Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hargreaves Penn's Landing and PlanPhilly are calling it a first look. Philly Magazine calls it the future.

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation's Thomas Corcoran stated, “We don’t want this to be another plan sitting on a shelf," and boy has Penn's Landing seen it's share of those.

Hargreaves and Associates' redesigned Penn's Landing extends the existing I-95 cap to Walnut Street, completing the block, carrying the park over Columbus Boulevard, Penn's Landing's large parking lot, and to the water. It replaces the concrete Great Plaza and finally removes the useless west end of the nonexistent aerial tram to Camden.

From 1997 to 2004, the Delaware River Port Authority wasted over $13M on preliminary construction of an aerial tram called the Skylink, with more than $1M spent on additional "studies."

Additionally, Hargreaves employs a Calatrava like pedestrian bridge at South Street completing the street's connection to Penn's Landing.

The design is highly conceptual and open to speculation. Parking at the landing appears to be replaced by an elevated park, although it's not clear if parking will remain under the green plaza. The renderings also make some assumptions, for example the Chart House is gone.

As one of the few businesses catering to Penn's Landing, the Chart House will likely remain or will in someway be incorporated into Hargreaves new architecture.

In 2003, City Hall held a costly design competition. The Atlantis was one of the more outrageous proposals. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the competition was all part of a corrupt scandal that ended with an FBI investigation.

As it is, Festival Pier is huge. But as a concrete venue it's largely unused unless it's reserved for an event. Hargreaves proposal triples the amount of contiguous space, but transforming the entirety into a green space makes it an inviting public resource.

Add the Lombard Street pier to the mix, where the South Street pedestrian bridge ends, and the DRWC has itself a nice collection of inner city landscaping.

At one point Cesar Clarke Cesar of Cira Centre threw their name in the game, incorporating Penn's Landing's Skylink into what it referred to as Founders Square.

Perhaps one of the best elements in Hargreaves Penn's Landing is its openness to private development. The nonsensical flyovers between Market and Chestnut have been camouflaged by mid-rise apartment buildings, three setting right on the river.

So far no private developers have signed on, but if the city and the DRWC are willing to relinquish this property to make way for apartments and businesses, Penn's Landing's biggest obstacle - a lack of any reason to be there - is finally addressed.

The layout of Hargreaves and Associates Penn's Landing, and the DRWC's most recent pitch for a new waterfront.

More apartments on the water may not be enough to entice Society Hill's pedestrians and tourists to Penn's Landing, but it certainly helps offset such a costly endeavor, one the Seaport Museum and a few old ships can't carry themselves.

Penn's Landing as envisioned by Hargreaves and Associates, perhaps Penn's Landing's most hopeful proposal to date.

Hargreaves likely wants to stamp its brand on the design, evident in the fact that the firm has erased the existing park atop I-95, simply called I-95 Park. As it is it's a nice space, with it's truncated oval cut in half it was clearly designed to extend onto a nonexistent cap that was never completed.

Hargreaves completes the transition, but with their own design.

All of this may be moot when you consider the numerous empty promises and costly design studies performed by PennPraxis, the DRWC, the Delware River Port Authority, or whatever organization happened to be managing Penn's Landing at any point in the past forty years.

One of Penn's Landing's more...interpretive renderings. Personally, I love art that looks like the dreamscape of a junkie's K-hole, but I'm not sure where an engineer would find the fourth dimension required to actually build this.

The Race Street Pier was the DRWC's first major project since they were created in 2009. Prior to that nothing had been done with Penn's Landing since the Seaport Museum and the Great Plaza were built in the 1990s.

Although the Race Street Pier has been wildly popular, it's still new and the longevity of its success remains to be proven. Unlike Sister City's Park and a redesigned Dilworth Plaza, both of which are a response to Center City's residential growth that provide park space for people already on the ground, the Race Street Pier is an attempt to lure people to the water. We've seen how the "build it and they'll come" approach has worked in the past with the Festival Pier we have today. People love new parks, but quickly tire of them when they realize there's not much else around.

If the DRWC can muster the funds to bring even part of this project to fruition, particularly greening Festival Pier, it will be a vast improvement of what's there. Unfortunately, there will still be little reason to be there once the newness wears off.

The fatal flaw in Hargreaves plan echoes a mistake that the DRWC and Penn's Landing's managers before them can't seem to grasp. Without a wild destination attraction at river - think the St. Louis Arch or the London Eye - Penn's Landing will always be a detached lawn with a view of Camden far from anything interesting.

With Philadelphia's tradition of obscene cost overruns in everything it builds, a new Penn's Landing could easily exceed the cost of the Pennsylvania Convention Center but doesn't guarantee any return. It's understandable that those in charge are reluctant to pull the trigger on a design that isn't perfect. Still, when you consider the amount of money wasted on the Skylink, costly design competitions, and studies that found nothing but their own irrelevance, we could already have a pretty damn fine Penn's Landing.

Hopefully the DRWC can prove that they aren't just another organization in a long line of inept paper pushers, but rather the management that Penn's Landing has needed for the past four decades.

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