Mayor Nutter Delivers Keynote Address To The American Planning Association Pennsylvania Chapter

Philadelphia, October 13, 2014 – Mayor Michael A. Nutter delivered the keynote address to the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association.  Prepared text is as follows, please check against delivery:

“Good afternoon.  First, let me officially welcome all of you to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, a city of neighborhoods, the City of Philadelphia.

Before we get started, I want to thank Deborah Howe, Chair of the Department of Community and Regional Planning in the School of Environmental Design at Temple University, for that very kind introduction.  Ms. Howe has had a storied career in the academic planning world and the built environment.

It’s fitting that she is helping to guide the next generation of professional planners at Temple University, which has been an anchor and incredible partner to the City of Philadelphia during the revitalization of North Broad Street.

Let’s recognize Ms. Howe.

I also want to thank Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association President Brian O’Leary for inviting me to be a part of this conference.  He lives in the Greater Philadelphia region, so he’s no stranger to the virtues of Philadelphia and our on-going renaissance.

It also explains why the itinerary for this conference feels a little like a personal love letter to the City, highlighting some of our greatest assets, like Fairmount Park, our innovative design and planning projects, like our storm water management system and bike share program, and the undeniable return from years of hard work by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.

Let’s acknowledge Brian O’Leary and the team behind this year’s conference.

I love Philadelphia.  When I ran for mayor in 2007, I ran on a platform of reform.  I believed that our city could do big things, could make big plans.  I had a vision for Philadelphia as a smarter, cleaner, greener, more prosperous, safer city – a city that could reclaimed its place on the world stage as a global city with a thriving economy that could attract major investment and development.

For me, central to that new way forward for Philadelphia was addressing the complicated and convoluted City zoning and planning processes.

Since the 1950s, Philadelphia had been a city of many challenges and opportunities, slowly losing residents to the suburbs and businesses to less expensive, easier to navigate business environments, but a resilient and gritty citizenry.  The massive loss of manufacturing jobs during the de-industrialization of major cities in the 1970s continued to diminish our standing in the global economy.

In turn, city planning in Philadelphia became passive and special treatment for those “in the know” was fairly commonplace.  For some, there was a mindset that seemed to think that any development was better than none and it was clearly reflected in our zoning code and haphazard development projects.

What Philadelphia needed was a commonsense, comprehensive approach to city planning that put us on a path to the future we deserve.  This comprehensive new approach needed to be all-inclusive, taking into account the goals of other city-wide plans that addressed critical areas of infrastructure, environmental sustainability and economic vitality.

Today, I will describe our vision for city planning in Philadelphia, the challenges we faced and the actions we took to transform planning, from both a policy standpoint and the physical bricks and mortar of this city.  I will also make the case that thanks to our new approach, Philadelphia is changing for the better every day.  We are growing and fast emerging as a truly modern, world-class city.

The truth is, if you haven’t been to Philadelphia before or if your last visit was more than a few years ago, you will be seeing a much different city than you may remember.  Our skyline is now dotted with cranes and our streets reshaped by new construction.  Our commercial corridors are lined with new store fronts.  Our roads have more bike lanes and better sidewalks.

Now, as Mayor I get to talk about the big ideas.  I get to offer ‘a vision’ for our city.  But as Thomas Edison once said, vision without execution is just hallucination.

So, I went out and hired the right person in Alan Greenberger, now our Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Director of Commerce and Chair of the Planning Commission to take my vision and create our plan.

Before joining my Administration, Alan was an architect with a keen interest in city planning.  I hired him to serve as Director of the Planning Commission, the Chief Planner, but soon asked him to take on a larger role during the difficult years of the Great Recession.  In his current roles, he works closely with our dedicated and diligent city planners, who are ensuring that Philadelphia is a 21st century-ready city.

Please, give Alan Greenberger, Gary Jastrzab, Executive Director of the Planning Commission and its staff a big round of applause.

Philadelphia is one of the great historical and cultural destinations in America.  Home to the most historic square mile in the nation, it was once America’s largest city and capital.

But before it was any of those things, Philadelphia was a patch of land designed by William Penn to be a green country town.  It would connect the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River, protected by what is now the largest municipal park system in America, Fairmount Park, allowing the tradesman of the region easy access to ports while offering fertile land for farmers.

Built on a grid with two main streets intersecting at the town center, the City was divided into four main quadrants.  It was the most extensively pre-planned city of its time.

William Penn’s plan for the city was also innovative; he allotted ample land for future expansion and development.  He positioned major public buildings strategically to the center of the town, designed roads with a large enough width to meet the needs of the town and planned plots of land for homes that were larger than most of its contemporary European cities.

He also introduced a first in colonial American city planning – open squares for public recreation.  At a time when most towns had only the main center square for civic buildings, Penn outlined green space for public parks and gardens that would enhance the quality of life for future Philadelphia residents.

And after more than 350 years of industrialization and urbanization, of farm land and factories, of railroads and cars, William Penn’s colonial vision for Philadelphia still reflects the planning needs of our modern city – green space, sustainability, transit-oriented development, appropriate land use, population density and more.

William Penn had a vision of Philadelphia as a green, vibrant, bustling town filled with commerce and opportunity.  That kind of clear vision of what the City should be is what I found in short supply when I came into office.

By the mid-2000s, after more than five decades of decline and disinvestment, Philadelphia had become a somewhat stagnant city, locked in a repetitious cycle of chasing development rather than guiding it – responding only to developer proposals rather than setting clear and fair rules of interaction for both developers and the community.

The City Planning Commission no longer played its rightful role of driving the planning process, and the Zoning Board of Adjustments was too often used as the de facto planning agency.

As a result, planning occurred on a per development basis.  There was little coordination between projects, little consistency, and ultimately, no real strategy for future growth.

Our zoning code had become bogged down with complex and disjointed language and layers upon layers of changes.  It was bloated with one-off reactions to circumstance.  After 35 years without a comprehensive overhaul, it was nearly unintelligible.

Philadelphia’s approach to zoning and planning had gone from forward-thinking to the quintessential example of leading from behind.

As Mayor, my goal was to re-establish the Planning Commission as the preeminent city planning agency in the country and redefine city planning in Philadelphia.

I have long believed that planning – smart planning – is critical to the successful development of our city.  When done right, city planning can create a more livable, healthier, economically viable city.

And, in order to do it right, our new planning process had to be community-centric, incorporating citizen input.  It had to build on our existing strength as the economic engine of the world’s eighth largest regional economy.

It had to preserve and enhance our historic roots and vibrant, diverse neighborhoods.  It needed to rejuvenate underutilized former industrial space and support the productive use of vacant land.

It needed to work in tandem with our Zoning Code.  It needed to maintain and improve our city’s standards of being a walkable and bikeable city.

And, it had to align with the city’s other goals of environmental sustainability, access to healthy and affordable foods and enhanced quality of life for residents – goals that have been clearly defined in our Green Works Philadelphia; Green 2015; Green City, Clean Waters; and Complete Streets plans.

Lastly, for our new planning process to be a good foundation for the bright future I envisioned for Philadelphia, the process had to be transparent and implemented with integrity and professionalism.

I charged my team with a very difficult task.  And they wasted no time in getting to work.

We wanted to ensure that our new planning and zoning processes were rooted in integrity and professionalism – the strongest foundation for future growth.  We eliminated any sense of “it’s who you know” and pay-to-play culture in city government.

Let me give you an example:

For decades, the Penn’s Landing Corporation managed the development efforts along the historic 7 miles of the Delaware River waterfront.  Progress was slow.  Jobs and contracts were, let’s just say not awarded fairly.

Over the last fifty years, Philadelphians were promised improvement, change, development, only to have it start and stop, start and stop, over and over again.

When I came into office, working with my team, we overhauled the development process on the Delaware.  We created the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation and wrote the Delaware Waterfront Master Plan, a realistic plan to guide development for the next 25 years.

And then, we began to make important infrastructure investments, completing work on two major piers, the Race Street Pier and the Washington Avenue Pier.  We’re also renovating a third for fishing.  This summer, we launched the Spruce Street Harbor Park pop-up garden, which was massively successful.

And, we have plans in place to complete Philadelphia’s next great public square at Penn’s Landing, a $250 million project to reconnect Old City with the Delaware Waterfront.  At the moment, we are securing financing for the project.

In turn, private enterprise is looking at the Delaware Waterfront – a cultural hub, FringeArts, a great public-private partnership opened in a former water department pumping station.  And, we announced plans for One Water Streets Apartments and a new Live Nation music venue.

We also focused intensely on civic outreach as an integral part of the planning process, allowing citizens’ to have a say in the design and planning for their own community.  This focus has created more transparency and participation while strengthening the integrity of the results.

Our Planning Commission operates three programs to include citizen input throughout the course of development:

  • Registered Community Organizations, which serves as a community feedback tool and requires that developers meet with community organizations regarding proposals through a community meeting setting;
  • the Civic Design Review Committee, a group of industry professionals that I appointed who convene monthly public meetings to review urban design elements of new developments and assess the impact of these projects on the public realm; and
  • the Citizens Planning Institute, an education and training program for citizens to learn about planning, zoning and development.

Over the last six years, we created a new zoning code to act as a rule book for construction and development.  Unlike the patch-worked previous code, we wrote a code that was simple, consistent and predictable.  It is easier to use and allows development to happen by right, creating a more streamlined environment for growth.

We turned my vision of a reinvigorated, refocused Philadelphia City Planning Commission into a reality.  And, they created the city-wide plan – Philadelphia 2035 — that we desperately needed to spur and encourage future growth.

Comprehensive in nature, Philadelphia 2035 is the big-picture blueprint to help our city thrive with new growth and opportunities, connect to the world, and renew its resources for future generations that our city was missing.  It builds on the city’s long-standing assets and recent achievements and maps out a plan for the next quarter century and beyond.

In order for Philadelphia 2035 to truly meet the planning goals of the city, it needed to be more than an over-arching, top-line document.  It needed to address the specific development challenges of our neighborhoods.

As a result, the Planning Commission began work on more focused, strategic plans for 18 individual areas across the city, called District Plans.  These plans not only outline the planning and development needs of a community, but also make recommendation for zoning changes and public investment that the District needs to implement in order to flourish.

To date, we have completed 8 District plans and are currently working on plans for Districts 9 and 10.  The remaining 8 plans are scheduled to be completed by 2017.

One of the signature developments in our Lower North District Plan is the transit-oriented development project of Paseo Verde, which will be the focus of one of the workshop topics later today.

Paseo Verde is a 1.9 acre project near the fourth busiest stop in our regional transit system.  It is a mixed-use development with 120 units of sustainable housing for low and moderate income families.  As the nation’s first LEED for Neighborhood Development Platinum Project, it is designed to meet the highest levels of LEED certifications for homes and serves as a model for sustainable redevelopment in the city – meeting many of the standards of our Green Works and Green 2015 plans.

The development at Paseo Verde is just one example of many projects that have benefitted from our new approach to city planning.

In total, our City Planning Commission has adopted 23 plans since 2008, including the completed District Plans, three bicycle, pedestrian and trail plans and 12 community or other purpose plans.

Let me give you another example:

In 2013, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation in partnership with the City and the Planning Commission, completed the Lower Schuylkill Master Plan, which set a long-term strategy of reconnecting one of Philadelphia’s largest industrial legacy areas back to the City.  It is the definitive repurposing of underutilized land.

Spanning the 3,000 acres between Center City and the airport, the Master Plan calls for the use of best practices in brownfield remediation, green infrastructure, multi-modal transportation and recreational access along the riverfront.

Just two weeks ago, I cut the ribbon to open the Schuylkill River Boardwalk, a publicly funded connector project for the Schuylkill River Trail, which is part of our city-wide Trail Master Plan, also recommended by Philadelphia 2035.

More importantly, our planning policy changes and the public investment in revitalizing this stretch of land have encouraged private development, including the recently completed EVO at Cira South, a residential and mixed-use building project, and the under construction commercial and mixed-use FMC Tower project.

In total, the Lower Schuylkill Master Plan has generated countless opportunities for development, millions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs for residents of the Philadelphia region.

This plan, like so many that our Philadelphia City Planning Commission has undertaken, demonstrates that a good plan yields positive, tangible results.

Today, Philadelphia has 500 miles of bike lanes for use by the 13,000 Philadelphians who cycle to work.

We created a Land Bank, a better system for the disposition of vacant land and properties, making Philadelphia the largest city in the nation to have such a system.

We increased and connected hundreds of miles of trails in the City parks system, linking miles of trails across the city together.

We transformed vacant land into usable public recreation space at Hawthorne Park, renovated existing parks to better serve the communities in which they are located, and built new parks and public recreation space like Paine’s Skatepark and Julian Abele Park.

We completed construction on the South Street Bridge, linking Center City and West Philadelphia, and Race Street Pier, which reconnects residents with the City’s waterfront.

We constructed more than 1,100 greened acres through Green City, Clean Waters, reducing storm water runoff by more than 500 million gallons per year.

We installed more than 500 pedestrian countdown signals and retimed 2,400 intersections in favor of pedestrians, increasing our city’s walkability.

In August, we opened the new Dilworth Park, a renovation totaling $55 million, supported by a $15 million federal Tiger Grant.

We recently broke ground on a new community wellness development in South Philadelphia, which will feature a community clinic, recreation center, library and more, in partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

We cut through decades of development red-tape and completed the new Juvenile Justice Services Center in West Philadelphia earlier this year and the co-located Department of Human Services/Special Victims Unit facility in North Philadelphia last year.

That’s just a few public projects.  We have even more under construction and planned for the future.

Our good planning and leading by example have created private sector impact.  Private investment is following public sector improvements to planning and development.

You can’t walk down the street here and not see a crane or construction crew.

Since January 2013, $8.5 billion of more than 200 new developments have been completed, started or announced in the City of Philadelphia.

We’ve created an environment where collaboration between the government and private sector is possible.  We’ve built a strong foundation for future growth.

Early in my Administration in June 2008, I gave a speech to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission about my vision for city planning and change in Philadelphia.  I outlined the same need for commonsense reform and critical changes to our approach that I have discussed today.

I am sure I scared some people.  I was proposing a drastic shift away from the status quo.  But, the talented people who work for the City, who live in and love Philadelphia, didn’t shy away from the challenge of transforming a flawed system.

Instead, they did something truly commendable.  They took a vision and made it a reality.

And the citizens of Philadelphia responded with enthusiasm.  They embraced our new vision for Philadelphia and wanted to be a part of it.  We have trained 240 “citizen planners.” In total, more than 450 municipal employees, land use attorneys, developers and citizens have received zoning code training trough the Citizens Planning Institute.  In fact, the Citizen’s Planning Institute has been used as a model for other cities to implement similar community training programs.

Today, Philadelphia is that smarter, cleaner, greener, safer city.  It is more prosperous.  It attracts major investments, like the $1.2 billion new Comcast Innovation and Technology Center.  And, we did it all in the face of the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Philadelphia hasn’t just arrived on the world stage – we’re playing a leading role.

Across the country and around the world, every place I travel, people are interested in Philadelphia.  They want to know what we are doing and how they can get involved.

I believe we have done something truly incredible in Philadelphia.  We have built a foundation for future growth.  We kept true to the planning principals of our historic origins and redefined city planning in Philadelphia.

Just last year, the American Planning Association awarded Philadelphia with the National Planning Excellence Award for a best practice in recognition of our integrated planning and zoning process.

The smart planning that we have done, combined with a commitment to integrity and professionalism in government, has given Philadelphia the confidence to grow responsibly and to assume a competitive posture on the world stage.

Philadelphia in 2014 is a result of planning, smart planning, in action.  It will serve us well for decades to come.

Planning matters, zoning matters, cities matter because what all of you do matters in making cities great.  And today, you’re in one of the greatest cities in the world, Philadelphia.

Thank you.”

Posted in Housing, Mayor's Press Releases, Neighborhoods, Press Release, Topics, Transportation & Utilties, Urban Development
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