GRID IS still good. And today, it may get even a little better.
Today the Philadelphia Planning Commission is expected to formally accept the civic vision for the Central Delaware as a working guide for public policy and planning of the waterfront; the vision will be the guiding spirit for zoning changes, public improvements and other elements of an eventual master plan.
That, and the interim zoning plan that is being developed for the waterfront, represent the first real collision of vision and reality: between the idea that if we don't plan, the waterfront could become a warehouse of buildings rather than an inviting public asset where people can live, work and play.
The waterfront's potential was recognized by Mayor John Street, who signed an executive order to create a civic vision. The actual vision, which involved thousands of citizens meeting for nearly a year, was smartly embraced by Mayor Nutter, who recognized that the waterfront could be the next big horizon for growing the city.
The best thing about the Delaware vision - and unusual in this city - was that it puts the public first: It mandates access to the waterfront, it limits the kind of incoherent and big-box development that plagues much of the Delaware, and it pushes to have the street grid extended all the way to the water's edge, which provides better access and insures that most traffic is created by people, not cars. A master plan will detail all of this in about a year. Meanwhile, an interim zoning plan, authored by Councilman Frank DiCicco's office, is also on today's Planning Commission agenda. This interim plan is where the rubber really begins meeting the road, where we change from a city that lets developers decide what our landscape looks like, to one where the wishes of developers are balanced against the wishes of the public. DiCicco has been forced, by virtue of the district he represents, to help blaze this trail for the city's approach to planning. He's shown himself to be among the least afraid of anyone on Council of messy public dialogue. The interim zoning will test his ability to stand firm against developers and others who have benefited greatly from the status quo, and want to keep it that way.
Today's meeting will feature many reminders to him and to other officials of the sea change that has come to planning: About 20 groups representing many citizen interests will be on hand to testify. Their interests go beyond the Delaware, and include those concerned about how we plan the city as a whole. In the past, these meetings have been sparsely attended by the public. Thanks to the civic vision, and a new administration, people now have a place at the table. *