Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Bridging the divide "is not just smart, it is inspired"

Skyline shot courtesy of VisitPhilly.com

What "divide" am I referring to?

The Schuylkill River waterfront of course, or the gap between Center City and University City. The quote above was borrowed from the article that produced this post, as I like to give credit where credit is due.

This may seem like a small issue compared to some of the other large ones Philadelphia is currently facing today: public education, competitive business taxes, aging infrastructure, etc. But ... sometimes the smallest issues are the ones most overlooked, and in turn, create the biggest opportunities for growth.

A recent article on Philly.com went into brief detail about the transformative idea to put a large, structural cap over the 30th Street rail yards. You know, the rail yards you see while flying down the expressway on I-76 East (on the right, where I-76 & I-676 meet). Yup, that big thing over there.

In my world, those same rail yards are considered prime real estate.

Before we get into more of the details, here are some stats on Philadelphia's 30th Street Station (which some local pols now refer to as William H. Gray III 30th Street Station):

- 3rd busiest Amtrak station in the US (behind NYC & DC)
- Over 10,000 passengers everyday
- 3 regional rail hubs (including access to Philadelphia International Airport)
- Walking distance to both Center City & University City

Now, some may say that spending all of that time, money, and effort on building new structures above an existing/busy area of approximately 175 acres would be a waste (especially with all of the other development opportunities that exist in Philadelphia today).

Please note, I would not be one of those naysayers; and here is why.

The 2 main reasons that Philadelphia is performing so well in 2016: 1) Center City, and 2) University City. The Navy Yard is a close 2nd, but UCity wins the prize.

So, if Center City & University City are the core of Philadelphia's economic growth and prosperity in 2016 and beyond, wouldn't it then make sense to hold accountable the land in that particular area to its highest and best use?

What I also like about this plan is that the rail yards would remain as-is, still carrying thousands of passengers every day between NYC & DC. The stakeholders involved (i.e. Drexel, SEPTA, Brandywine, etc) would be using the air-rights above the current infrastructure to see their vision through.

Some features include 3 walkways across the Schuylkill River (easily connecting thousands of daily pedestrians to both downtown areas), mixed-use buildings (i.e. offices, residences, etc), and new green space (i.e. parks, stormwater solutions, etc).

Not only would this project increase the surrounding property values due to its size and scope, but it would help connect Center City & University City in a more business/pedestrian-friendly way (e.g. those who commute and get around Philadelphia by foot, bike, skateboard, hoverboard, etc). Today, CC & UC almost seem like 2 separate downtowns.

For additional reading, here are 2 past blog posts that discuss 30th Street in further detail.

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