The landscape architects led the consultant team and worked with the client, stakeholder agencies and neighborhood groups to develop an urban design plan and feasibility study for the redevelopment of the 45 acre Penn’s Landing site, with an emphasis on an integrated approach to the overall development strategy, infrastructure needs and public realm opportunities. The plan resulted in strategies for transportation systems, structural deck systems and the design concept for a world class 21st century urban park that will catalyze the realization of almost 2 million square feet of mixed-use waterfront development and result in an overall economic benefit of $1.6 billion for the city. After years of planning for Penn’s Landing, the Feasibility Study for the first time represents a plan embraced by all stakeholders and sets forth a clear path for funding, phasing and implementation of this long held ambition to connect downtown Philadelphia to the Delaware River.
The landscape architects led the consultant team and worked with the client, stakeholder agencies and neighborhood groups to develop an urban design plan and feasibility study for the redevelopment of the 45 acre Penn’s Landing site, with an emphasis on an integrated approach to the overall development strategy, infrastructure needs and public realm opportunities. The plan resulted in strategies for transportation systems, structural deck systems and the design concept for a world class 21st century urban park that will catalyze the realization of almost two million square feet of mixed use waterfront development and result in an overall economic benefit of $1.6 billion for the city. After years of planning for Penn’s Landing, the Feasibility Study for the first time represents a plan embraced by all stakeholders and sets forth a clear path for funding, phasing and implementation of this long held ambition to connect downtown Philadelphia to the Delaware River.
The team supporting the lead landscape architects included planners concentrating on the development framework; engineers for the sculptural pedestrian bridge design; civil engineers focused on green infrastructure; transportation engineers for all modes of movement; structural engineers who unlocked the system that would allow the deck over the freeway to be thin enough to tilt toward the river, thus revealing waterfront views from the city; economic and market analysts to assess potential and impacts; and cost estimators.
The project scope included the exploration of a range of development densities and building massing to test site capacity against market projections, views, parking capacity and public realm opportunities. The plan proposes a continuous north south promenade that organizes the overall site structure and ensures connectivity from the pedestrian bridge that connects Society Hill to the site at the south end, along the Marina Basin development site, through the 12 acre central park, and to the Market Street development site where it transitions to a pedestrian and vehicular ‘main street’ corridor lined with hotel, townhouses, high-rise residential and neighborhood retail, and connects to waterfront developments to the north. At the water’s edge an esplanade creates waterfront public spaces that connect up through the development sites, animated by proposed destination restaurant and retail uses.
The development proposals were also analyzed in the context of vehicular transportation improvements including bus routes, future light rail, bicycle paths to connect to the regional Delaware River Trail, cars, water taxis and pedestrians as well as parking improvements; and to maximize water access for recreational as well as transportation opportunities.
The conceptual design for the park spaces included analysis of program proposals and test fits to determine the appropriate mix and scale of amenities throughout the Penn’s Landing District, driven by the central 12 acre destination park that will span over I-95 and Columbus Ave with urban gardens, an interactive water feature, ice-skating, outdoor café, passive and active recreation areas and an event lawn and amphitheater with spectacular views of the Delaware River. The Feasibility Plan also includes 16 additional acres of waterfront open space with event plazas, playgrounds, cafés, a barge pool, kayaking, paddle-boarding, pedestrian promenades and an iconic pedestrian bridge that will form a gateway at the south end of the project. The design of the central 12 acre park balances the desire for a green park with the need for active programming and utilizes a variety of approaches to the transition in grade from city down to the river - from a conscious ‘gathering of grade’ to create an informal performance space, to gradual slopes that traverse a meandering path through the urban gardens to a dramatic water esplanade edge that recalls the historic river dock relationship. At the Marina Basin the smaller neighborhood park is able to connect more directly with the calmer water for recreational activities including kayaking, paddle boating and a swimming barge.
The project embodied many complexities including the need to cap over roadways with an elevated structure that would transition to significant fill conditions and then connect down to the river’s edge. The project was as much infrastructure as design – and design that was as much three dimensional in nature as plan driven. The goal for the cap structure was to eliminate as much as possible the convex profile of the existing partial caps and bridges, thereby increasing views to the river. This required close coordination with the engineers and creative design solutions to these technical challenges.
Additionally, the plan had to consider phasing that would allow private development over time and in variable size parcels, but in a way that would insure a successful destination public realm from day one and that would integrate the private realm with the public so that physical connections, views and a cohesive whole would be achieved. The plan prescribes a public realm framework while providing a guide for a range of development densities to respond to market influences over time – all within an economically viable approach.
The Penn’s Landing Feasibility Plan is predicated upon multiple principles of sustainability – economic, social, mobility and environmental. The premise of connecting the city to the river, creating a mixed-use, transit oriented and walkable neighborhood and transforming acres of roadways and parking to open space is in itself the road map to a more sustainable Philadelphia, a city that is striving to become the greenest in the country.
Strategies to support transportation via alternate modes of travel including water taxi, buses, bicycles and future light rail are built into the plan so that reliance on automobiles can be minimized. The parking that is provided is integrated into the building podiums and below grade structures to minimize site coverage / paving and is co- located with transit hubs to encourage multi-modal use. The massing of the buildings in the mixed use development sites is organized not only to optimize river views, and transition in scale to relate to adjacent neighborhoods, but also for best solar orientation. Green roofs will also add to energy efficiency and enhance views from taller buildings as they step up the slope of the site.
Elements of the Penn’s Landing Park are also designed around environmental sustainability – minimizing paved areas, limiting the use of lawn to places where it will support program but using other lower water consumptive plants elsewhere, creating multi-use park features, for example a plaza that can also be an interactive, recirculated, water feature in the summer and ice rink in the winter, and balancing the need for shade with the preservation of views to the river. Storm water management guidelines are also built into the plan, including capture, re-use, infiltration and green roofs on park structures.
Market studies provided a range of development targets, which were balanced with site capacity studies, views and open space goals. Mixed - use goals and phasing needs are built into the plan and coordinated with market absorption rates. The plan gives flexibility in ranges of development square footages and phasing options so that market adjustments can be adapted to over the planned 20 years of full project build out.
The intent is to build the public realm and infrastructural systems first, as a catalyst to private development in addition to creating a community amenity, therefore the plan measures those investment costs against economic benefits, and ensures a return on investment based upon development values on site as well as on adjacent soft sites, generation of jobs, tax revenue and other more indirect values. As the client seeks funding from multiple sources the solid market and economic basis to the plan, as well as an inspiring vision for the future, is paramount to its successful realization.
Mary Margaret Jones, FASLA
George Hargreaves, FASLA
KS Engineers, P.C.
Johnson Mirmiran & Thompson, Inc.
Guy Nordenson and Associates
Becker & Frondorf