Thursday, October 28, 2010

The New Delaware Avenue

Had it been built, today's economy would have probably left it a ghost town, but what a beautiful ghost town it would have been. It's a shame that of all the grand proposals for Northern Liberties' waterfront area, neighbors managed to NIMBY away all but the most poorly designed of the various proposals. And even in the case of these two, opposition fought so hard against an inevitable casino that they wound up with a suburban warehouse instead of a well designed tower with a landscaped marina.

In a time of optimistic real estate gambling, the post industrial wasteland that is Delaware Avenue was to be the site of a new, and concentrated business, residential, and entertainment district. With skyscrapers rivaling Center City's, the redevelopment of this concrete jungle of vacant lots, rotting warehouses, and abandoned cars promised that Northern Liberties could be more than a hipster's wet dream of ironic blight.

Bridgeman's View

A World Trade Center would redefine this corridor as an international business hub, while sleek, sky scraping condos would tag Northern Liberties as an elite address for Philadelphia's nouveau riche. Hotels and casinos would attract young and old, and Delaware Avenue would become our region's premier address for glitz, glamor, and excess.

Oh, how times change. While just a few years ago, one could envision such a scenario being today's reality, sadly, Delaware Avenue remains a blighted artery, and home to the homeless.

Sugarhouse Casino

Waterfront Square, a poorly designed condominium complex that suburbanizes Delaware Avenue as a gated community that disobeys the grid, is two towers short of its original plan. Developers are struggling to unload the remaining units in the recently completed, and stunted, tower.

Sugarhouse Casino draws a crowd but pays no respect to its surroundings. Like a pig in a prom dress, a large warehouse has been dressed up with a plastic facade. With development tied up in town meetings and neighborhood opposition for over a year, dwindling resources and a sagging economy eliminated a hotel component that redefined the area's skyline and balanced Waterfront Square's jarring presence.

Trump Tower

While many in the neighborhood continue to demonize the projects, the surrounding area and waterfront remain neglected and unused by those who fought so fiercely to preserve them. Certainly the addition of Trump Tower and Bridgeman's View, as well as others, would have led to a much worse real estate situation, one Philadelphia has weathered quite well compared to cities like Miami or Atlanta. But no NIMBY can claim their protest was due to some divine foresight.

While it may have turned into a ghost town, it would have created a badly needed, urban infrastructure in a suffering part of town, one that could save this area from the same mistakes made in South Philadelphia in which a similar landscape was redeveloped into an asphalt oasis of suburban shopping.

Given the current economy and the present state of the neighborhood, it's unlikely this stretch of Delaware Avenue will be thrown any developmental optimism again. If this NIMBY has the foresight it likes to claim, right now they are seeing strip malls and fast food drive-ins.

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