Dependable Erection

Friday, June 20, 2008


Via the indomitable Atrios, i learned about this speech by new Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter. Yeah, i know Durham's a smaller town than Philly. But what i wouldn't give for this kind of vision coming out of City Hall:
Coming after 16 years in which Philadelphia's mayors were generally indifferent, and sometimes hostile, to the nitty-gritty of urban planning, Nutter's speech amounted to a vindication for those who believe that planners - not developers and their lawyers - should lead the discussion of how new buildings are sited, designed and woven into the city's fabric. Nutter made it plain that a strong and assertive Planning Commission was not just good government but vitally linked to Philadelphia's economic health.

"I want to return the Planning Commission to its historic, charter-based leadership role," he told the crowd, which drew heavily from the local planning and development worlds, and which gave him a standing ovation before and after the speech.

Over the years, as developers became a major source of campaign contributions, they were increasingly able to dictate their will to city planners. Major policy decisions were made ad hoc by the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which knew little of the larger issues. Meanwhile, neighborhood groups had to hire private planners to defend their interests. The city paid the price for this laissez-faire approach as more overscaled, automobile-oriented buildings were inserted into Philadelphia's gentle, walkable streets.

Nutter vowed to overhaul that system. From now on, he said, all major development projects must be submitted first to city planners for a thorough review.

He also suggested that he would ask City Council to help him amend the Home Rule Charter to give planners more authority. The absence of serious planning can be traced directly to the charter, which describes the Planning Commission merely as "advisory."

. . .

No doubt many in the audience pinched themselves when Nutter described Philadelphia as if it were a progressive West Coast city rather than a Rust Belt survivor:

"We are a walkable city, increasingly home to bicycles," Nutter declared. "We want to preserve our urban form. We do not want the automobile and its design requirements to dominate the landscape."



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