Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Who shapes a city?

Today's Inquirer has a piece on a statewide program attempting to empower communities in their own redevelopment.
The Blueprint Communities program, announced by Gov. Rendell in the Capitol yesterday, will provide technical assistance, financial training, planning support and grants for community groups so that they may become more involved in redeveloping their areas.

Under this approach, communities - not banks, governments or outside developers - will take the lead in the rebuilding process, said officials with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, which created the program.
This reminded me of another article from this past Sunday, which looked at Philadelphia's recent housing boom though an uncommon lens: that city planning is essentially defunct, and that local communities are having to take much greater steps to ensure that development is controlled and directed in the most productive ways.
"There is so much development going on, and it's happening so fast, we just had to have a plan," explained Matt Rubin, president of the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, which recently engaged Interface Studio to undertake a wide-ranging neighborhood planning study, paid for with a $25,000 state grant.

Before the current boom, Northern Liberties was a fringe neighborhood of modest rowhouses, small workshops and acres of vacant lots. A factory renovation was considered a big project. But, nowadays, the civic group finds itself routinely evaluating plans for 1,000-unit housing developments. At the current rate of construction, Northern Liberties could see its population double in less than five years, according to Scott Page, cofounder of Philadelphia-based Interface Studio.
In part the lack of central planning may derive from the decrease in federal funds to propel such efforts; it's ironic if such funds coming back again in the more dispersed form represented by the new Blueprint program (or even Street's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative).

In looking for the Sunday article, I also found a commentary piece in today's paper, concerned about the lack of oversight of the building boom. It gives a list of questions (assembled by the volunteer Design Advocacy Group of Philadelphia) that zoning boards and neighborhood planners should consider in evaluating a development proposal, ranging from effect on the character of the neighborhood to logistical concerns like effect on light to surrounding buildings. Not a bad start, but still no replacement for a strategic vision for growth.


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