6 steps to bringing people together from the Delaware waterfront revitalization - Generocity Philly

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Dec. 10, 2015 10:27 am

6 steps to bringing people together from the Delaware waterfront revitalization

The post-industrial evolution for Philadelphia’s central Delaware waterfront has been slow. It took a hybrid coalition to develop it with a people-first focus. Here's how they did it.

Spruce Street Harbor Park. (Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kevin Jarrett, used under a Creative Commons license)

(Photo by Flickr user Kevin Jarrett, used under a Creative Commons license)

Today, Philadelphia’s central Delaware waterfront is vibrant and steadily becoming even more so, as pockets of parks, trails, piers, festival venues and pop-ups span the length of the river from bend to bend. Naturally, there’s development aplenty — especially in the past few years.

But civic-minded, mostly family-friendly development wasn’t always the plan. Fewer than 10 years ago, the waterfront came dangerously close to becoming circus grounds rampant with casinos. The post-industrial evolution of the waterfront’s development has been a politically weary one, but a coalition of public, private and academic partners developed a civic vision for Delaware waterfront development with a people-first focus.

“It’s about a coalition building transparency, education and engagement that allows issues to rise to a level where you can hopefully affect change,” said Harris Steinberg, executive director of the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University, at Technical.ly’s Rise Conference. At the time, Steinberg was with PennPraxis, an extension of the University of Pennsylvania design school, where he helped align partners that included PennPraxis, the William Penn Foundation, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation and the editorial pages of both the Inquirer and the Daily News.

Steinberg laid out six steps to forging a public-private partnership with a people-first focus:

1. Find an honest broker. For Steinberg, that broker was the William Penn Foundation.

2. Articulate the public good. The public’s best interests need to be at the forefront of your mission.

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3. Research best practices. Steinberg said the partnership looked to waterfront development practices in Chicago.

4. Engage a broad public. Through a series of 200 public forums and community meetings, Steinberg’s coalition was determined to educate Philadelphians as to what was possible in order to better develop a set of values and principles that were important to them.

5. Provide transparency. PlanPhilly was launched out of PennPraxis during this time to provide “the kind of transparency that today anyone with a smart phone can provide,” Steinberg said. “They provided me with the opportunity to provide an open and transparent process.”

6. Create accountability. Steinberg said the partnership bore the Central Delaware Advocacy Group to “make sure the city held to the planning principles they promised to elevate.”

The product of this, Steinberg said, was a document called the Civic Vision for the Central Delaware,  “done all in real time in these open meetings and forums,” predicated on six principles the partnership found to reflect the values of the Philadelphians who participated in the planning process.

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