Thursday, February 13, 2014

Is Washington Avenue West the key to South Philadelphia's growth?

One of the new businesses along Wash Ave West | Kermit's

In short, yes.

There has been significant residential growth, both north/south of Wash Ave West, over the last 10 years. So much so that the buyer demand to live in Graduate Hospital has literally spilled over into the northern part of Point Breeze. Which in turn, seems to slowly be heading west toward Grays Ferry.

That is a story for a different day, and one that I have blogged about before; so feel free to check out some past posts (here and here) before moving forward with this one.

If you read regularly, you know that I like to break things down to keep it simple. So, here's how I would look at all of this:

1. The Missing Link: That's what I classify Wash Ave West as, the commercial presence needed to properly join NoWa (North of Washington Ave, aka Graduate Hospital) and SoWa (South of Washington Ave, aka Point Breeze and Grays Ferry). When Graduate Hospital really started to come into its own as a neighborhood reborn, what happened? South Street West took off. So much so, that South Street West has the same, if not more, energy as South Street East. It has literally connected Rittenhouse Square & Fitler Square with Graduate Hospital; forming one cohesive, consistent part of Philadelphia.

2. Spruce It Up: Easier said than done, but as this article states, plans are already being discussed. The dilemma for an area like Wash Ave West is nothing new for historic commercial corridors in Philadelphia; long-time residents and business owners are typically resistant to change. And for good reason, it's their livelihood. Who would want that taken from them; answer ... nobody. But resisting change, just because, is not a good strategy. There are lots of new businesses moving in, whether long-timers like it or not, and those businesses mostly cater to the area's new residents. In order for this corridor to grow and move in the right direction, the boulevard needs to be cleaned up (i.e. trash, sidewalks, street configuration, etc.) so that both businesses and patrons can thrive with it. If done right, it can help both long-timers and newbies alike; slippery, but doable.

3. Embrace The Culture: In order to make Wash Ave West new, some of the "old" needs to be recognized. One idea in this article is to turn the area into a Design District. Keep all of the mom-and-pop home improvement shops, and fill in the gaps with new commercial and residential. With the changes that have already taken place both in NoWa and in SoWa, there is too much commercial as it stands today; which means a mixed-use approach should do the trick. Think large residential anchor projects, surrounded by the existing businesses and smaller/new businesses.

Anyway, that's my take.

When faced with a situation like this, I don't think the goal should be to just go in and change everything. On the flip side, not doing anything and resisting the changing demographic won't help either.

No matter how this all plays out, you can be rest assured that Wash Ave West will look different in the years to come.

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