A few months ago, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission released its Central District Plan, which, among other things, identifies a number of ‘areas with development potential in the City. With Philadelphia’s recent trend reversing decades of population decline, it is not surprising that many of the indicated areas are located at the edges of Center City, as development activity begins to creep outward in search of new opportunities.
However, while it is certainly true that many of these peripheral areas, like North Broad Street or the Delaware Waterfront, have development potential, and that the City would benefit greatly from their revitalization, it is important to remember that the development of Center City itself is not yet complete.
This is not to say that the plan ignores more central locations, quite the contrary, East Market St. / Chestnut St. and Franklin Square are both specifically listed. Rather, the point is that these locations might deserve special consideration. At some level, North Broad simply has to wait for development to catch up with it, at least that’s the impression one could get from grand proposals like the renovation of Divine Lorraine or The Provence casino and entertainment complex. By contrast, something seems to be actively holding places like East Market and Old City back.
The challenges of these areas have been noted by local commentators repeatedly. Vacant storefronts abound in spite of heavy foot traffic and many structures are either in a state of disrepair or present an uninviting façade, contributing to an aura of blight. East Chestnut Street in particular practically screams with unmet potential and Old City never completed its supposed renaissance that began more than a decade ago. In a City that still struggles to attract jobs, but has nonetheless managed to establish itself as a great place to live, knitting together the remaining stragglers in its otherwise excellent downtown amounts to a solid economic development strategy.
There is hope, as 229 Arch recently opened in Old City, big things could be afoot on the 1100 block of Chestnut, and the Market8 casino could be a game changer. Hopefully the momentum will continue, and Philadelphia can go from having a good downtown to a world-class one.