One of Philadelphia’s oldest high speed lines, the Market Frankford Blue Line, allows commuters to travel between Center City and West Philadelphia within a matter of minutes.
However, from 1999 to 2009 the train line underwent a major transformation, which created several unexpected issues for city officials, residents and businesses near five of the elevated stations in the West Philadelphia area.
“With the current situation going on they really are eradicating some of the businesses. The older people that have had businesses here couldn’t survive during the SEPTA reconstruction,” Steve Austin, a local business owner, said.
While the reconstruction of the El was necessary due to decades of wear and tear, the renovations and the socioeconomic status of residents living within the corridor triggered an increase of vacancies, depopulation and crime, as well as the underutilization of properties.
“Go around here on a Sunday. It looks like a morgue,” Austin said. “The only time you see people shopping is the first of the month.”
To solve the issues created by the renovation, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission has undertaken the task of revamping the area surrounding the train line and ultimately transforming the West Market Street corridor.
The corridor, which runs through Haddington and three other neighborhoods, has several vacant lots, abandoned homes and businesses. The West Market Street corridor is currently under-performing in comparison to the rest of the city. The lack of adequate businesses requires residents to travel farther to get what they need.
“There is a high potential to attract consumer dollars from West Philadelphia residents as well as commuters taking the El,” according to a 2006 report published by the planning commission.
Among its plans to revamp the area, the commission hopes to revitalize and diversify commercial businesses in the area, increase dependency on public transportation rather than automobiles and convert and cleanup vacant lots.
In addition to these tactics, the commission plans to implement a Transit-Oriented Development which would increase the mixed-use of land oriented towards pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit commuters.
The mixture of retail and residential property would be centered on the five train stations, which run through the area. TODs generally call for the reduction of on-street parking, the implementation of open areas such as plazas, and the installation of bicycle facilities.
“Parking is done, they tow you, they ticket you,” Austin said. “You came to shop within an hour you came and spent $200 but then you go back to your car and you have a ticket for $41. So basically it’s a non-beatable ticket.”
Some of the large signature projects can be drivers for investment and renewal along the corridor, according to a 2013 report by the planning commission.
The redevelopment of Fresh Grocer located at 56th and Market streets involves the conversion of the parking lot into several retail businesses.
“This will create a more urban and transit-oriented development scheme next to the 56th Street El station,” according to the report by the planning commission.
“If it were my preference I would think that they would move a hardware store into the area instead of out by Fairmount Park,” SEPTA Loader Bernard Noirwood said. “The next large hardware store is out in South Philly. That’s too far these people need somewhere closer.”
Near 59th and Market streets the planning commission is looking to create a mixed-used development which could include affordable housing, a parking garage, professional or medical offices and national brand outlet stores.
At its completion the development could include 30,000 square feet of commercial space and be at least eight stories tall.
It would offer green roof spaces, car-share spaces, and an open-air for events, performance and gatherings.
“I feel like it’s a good idea,” Resident Celeste Peterson said. “The abandoned buildings are an eyesore for the neighborhood so I would like to see the city come and demolish these buildings and turn them into something else. It would make the neighborhood look a little better because it’s not making the neighborhood look attractive as it is.”
However with talk of the new developments to be made in the area, some residents are questioning the planning commission’s motives.
“The community doesn’t really recognize the growth of what Mayor Nutter is doing,” Noirwood said. “He’s pushing the university this way. If you look on 52nd Street you see the new developments of store fronts, new streets. This would never go on if the university was not expanding.”
The development of the West Market Street corridor is correlated with the city’s Phila2035 plan. Residents can expect to see ongoing changes within their neighborhood in the years to come.