A district plan to transform Philadelphia’s historic 30th Street Station and its surrounding neighborhoods was selected by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) as the winner of its 2017 Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design.
The AIA Regional & Urban Design program recognizes the best in urban design, regional and city planning, and community development. The 30th Street Station District Plan was selected for the award from more than 700 international submissions.
The plan, which began development in 2014 and was unveiled last summer, was created in partnership with Amtrak, Brandywine Realty Trust, Drexel University, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). WSP is a key member of the consultant team led by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) and includes OLIN and HR&A Advisors.
Built in 1933, 30th Street Station is the third-busiest Amtrak station in the U.S., handling an estimated 30,000 intercity travelers and regional commuters daily. The district plan is the centerpiece of a major civic effort intended to rejuvenate the area surrounding the station. The plan proposes the creation of 40 acres of open space and 18 million square feet of new development, covering 175 acres around the station. The plan includes a mixed-use urban neighborhood located above the 88-acre rail yard, located along the western bank of the Schuylkill River.
“The Philadelphia 30th Street Station District Plan is a transformative master planning effort that developed a comprehensive vision for the future of the 30th Street Station District beginning today and for decades ahead,” said Peter Denitz, principal-in-charge for WSP. “The plan seeks to manage future development through articulation of a long-range collaboration, phasing and investment plan.
“Our firm was responsible for the transportation planning efforts to envision a fully integrated, transportation-centered, mixed-use district that brings the city and the station seamlessly together and supports contemporary travel patterns and Philadelphia’s pivotal situation along the Northeast Corridor,” Denitz said.
In addition to the SOM team and the plan sponsors, the district plan was guided by a coordinating committee that included the City of Philadelphia, NJ TRANSIT, CSX Corporation, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, Schuylkill River Development Corporation, University City District and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
Denitz said the long-range program was created to enhance and ensure the long-term functionality of one of world’s great train stations and integrate the many modes passing through the station and district, including intercity and commuter rail, subway, trolley, local and intercity buses, bicycles and pedestrians.
“This is a multi-phased program and 40-plus-year vision that encompasses the station, its surrounding community, and the rail yard,” Denitz said. “The plan envisions a revitalized hub that ties together the two major business districts of Philadelphia; an innovation, health and education hub of global stature; and adjacent, diverse neighborhoods of recent and historic vintage.”
The WSP team includes Anna Lynn Smith, who served as the transportation task leader, as well as Kivanc Caglar, Alexis Howland, Mark Walker and James Anderson.
With a proposed $2 billion investment in roads, utilities, parks, bridges and extension of transit services, the plan has the potential to unlock $4.5 billion in private real estate investment with robust and widespread economic benefits.
Because of its extended duration, Denitz said the District Plan “requires equanimity among all stakeholders in an environment that embraces both innovation and traditional ways of doing things” in order to succeed.
“Our clients came together in partnership in the belief that, with the renaissance of urban cores, the rebirth of American passenger rail and important initiatives underway by our partners, this was the right moment to invest their time and capital for the definitive study of the largest transportation-oriented development project in the city,” Denitz said.
The diverse needs of all stakeholders, combined with collaboration across multiple teaming partners created an “all in” decision-making environment where everyone involved was required to listen, collaborate and think creatively.
“This undertaking exemplified the best of our practices with constant collaboration among planners, engineers, landscape architects, architects and economists,” Denitz said. “There was a shared sense of mission and belief in the transformative power of planning.”
He said the collaborative environment over two years has helped establish what will become “one of the defining projects for the 21st century in Philadelphia.”
The public was engaged throughout the development of the 30th Street Station District Plan, and when it was revealed last June, the response was positive.
“It garnered an enthusiastic response at many levels – institutions, community groups, citizens – throughout the planning process,” Denitz said. Public meetings, a community task force and multiple channels for feedback were all utilized during the process.
“This was a thoughtful and determined effort to bring together the sensibilities of great architecture; a public-supported vision; and an understanding of short-, mid- and long-term transportation, economic and community development needs and opportunities,” he said.
Shortly after its public release, the plan was formally accepted by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, and work is under way on the next phases.
Brandywine Realty Trust and Drexel University are collaborating on Schuylkill Yards, a 6-million-square-foot mixed-use development. Amtrak is active in the development of the construction on the station and development of the surrounding sites. PennDOT and SEPTA are undertaking studies to improve their roadway and transit assets to prepare the site for future development.
“The pre-construction planning project was truly a career-defining effort for the WSP staff involved,” Denitz said. “It was intense, demanding and deeply rewarding. It was a project that you felt privileged and fortunate to be a part of.”