The Plexus Spine of North Philly


Jacqueline Martinez, Student ASLA | Graduate | Faculty Advisors: Lucinda Sanders, FASLA; Michael Miller | University of Pennsylvania | Philadelphia, PA


Reinstating the role of the Northeast Corridor as a plexus spine both physically and socially, the rail infrastructure is catalyzed using the latent potential of the atypical fabric and perpetual vacancy. A large-scale civic landscape stitches the neighborhoods together, weaving into the fabric, connecting river to river. Creating a flexible framework adjusting to city forces, the stimulant of the habitat trail acts as the development driver growing with the community throughout multi-scalar interventions along the armature.



Reinstating the role of the Northeast Corridor as a plexus spine both physically and socially, the rail infrastructure that slices through these North Philadelphia neighborhoods can be catalyzed using the latent potential of the atypical fabric caused from rail line scars and perpetual vacancy seeding from the loss of industry. Connecting disparate urban patches and corridors through the impervious collage of North Philadelphia, a large-scale bio-diverse civic landscape infrastructure stitches the neighborhoods together, weaving into the fabric and connecting river to river. By creating a flexible framework to adjust to unforeseen city forces, the stimulant of the habitat trail will act as the economic driver growing with the community throughout multi-scalar interventions acting along the armature. Stemming off the spine of the habitat trail connecting to the schools, the community hubs of the neighborhood, the intersection of these corridors with the spine create development nodes setting up a myriad of interactions with the different land uses operating under strategic development rules and incentive exchanges, creating a community based development growth.


The Problem_ The Socio-Economic state of North Philly is in dire need of an economic stimulant since the dismantling of the industrial boom, which has left the neighborhoods in a downward spiral towards poverty.
The Solution_ In order for North Philly to be activated but not gentrified and push the impoverished community out, strategic policy and community involvement must be strategized throughout the development of the catalyst: a 7.5 mile bio-diverse habitat trail that stitches the neighborhood together river to river. Combing both bottom up small incremental interventions along with a top down big scale move, the community can be involved in the development process through the creation of needed jobs and skill-set training so that the community can take claim on their land.

Using proven statistics arguing for the monetary gain by such a large-scale landscape intervention, incentives for monetary backers to support the initial funding alongside partners with shared agendas, the large adjacent industrial vacant land running along the Northeast Corridor would be acquired.Because of the large lot size, half the lot would be dedicated for the habitat spine, while the other half would be left for development.


Catalyzing the existing infrastructure, an armature composed of a bio-diverse habitat trail would travel along the Northeast Corridor connecting into existing patches and corridors. Along this habitat spine, off shoot tendons would connect to schools, the beacons of the neighborhood, along which the small-scale graft interventions would infiltrate the residential fabric. The intersections of the tendons and the spine would create designated development nodes activated by these nuclei acting as access points into the trail system.

Breaking the armature down into separate systems, all of which would be in charge of their separate zones made up of community members and organizations, which each have a different relationship with the community and neighborhood. By establishing overarching objectives for the growth of the armature, which all have social retributions for the community. These objectives would be carried out by all the systems throughout all of the phasing in a non-structured, non-hierarchical strategy allowing for the flexibility of the unknown city forces.

The objectives would be carried out through a variety of devices, which would involve the community and different players and agents in different ways. By establishing design guidelines for each of the armature systems, a structured framework for the flexibility of the development can play out with the outcomes still successful in terms of social infrastructure regardless of the state of “completeness”.


Traveling along the Northeast Corridor, the habitat spine would constantly shift from secluded landscape to exposed urban realm with the combination of different adjacent land-uses, ecologies, and topography. Composed of a multi-modal hierarchical path system, the spine would infiltrate the fabric and connect the neighborhood through its network. Responding to the existing site conditions, such as slope, elevation, and soil saturation, the diverse ecologies would be constructed with 2 methods each with a different budget and timestamp. The more fast track engineered reforestation process would allow for catalytic investment in the development nodes with the slower accelerated successional reforestation happening in between.


To maximize the catalytic impact, 4 main development nodes would be designated along the spine, each propelling an existing unique ecological asset or potential. The unique character of each node would be distinguished both by its landscape and its programmatic neighborhood identity animated by the new development.


Using Eco-Node 02, The Rail Infrastructure Nexus as a case study, the armature is tested in scenario studies looking at how different outcomes could arise from the flexible systems set forth. Expanding upon the medium development scenario “Everything in Moderation”, the armature weaves into the fabric bolstering the latent potential of the fragmented fabric, stitching together the contextually driven programs of development both new and repurposed. A tri-part development strategy is used which creates connections with existing neighborhood assets and new vocational co-lab collaborations between the local school systems and the new start-ups and industries. Combining both renovations of existing vacant industrial buildings, new construction, and direct connections to existing neighborhood assets, the tri-part development strategy would infiltrate into the existing fabric socially and physically.

Using the continuous habitat trail as a spine to hang varied civic landscapes off of, the public realm would intertwine through the development catalyzing the latent potential of the atypical fabric created by the Northeast Corridor slice. By connecting to the neighborhood assets both physically and programmatically, the development nuclei would become a diverse patchwork of districts. Instead of relying on 1 industry as an economic stimulant, which would likely diminish at some point in the future, setting up a flexible framework for variety allowing for more insurance for the unknown future.

Exploring how the Spine, the public realm, would interface with the varied land-use programs running adjacent to the corridor, a spectrum of connections through different variables would be set up in accordance with a collaboration between the Spine and the developers. Using a factor of public to private, the spine would interface with the development from one extreme, being almost completely separated from one another, to a sinuous relationship extending the public landscape into the building as cultural beacons of the neighborhood.

"Had so much depth, variety of graphics, and made a case at detail scale. Lots of information displayed with nice design skills, strategy, and tactics, which are rare. Really understood topography. Illustrated beautifully both in perspective and selection."

- 2014 Awards Jury



Youngsoo Kim, Student ASLA - Studio Graduate Assistant