Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Parking War

When it comes to the bricks, nothing hurts an urban landscape more than surface parking lots. They scar the skyline, make walking undesirable, and inhibit adjacent development. These asphalt prairies become even more noticeable at times like today, when big snow storms leave piles of snow and ice surrounding these blighted blocks and absent management companies refuse to plow or shovel their sidewalks, or plow snow into neighboring properties, leaving neighbors the headache of cleaning up after nonexistent owners.

Like a virus, surface parking lots cause neighboring properties to decline, often leading to demolition and thus absorption into the growing parking lot making a decreasingly desirable neighborhood even less desirable, leading to more demolition and so on, until you end up with what can be found in countless locations throughout the city. Not only does this type of anti-development cause neighborhoods to decline, it encourages an auto-centric mentality that can't possibly be supported in a city as dense as Philadelphia.

With lots and garages in nearly every block in Center City, if not every block in Center City, people still complain about parking. In most dense cities with a highly populated urban core - Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco - residents and even commuters wouldn't complain about having to walk five blocks or so, but in Philadelphia, even many Center City residents complain about walking, feeling entitled to the convenience of driving to the gym or grocery store.

A small portion of Center City with lots outlined in red...and that doesn't even include parking garages.

In the hierarchy of urban development, I put the owners of surface parking lots several notches below the worst slum lords. These pariahs sit on property with low taxes, have virtually no overhead, and see almost completely raw profit. It's no wonder most new buildings are developed by razing old ones. Owners of surface parking lots are free to extort developers. They are sitting on property that is nothing but profit. No matter how little they make or how unappealing it is, there is no incentive for them to sell, ever. There is no property usage tax in the city to motivate owners of undeveloped Center City property develop or seek development. What makes it even worse, is many real estate owners will raze their derelict properties in anticipation of potential development, but when development never comes turn their space into a parking lot, which never ever goes away.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More Bike Lanes

The two Center City bike lanes which have been added to Pine and Spruce have proven so successful that they will not only become permanent, they may be expanded. Although Inquirer articles seem to contradict each other when it comes to the impact of traffic on these streets, the bottom line is that City Hall has acknowledged no significant increase.

Many Philadelphians take any promotion of pedestrianization or bicycle advocacy as a personal attack. It's no wonder our general population is consistently ranked among the nation's most overweight and unhealthy. Our boroughs are packed with two or three car households accommodated by 18ft wide real estate. It makes no sense to the rational mind, particularly in the walkable boroughs like South Philadelphia that are serviced by limitless public transportation.

We need to stop accommodating cars under the delusion that we are part of suburban New Jersey, force these borough dwellers and suburbanites to take public transportation and walk a few blocks. If someone wants the luxury of driving a car, they should be expected to deal with the traffic. Being an urban car-owner is just that, a luxury, not a right.

If anyone expects this city to progress beyond a post-industrial fallout zone, there will continue to be more and more people and more and more traffic. No one can expect to exponentially accommodate more and more cars indefinitely. When you try that you end up with Detroit, and Philadelphia is far too dynamic to solely focus on getting people in and out, we want them to stay a while and look around. Cities with ample parking are synonymous with cities no one wants to visit. Ever been to Scranton?

People in DC, NYC, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, etc. all accommodate bikes and pedestrians. Why should Philadelphia - one of the most densely populated cities with one of the most expansive public transportation systems in the U.S. - cater to the car first? This isn't just an awesome idea, it's ABOUT TIME!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Station Square

At the other end of Market Street, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (Liberty Bell Center) designed a beautiful plan for 30th Street Station. Pedestrian, transit, and cab friendly, I would love to arrive in Philadelphia to this scene rather than the mess of concrete barriers and traffic there now.

Market East Renaissance?

Girard Block 11th and Market

I love talking about Market East. I'm not a masochist, I just like seeing potential and imagining how it may evolve. I think that's what attracted me to Philadelphia in the first place. And there is no untapped potential in Philadelphia like Market East. The Philadelphia Planning Commission has commissioned an ambitious redevelopment plan by Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects that reinvents Market Street as Philadelphia's Main Street. Centering around Market East Station and a new Inter-modal Transportation facility on Filbert, the plan expands towards a reinvented and enlarged Chinatown including Franklin Square, a new "Loft District" immediately behind the expanded Convention Center, and an emphasis on improvements to the Jefferson Hospital area and renewing Chestnut Street as a shopping district.

New Chinatown and Market East Gateway 10th and Market

The concept is an ambitious one, but within the overall design, the focus is so compartmentalized it is one of the most doable Market East plans I've ever seen. Rather than reinventing the wheel, the plan - elaborate as the images may seem - focuses mainly on improving existing structures and developing surface parking lots. It proposes expanding the successful elements of the Market East district, such as an expanded Reading Terminal Market utilizing the head house. While the most dramatic changes include a redeveloped Girard Block and high rises added to the Gallery, equally influential changes to the district include rerouting commuter buses to Arch or Filbert at a new transportation center that combines Market East Station with Greyhound and NJT.

Intermodal Transportation Center and Gallery 10th and Filbert

The plan has generated a lot of excitement, although one can easily understand a reluctance on the part of neighboring businesses given the past 30 years, but with a strong plan focusing on the smaller elements of an overall project, one catalyst may be all that is needed to set this concept in motion.

New "Loft District" behind Convention Center

Re-imagined Frankin Square