Philadelphia 2035

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 11.07.46 PM.png

Overview

 

The first time I saw anything about the 2035 plan was the sustainability ads on SEPTA. I didn’t look into it further. However, when Kahiga mentioned it in our interview, my interest was piqued and I read into it. Before we dive in, some history:

 

Philadelphia has historically been a very planned city. William Penn outlined the five original squares and created a grid layout for each street. In case you’re scratching your head, the squares are Rittenhouse, Locust, Washington, Franklin, and where city hall stands today. Although, they were originally  Southwest, Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Centre, because Quakers don’t believe in naming things after people.

The first large scale plan for Philadelphia was laid out in 1934-1936 with help from the Works Progress Administration. The next and most famous plan was the 1960 Comprehensive Plan. This transformed Center City from a dilapidated industrial rot to an urbane beauty. I actually got these facts from page 15 of the the 2035 plan.

 

The Plan

The whole document is 232 pages, and it’s well worth the read, but tl;dr:

Philadelphia 2035 is a 25 year initiative started in 2010. It addresses where we’ve been and where we are before laying out where we’re going. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) lays out Philadelphia’s current economic, health, and environmental profile.

After assessing the current landscape, it launches into a  comprehensive plan for economically, culturally, and infrastructurally developing Philadelphia. The plan is broken into two parts: a citywide vision and 18 individual districts. The two parts give each district its own autonomy in addition to the citywide plan.

The three main themes are:

  1. Thrive

    1. Improve neighborhood livability

    2. Expand economic development

    3. Improve land management

  2. Connect

    1. Improve transit (highways, local roads, public transit, airport, ports, etc)

    2. Update and adapt the utilities infrastructure

  3. Renew  

    1. Create more open space accessible to all Philadelphians (and visitors)

    2. Improve environmental conditions

    3. Historic landmark protection / revitalization

    4. Utilize public for beautiful and functional urban design (LOVE park, Dilworth Plaza, etc)

Even if you haven’t heard of the 2035 plan, you’ve interacted with it in some way. Some of the more publically visible efforts include:

  • The Viaduct Rail Park

  • The subway construction at City Hall and 15th stations

  • Spring Garden Street Connector (The underpass for the Spring Garden MFL stop is beautiful)

  • Indego bikes

  • The redesign of Love Park

  • Connecting the separate links on the Schuylkill River Trail

 

Shortcomings

It is a truly inspirational read and makes me excited to be in Philadelphia right now. However, the plan doesn’t go far enough in stressing diversity. It does say that the growth should be equitable, but it seems to shy away from truly acknowledging how disenfranchised some communities have been:

 

Yet, overall, the city’s households and working-age population have low educational attainment and labor force participation, high unemployment, and low income. Lower-income households remain heavily concentrated in inner city neighborhoods.
(Page 26)

 

 Philadelphia life-expectancy by zip code. Source: Virginia Commonwealth University, Center on Society and Health

Philadelphia life-expectancy by zip code. Source: Virginia Commonwealth University, Center on Society and Health

 Life expectancy in Iraq, 2015. Source: Google. (World Bank)

Life expectancy in Iraq, 2015. Source: Google. (World Bank)

This acknowledges there is a problem, but it doesn’t spell it out in plainly enough. Philadelphia has the most people living in deep poverty of the 10 largest cities in the nation. Deep poverty is defined as an income less than half of the poverty line. Hypothetically, if the poverty line is $12,000, deep poverty is $6,000. Philadelphia also has huge gaps in life-expectancy by neighborhood. According to research from Virginia Commonwealth University's Center on Society and Health, the biggest gap is 20 years —  88 years in Society Hill (19106) compared to 68 years in Strawberry Mansion (19132). To drive that point home, per the UN’s estimates of countries by life expectancy, Strawberry Mansion is in the running with Indonesia, Bhutan, and Uzbekistan — around 131 out of 201. Driving it home even further, Iraq and Syria both have slightly higher life expectancies than Strawberry Mansion. At present, a mere five mile distance can make two decades difference in a child’s life. Again, the 2035 plan acknowledges some of the shortcomings, but doesn’t spell it out so bluntly. Improvement  will be up to all of us.

Will each goal be met? Probably not. However, some of the major steps are already underway to make it a reality. Together, we will reduce poverty, increase property values, reduce commute times, and fully revitalize Philadelphia.

 

Final Thoughts

So what does this mean for us — the Millennials and Gen Z’ers of Philadelphia? It means that we’re about to start our careers at the base of an upward trajectory. It means that this is an exciting time to be in Philadelphia, the best time to be here in over 40 years. It means that we are going to have a hand in meaningfully and decisively shaping the economy. Shaping not just our futures, but our children’s futures as well.