Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What's Next for the Shirt Corner?

Four months after the dust settled at the site of Old City's Shirt Corner fire at Third and Market, we finally have our sidewalk back. 


But the question now is, "what's next?"

The restoration and reconstruction of the Suit Corner across the street was supposed to help the corner transition into a handsomely quaint Old City intersection. 

But the end result of the fire has traded cheap yellow suits at one corner for scorched abandonment at another.

Despite Old City's pricy lofts and upscale restaurants, the neighborhood is no stranger to abandoned buildings and empty lots. It may be some time before this property changes hands, but the soon-to-be vacant lot entered the real estate market by accident. When derelict property vanishes in Philadelphia, the fallout often makes way for a surface parking lot.

But six decades into Old City's love affair with parking lots, can we finally know better? Old City has been one of the most vocal voices when it comes to opposing new development, but when it comes to screaming "Not In My Back Yard," parking lots are rarely mentioned until after they've been laid. 

Six decades later, the city still looks at parking lots as an acceptedly interim use for vacant land, but six decades in we know that "interim" is defined by a parking corporation's bloated asking price. 

Sadly, in Philadelphia, it costs less to level a building to build something new than it does to acquire a ready-to-build parking lot for the same project. 

Just look at the Disney Hole at 8th and Market. 

In a city full of bike lanes and park improvements, residents are telling City Hall, "we don't need more parking." Old City has fought tooth and nail to stop the development of a vacant lot at 2nd and Race citing shadows and traffic. Pressuring property owners to smart-sell their vacant land is long overdo. Basically, find someone with a plan to build or be burdened with the property tax until you do.

Unfortunately neighboring voices tend to be reactionary. They'll oppose development but won't proactively seek an alternative. This mentality is detrimental to the growth of any city, not because it stymies development, but because it settles for the status quo. And in Center City, the status quo is a parking lot or a vacant building.

It's interesting that those actively advocating against potential development are doing so in what they perceive to be their neighborhood's best interests, while not actively seeking ways to make their neighborhoods better. Old City in particular, full of new residents, shouldn't be a neighborhood saddled with Negadelphians who assume the worst in every proposal.

It may seem odd that I'm harping on NIMBYs because community activists haven't said one word about the future of the site of the Shirt Corner. But that lack of involvement is exactly why I'm harping on those allegedly invested in their neighborhoods. 

Where are they?

Anyone concerned with the future of Old City should be actively trying to block the sale of the Shirt Corner site as a surface lot now, not after a deal is in place. But that's the flaw in Philadelphia's abundance of neighborhood organizations and their reactionary approach. It's easy to throw a wrench in the development of a building we'll see, but a noble effort would include a voice that attempts to groom a growing neighborhood into what it should be through developing vacant land. 

And in a neighborhood with ample parking for both residents and visitors, that starts with derailing more designated private parking.

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