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How anchor institutions helped sprout a ‘second city’ in the sky

A 'second city' in the sky. March 7, 2016 Category: FeaturedMediumMethod
At 29 stories, the Cira Centre towers over the rest of University City. But two decades from now, the skyscraper may very well become eclipsed by the shadow of a leviathan.

Drexel’s $3.5 billion joint venture with Brandywine Realty Trust, unveiled last week, is the latest in a recent string of partnerships the developer has forged with anchor institutions in University City, most of which have blossomed into a cluster of green spaces in and around 30th Street Station:

  • Brandywine partnered with Schuylkill River Development Corporation‘s to build Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk.
  • They  worked with University of Pennsylvania to build FMC Tower. 
  • There’s also University City District‘s The Porch.

“It’s really part of a larger plan here,” said Brandywine GM Alex Grella at the Tri-State Sustainability Symposium last week. Cira Green, the city’s first elevated park, is “part of a much larger green space initiative for this area,” he said.

“Cira Green is Ground Zero,” said Jane Winkel, director of stewardship at green roof design firm Roofmeadow. “The institutional support is there.”

Roofmeadow has been played a significant role in the collaborative quest to green University City. The firm designed Brandywine’s Cira Green as well as the elevated green spaces at Penn’s Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology and City Tap House.

From our Partners

University City’s anchor institutions have, in a very direct way, helped sprout a “second city” of open, green space overhead. Here are five quick takeaways about the development and hanging gardens to come.

  • It’s good for city stormwater management — Cira Green is the city’s first blue-green roof. Cisterns buried beneath the landscape capture stormwater and funnel it back through the green space, making it self-sustaining. It’s great news for the river below the new development, and thanks to City Council and the Water Department, Schuylkill Yard’s new structures will have to have them, too.
  • And hopefully great for West Philly’s Promise Zone —Drexel President John Fry said “inclusion lies at the heart of this project,” but what exactly does that mean? It might mean ushering in kids from Promise Zone neighborhoods to the West and teaching them the skills they need to find employment in Fry’s “Innovation Neighborhood.”
  • It’s pretty — And revitalizing. Winkel said the spaces that typically get transformed into elevated parks or green roofs are “these grey, forgotten places” like concrete garages.
  • … Pretty bold — “I see too many people taking the easy way out when it comes to engineering and landscape design,” said Glen Abrams, director of sustainable communities at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. “You can get such a wonderful product that has multiple benefits if people are only willing to put themselves out there a little bit and innovate.”
  • It’s a solid use of space — Smart design for elevated space, said Roofmeadow VP Melissa Muroff, should “connect the landscape to the ground,” to feel like it’s both an escape from the city and an extension of it. Elevated green spaces like Cira Green are kind of like any other park — a venue for events and concerts, a platform for community building. They’re just near eye-to-eye with the skyline.

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