First Transatlantic Cities Forum Promotes U.S.–European Dialogue on Philadelphia’s Obsolete Urban Infrastructure
From February 26-27, 2015, the German Marshall Fund’s Urban and Regional Policy Program hosted a two-day workshop entitled Transatlantic Cities Forum: Re-envisioning Philadelphia’s Industrial Spaces. The first of three Transatlantic Cities Forums, this Forum was hosted with the generous support of the William Penn Foundation and in collaboration with Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation.
The workshop brought together over a dozen international and national representatives of best practice case studies, along with participation of key stakeholders in Philadelphia, for a series of visioning exercises to promote the exchange of knowledge and expertise regarding the adaptation of these industrial spaces. The event also included the participation of a group of urban design students from the Technical University in Dortmund, Germany, who participated in a separate planning charrette with architecture students from Drexel University at the workshop’s conclusion.
In the past decade, Philadelphia has received international attention stemming from the strategic redevelopment of public spaces within the city center and surrounding neighborhoods. Nonetheless, the city still has an abundance of commercial and industrial infrastructure from the rapid expansion of industry during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As part of Philadelphia’s ongoing economic transformation, the opportunity remains to reimagine these spaces and adapt them to the 21st century needs of the city and the broader public.
The first day focused on gaining a better on-the-ground understanding of the two focus sites through presentations by locals and afternoon site-specific visits. These site visits focused on the Delaware Power Station, a decommissioned power plant on 16 acres of prime waterfront, and the Leigh Viaduct, an infrequently used rail yard with the potential to become a linear park and public space for several disconnected neighborhoods near the Delaware River. A public forum was hosted that evening for the broader Philadelphia community, where several of the invited case studies were showcased for their innovative reuse of industrial infrastructure. These case studies included: RDM Campus in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the Park Spoor Noord in Antwerp, Belgium, the Carolina Thread Trail in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen, Germany. GMF also facilitaed a panel conversation among select experts around the relevancy and value of transatlantic knowledge exchange, and how these case studies can be applied to a local context such as Philadelphia.
On the second day, participants discussed and developed recommendations for the creative reuse of both the Leigh Viaduct and the Delaware Power station. The discussion throughout the two days highlighted how the city’s industrial heritage can be leveraged to help drive the city’s social and economic development, how to balance private development with the public good, and interim strategies that can propel public and private investment in industrial spaces, with a particular focus on the two sites. The discussion also included strategies for how to make the case for investing in transformative infrastructure. The two days ended with a peer review session that synthesized the group’s ideas and next steps.
A report on the workshop, including a full set of recommendations for the two sites, will be released as part of a white paper in late spring 2015.