Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Sexy Building that Can't

Core Realty's Michael Samschick was trying to put two new apartment buildings on North Delaware Avenue near Fishtown, 136 feet and 78 feet tall. Last night the Fishtown Neighbors Association vetoed the project.

When it comes to NIMBYs, Fishtown can be brutal. Delaware Avenue's wide berth begs for large development and its proximity to the river is screaming for towering views. Sure, I'm bias. This is, after all, an architecture blog. But the FNA holds bias too, and an unreasonable one on Delaware Avenue. Let's face it, Delaware Avenue is Fishtown's residential border, not its heart. The iron fist of the FNA is only allowed to oversee Delaware Avenue's vacant lots and blighted abandonment because few actually live there. 

With the exception of Penn Treaty Park, diagonally across from Samschick's proposed apartment buildings, the few projects that have managed to rise pale in comparison to Core Realty's pedestrian friendly plan. Waterfront Square stands fortressed from the Avenue and SugarHouse Casino's empty hotel and entertainment promises have given Fishtown more asphalt than any reason to stroll north of Old City.

One sentiment during FNA's vote echoes exactly why the loudest in Fishtown keep getting dealt the shittiest hand, "We really don’t need more people...Sorry, we just don’t need you." That attitude hasn't treated Bucks County very well so it's certainly not going to fly in a densely populated neighborhood in one of the United States' largest cities. 

Core Realty's apartment buildings would have offered retail space that could provide cafes and restaurants for those playing in Penn Treaty Park. It's height could have encouraged pedestrians to endure SugarHouse and Waterfront Square, walking a few more blocks to explore a neighborhood they know little about.

But therein lies the problem in the FNA's isolationist attitude. To the FNA, Penn Treaty Park is Fishtown's private reserve. And that's unfortunate because change will come. Core Realty is a local development firm. It's not only easy to muscle out of a neighborhood, it has a local reputation to uphold, and that means accommodating even unreasonable demands. But that won't stop North Delaware Avenue from being developed. 

Height restrictions and a general attitude towards "outsiders" means only big money will win. Eventually vacant lots adjacent to Fishtown will become too valuable for practical, scaled development, and that means Acme, CVS, and suburban creature comforts. But maybe that's what the FNA wants. After all, nothing turns off the New Philadelphians eager to wander into new neighborhoods and parks like surface parking lots lining high speed traffic corridors.

Like residents of any neighborhood who recognize they are one piece of a bigger picture, NIMBYs like the FNA need to understand that Fishtown is part of a collective Philadelphia. Penn Treaty Park is a wonderful asset, bankrolled by City Hall. 

If Fishtown doesn't want Samschick's apartment buildings, I cordially invite him to build them in my backyard along the Vine Street Expressway. 

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