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Philadelphia Mayor Nutter Hosts 43rd National Session of City Design Institute

By Nicholas Foster, MICD Program Manager
March 9, 2009

The Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD) held its 43rd National Session in Philadelphia from February 12-14 in partnership with Bank of America and the Surdna Foundation. Hosted by Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter and the city, the event was attended by Providence (RI) Mayor David N. Cicilline; Shreveport (LA) Mayor Cedric B. Glover; Kalamazoo (MI) Mayor Bobby J. Hopewell; Reading (PA) Mayor Thomas M. McMahon; and Saginaw (MI) Mayor Joyce J. Seals. Experts in architecture and landscape architecture, development, and urban planning joined the mayors in a discussion, offering advice on how the mayors could approach the urban design challenges facing their respective cities.

The session commenced with a keynote lecture by MICD founder Charleston (SC) Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. at the University of Pennsylvania. Discussing his successes in Charleston and their applicability in other cities, Riley set the tone for the event by emphasizing that, ultimately, mayors are the chief urban designers of their cities. During the first day of the working meetings, institute participants were provided a behind-the'scenes tour of the Philadelphia Navy Yard and the headquarters of Urban Outfitters, Inc. Mayors and designers were able to experience, first-hand, what redevelopment and reuse efforts could produce, as they toured the internationally-renowned, adaptive reuse of the once-decaying industrial waterfront.

Hopewell opened the working meetings by discussing redevelopment efforts along the Kalamazoo River. The mayor explained that the city is focusing on a handful of underutilized parcels along the river that could better serve the community while helping to support additional infill development. The resource team supported the mayor’s vision and encouraged him to further explore how the riverfront development plans tie into the redevelopment plans for Downtown Kalamazoo. By understanding the context of the site and its proximity to Downtown, designers suggested that the city would be better equipped to make decisions as to what land uses are most appropriate for each of the redevelopment parcels.

McMahon discussed a development project that has been proposed for a large tract of land located near the downtown area along the Schuylkill River. The mayor explained that the city is currently evaluating the redevelopment proposals that have been submitted to respect the history and integrity of the neighborhoods adjacent to the redevelopment site, balancing open space with development. A variety of design and planning solutions were offered by the resource team as a means to contend with the underutilized site. Additionally, McMahon was encouraged to promote further public participation to gain perspective on what the communities’ needs are for the site, which will bolster public support for the redevelopment efforts.

Glover shared his vision to redevelop a section of the Cross Bayou waterway, located just a few blocks from the city’s central business district. The mayor elaborated on how he would build upon the success of several amenities located along the Red River and asked for guidance as to what land uses would be most appropriate. Designers encouraged the mayor to address the redevelopment of the waterfront in a manner that blends with the existing environment while creating ample open space for city residents and visitors alike. Resource team members suggested the mayor think of the land uses beyond the immediate parcels, as whatever development capacity is realized at these sites will ultimately impact the connectivity along the waterway.

Seals presented her city’s plans to rejuvenate portions of the Cathedral District, located within Saginaw’s east side. Saginaw is seeking to modify the way in which it rehabilitates its economically distressed neighborhoods, moving towards a more holistic approach of rehabilitation as opposed to focusing on distressed properties, one at a time. Members of the resource team supported the mayor’s vision for rehabilitating the District and suggested she work with the various stakeholders that will benefit from investments to the neighborhoods. Several designers suggested the city partner with the local hospitals and healthcare clinics to leverage their investments to help bring additional value back to the District.

Cicilline provided an update on previous planning work — such as the uncovering of the Providence River, among other major projects — that has dramatically transformed portions of his city’s downtown waterfront. Now, the city is hoping to extend much of the success of the downtown core to adjacent districts that will be made possible with the deconstruction of a section of one of the city’s primary freeway, I-195. Resource team members suggested that the city consider reconnecting Downtown Providence’s street grids in a manner that promotes greater connectivity throughout the central business district. Designers also suggested capping the streets that will extend over the remaining portions of the freeway to help promote accessibility throughout the districts.

Nutter discussed various planning and design issues facing Philadelphia, focusing on the older, industrial waterfronts. The mayor explained that while, historically, the city’s economy benefitted from the proliferation of industrial land uses located along the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, today, the city is seeking to repair and reclaim its waterfronts for the public’s use. Members of the resource team suggested a variety of design concepts that would help extend urban development patterns out to the edges of the rivers, potentially including capping sections of I-95, to create aesthetically appealing landscapes along the waterfronts that are wrapped with parks and open space. Designers stated that with the success of projects, such as the rehabilitation of Navy Yard site, the City could leverage additional development capacity along its waterfronts.

Joining the mayors at this national session were resource team members: Julie Bargmann, founding principal at D.I.R.T. Studios, Charlottesville (VA); Paul Brophy, principal at Brophy & Reilly LLC, Columbia (MD); James Field, real estate development executive at Bank of America, Dallas (TX); Daniel Hernandez, director of planning at Jonathan Rose Companies, New York (NY); Ted Landsmark, M.Env.D, J.D. Ph.D, Assoc. AIA, D.F.A. (Hon.), president of the Boston Architectural College, Boston (MA); Angie Garcia Lathrop, community affairs executive at Bank of America, Washington (DC); Jair Lynch, president and CEO of JAIR LYNCH Development Partners, Washington (DC); Jacinta McCann, FAILA, LEED AP, senior vice president of EDAW and director of the west region for AECOM, San Francisco (CA); Dan Pitera, AIA, ACD, executive director of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, Detroit (MI); and Lawrence Scarpa, AIA, founding partner of Pugh - Scarpa Architecture, Santa Monica (CA).

ce Scarpa, AIA, founding partner of Pugh - Scarpa Architecture, Santa Monica (CA).

The session is the seventh MICD national session sponsored by Bank of America. The Bank has made a sustained commitment to America’s communities — pledging $1.5 trillion in loans and investments for community development. Among its priorities are affordable housing, economic development, and urban redevelopment projects. The first institute of several to be sponsored by the Surdna Foundation, a new sponsor of MICD, the Surdna Foundation makes grants in the areas of environment, community revitalization, effective citizenry, the arts and the nonprofit sector. The Foundation aims to help MICD support the revitalization of the built environment of America’s older industrial cities, a central theme of the 43rd National Session.

MICD is a partnership program of the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Architectural Foundation, and the United States Conference of Mayors. To date, the program has assisted over 775 mayors in transforming their communities through good urban design. The Mayors’ Institute conducts several sessions each year. For a list of upcoming events, past attendees, or for more information, visit