A Win-Win Idea for Solving Urban Blight

Race Street Pier in Philadelphia is the model for a new idea to tackle urban blight along abandoned industrial waterfronts by establishing public access to new recreational areas.

| July/August 2013

  • Solving Urban Blight
    “…restoring public access to these spaces not only rehabilitates a woefully underutilized area of the city, but spurs economic growth in the process…”
    Photo By Fotolia/dgpearceuk

  • Solving Urban Blight

A common sight in many urban areas is the abandoned industrial waterfront. In most cities, it was a once bustling scene that has long since deteriorated into a series of dilapidated buildings and unused space.

Fortunately, some city planners are realizing that restoring public access to these spaces not only rehabilitates a woefully underutilized area of the city, but spurs economic growth in the process, according to a recent article in Coastal Services (March-April 2013), the bimonthly trade journal of coastal resources managers.

Proponents for this idea point to Race Street Pier in Philadelphia as the model. A formerly abandoned one-acre space under the Ben Franklin Bridge on the banks of the Delaware River, Race Street Pier is bustling again thanks to a joint effort by city, state, and federal officials that depended heavily on public input. Extensive public involvement at every step in the planning process ensured that the two-year project would be a success, according to project coordinators. The park opened to the public on May 12, 2011, and 60,000 people visited the park that summer. “It immediately made it into people’s routines,” says Joe Forkin, vice president for operations and development for the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation. “There are runners, joggers, picknickers, school trips-it’s made its way into the fabric of the community in a very short period of time.”

The sudden blossoming of activity at Race Street Pier has also prompted private investors to purchase and refurbish the formerly abandoned buildings in the surrounding neighborhoods affected by urban blight, which further bolsters the notion that revitalization plans like this one are win-win for everyone. “It proves our point,” Forkin says. “When you make this kind of public investment, private investors will follow.”

It also proves the point that giving the people what they want-public access to recreational space-could be a solution to a problem many cities are facing. “This could definitely be a model for other coastal managers,” Forkin says. “There are a lot of cities that have these kinds of old, abandoned industrial sites, particularly up and down the East Coast. Providing public access does leverage interest in the area. It opens the door to good, adaptive reuse.”

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