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PHILADELPHIA-A plan for the Delaware Riverfront, mandated a year ago by an executive order from Mayor John Street, was unveiled at a public meeting on Nov. 14, led by Harris Steinberg, director of PennPraxis. The mayor’s order designated PennPraxis, a nonprofit associated with the University of Pennsylvania’s department of architecture’s school of design, to lead an advisory group.

True to its name, “The Civic Vision for the Central Delaware,” the plan lacks specific development details, but sets forth a “vision,” based on “planning principles.” PennPraxis worked with the city planning commission, consultant Wallace Roberts Todd LLC, representatives of city and state agencies, and citizens, who participated in public forums, which were dispersed among neighborhoods that border the seven-mile riverfront stretch.

The plan is based on three “interlocking networks that establish a framework for growth.” They are movement systems that encompass streets, public transit and trails; parks and open space, and a mix of land development uses. A chief goal is to connect the city with the riverfront, now effectively separated by I-95. The plan calls for an extension of the city’s traditional grid street-design under and over I-95 and creation of a new boulevard that accommodates mass transportation to the riverfront.

The vision also calls for the creation of at least nine parks located at every 2,000 feet, connected by a continuous trail. Another objective is the creation of a 24-hour, livable, walkable community “by encouraging a healthy mix of urban development and public improvements [that offer] a tantalizing blend of uses…so no single type of building use should dominate the central Delaware riverfront.”

That calls for an interim zoning overlay and a long-term riverfront zoning classification. The PennPraxis report calls on the new zoning commission to write a new code for the riverfront and on mayor-elect Michael Nutter to support it.

The PennPraxis study proceeded parallel to independent development plans, most notably, the citing of two casinos. “The current designs for SugarHouse and Foxwoods do not meet many of the design standards established in the Central Delaware planning process,” the report states. It recommends, among other design changes, that the scale of the buildings be reduced to not exceed a 250-foot length, ensure pedestrian access and views to the water and eliminate or reconfigure all exposed parking garages.

This is the seventh plan for development of the Delaware waterfront. Unlike the succession of plans that preceded it over the past 30 years, it does not outline a single or even several major, costly developments, but offers guidelines “that will enable the central Delaware to fill in gracefully over time.” It also spells out inexpensive, relatively simple starting points.

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