Laurel Schwab, MUP 2016
Organization: Philadelphia City Planning Commission, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Sponsor: Joint Center for Housing Studies Community Service Fellowship
“This week I witnessed and participated in a community meeting in the South Old Kensington neighborhood, part of the city’s “Lower North” district. That district’s plan was approved last year, but the process of remapping the area’s zoning is just getting underway. Last night’s meeting was an open house format. We set up large maps depicting the area’s existing zoning (which hasn’t been updated in decades) and the existing land use. The community was invited to provide input. Commission staff wrote on the maps to document the input they were receiving. This neighborhood, north of the central business district and directly adjacent to two rapidly developing neighborhoods (Fishtown and Northern Liberties), is on the cusp of major change and so this remapping process is well-timed.
The area was historically very industrial. In the past few decades that sector dwindled quite a bit, leaving large vacant parcels and unused buildings in what is becoming a more residential part of the city. There is a definite split among residents, some of whom say the industrial nature of their area is in the past and should be wiped away, while others feel strongly that industrial uses (and the jobs they create) should continue to be sited here. The remapping goal will be to achieve a balance of uses while allowing for flexibility depending on the amount and character of industrial activity that continues to exist here. Another comment I heard repeatedly was a desire for more green space and to formalize informal open and gardening spaces that have popped up on unused land. Unfortunately, the city cannot re-zone a property as open space simply because it is currently being used as such; that would constitute a taking of most of the value of an owner’s private property. Another barrier to the creation of more open space is that the city does not own very much land in this area. The city would most likely not be able to afford to buy developable land outright from a private owner. This scenario means that community groups will likely need to use strategies other than zoning, such as working with their City Council Member to look at opportunities on tax-delinquent properties, as has been done in other Philly neighborhoods.”