Waterfront: Cooperation Is The Name Of The Game

Jacob’s Ladder, Solomon’s Seal and Shooting Star. No, these aren’t references to characters and events from the bible. Yet, as the shooting star signaled the birth of Jesus to the three wise men, so too do these flowers signal something important.

Spring is here!

Earlier this month, more than 100 people showed up at Schuylkill Banks for the 7th annual Philly Spring Cleanup, which is a city-wide initiative run by the city of Philadelphia.

Volunteers helped Schuylkill Banks pick up trash, mostly leaves and debris, and paint over graffiti during the Philly Spring Cleanup on Saturday, April 5.
Volunteers helped Schuylkill Banks pick up trash, mostly leaves and debris, and paint over graffiti during the Philly Spring Cleanup earlier this month.

“We’re picking up trash along the sides of the trail,” said Danielle Gray, Schuylkill Banks’ director of marketing and development. “We’re raking out the old planting beds, getting rid of some of the old leaves so that they’re ready for new mulch, and to let the new flowers pop through.”

Schuylkill Banks is one of a number of government, quasi-government and private organizations along both the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers that are committed to transforming the waterfront.

Cooperation – with both each other as well as the public – has been the key term thrown around by these different groups.

“Every year, part of the city budget is allocated towards capital improvements for us, and we leverage that through grants,” said Lizzie Woods, who oversees the design and construction of new parks, trails and street improvements for the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.

A shopping cart sits submerged off one of the derelict docks near Pier 70 Boulevard.
A shopping cart sat submerged off one of the derelict docks near Pier 70, off of Columbus Boulevard.

Woods said they primarily get their money from private philanthropic sources, state money and local money. The DRWC has received grants from state departments such as the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Department of Community and Economic Development.

Schuylkill Banks also works with the city.

“We do have a very close relationship with the city, including Parks and Recreation, the Streets Department, and Commerce,” Gray said. “There are things that the city can do because they’re big that we just couldn’t do, and there are things we’re able to do because we’re more nimble. As a small non-profit, we’re able to work closely with our neighbors, organize clean-ups, do things that the city just doesn’t have the time or the budget to do. Picking up trash on a daily basis, covering up graffiti, that’s stuff we can do pretty easily, but when we’re done picking up the trash we have no where to put it, so that’s when parks and recreation comes through.”

Woods also said, “being a smaller organization allows us to be more flexible and generally avoid a lot of the bureaucratic red tape that larger entities, especially governmental agencies, have to deal with.”

A big player in the local redevelopment scene has been the William Penn Foundation. In 2013, it gave the DRWC a $5 million grant and it recently gave The Manayunk Development Corp.’s Destination Schuylkill River two different grants, each for approximately $440,000.

The DRWC, according to the executive summary for the master plan, will need $770 million to complete all the projects over a 30 year period.

Destination Schuylkill River is working to do the same thing as the DRWC, only on a smaller scale and with different challenges.

“It’s harder to get at here because the banks are so steep,” said Kim Wood, a project manager at DSR.

They will have to work with Norfolk Southern, which has a railroad line that runs parallel to the island, to improve access to some areas. She said that they will have to take care of all the legal issues involving zoning and easements before they can start construction on projects like a fishing dock improvement.

“It’s been hard,” Wood said about cooperation with business owners along the canal.

She hopes the construction of the new Performing Arts Center and a new apartment complex will essentially turn the canal into a second Main street.

Wood explains how these water diverters are part of the construction of the Performing Arts Center on Lower Venice Island in Manayunk
Kim Wood explained how these rain water tree trenches, as part of the construction of the Performing Arts Center on Lower Venice Island in Manayunk, will divert water to the river when it floods.

“That will force them to think about the backs of their buildings and how they look,” Wood said, “because there’s going to be people over there all the time looking at the backs of their buildings and walking up the trail.”

What all these organizations have in common is the fact that they all spoke with the public in order to get people’s input during the planning stage.

According to a 2010 survey done by Destination Schuylkill River, 96 percent of Manayunk residents come to the river for recreation and exercise and 64 percent of residents said they patronize local businesses when at the waterfront. Even more telling is that only 23 percent of residents think Destination Schuylkill’s activities are coordinated effectively with other organizations along the river, where as 59 percent said they don’t know.

The DRWC has a response to public questions section in their master plan’s executive summary. It found comments ranging from proper use of tax dollars, where someone questioned whether they would use public funds to remove degraded structures, to arguments saying the public realm of development is excessive.

Working with the public, it seems, is key to getting these projects done in the best manner possible.

“When you’re getting ready for the spring,” said Gray, “the seasonal cleanups are really really key because in the spring, you have to get everything fresh and ready to go so that we’re prepped for summer. It takes a lot of people, a lot of hands.”

– Images, video and text by Mike Kitay


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