard Avenue in Northern Liberties.
In addition to the recommendation for new commercial and retail properties, PCPC also recommended the redevelopment of Henry and Hunting Park Avenues as mixed-use corridors. According to the report, both roadways “serve multiple neighborhoods, all of which can support and benefit from the new retail and commercial uses.”
In addition to city planning and development, PCPC also created a set of classes that residents can take to learn about city planning and development. Upon completion of these classes, students will take on the role of “citizen planner” and take an active role in planning and development in their community by teaming up with city planners, just like David Ortiz, and suggesting changes based on what is seen and heard in the community. Jastrzab took great pride in this program and helping to develop future generations of city planners.
“We’re stewards of our environment and making it better for the next generation,” said Jastrzab.
For more information on PCPC or to become a citizen planner, visit www.philaplanning.org