ULI Philadelphia Blog

Fall Meeting Recap: From a WLI Perspective

Making the most of a ULI National Meeting means finding the people grappling with the same challenges. In a sea of 6,000 attendees, participating in WLI and a product council make connecting much easier.  Thanks to Langan’s WLI scholarship I was able to attend ULI’s Fall Meeting as a member of the Public Development & Infrastructure (PDI) council.

The mission of the PDI council is to provide leadership to public sector decision makers and private sector partners who are involved in public development projects as the city, state and federal level. These projects are focused on public sector use supported by private sector involvement, either through financing or operations.

Each host city provides a frame for examining best practices in the development of public projects. Boston, with its tradition of federal and state support for infrastructure investments, provided a rich subject. PDI Council leadership organized the meeting around two Boston neighborhoods where longsighted public bets on infrastructure are paying dividends with private investment.

The morning session was organized around the lessons of Kendall Square, where MIT, MassDOT and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority oversaw the transformation of 42 acres of industrial land north of Cambridge into an innovation center. Beginning with a federal transportation research center, originally intended for NASA’s headquarters   In the last decade, 4 million sf have been delivered , 50,000 people work here and the Square has the highest density of patents per square mile. The catalyst for Kendall’s Square’s redevelopment was the city’s early rejection of federal highway projects in favor of investment in public transit and technology

After a tour of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the publicly-owned, privately-operated greenspace capping the Big Dig, our council toured the Seaport, Boston’s newest innovation District. During the nineties, infrastructure bets were made through strong congressional leadership in the form of a new bridge and federal courthouse located in a former industrial area. With the Big Dig and extension of the Silver Line, the Seaport was reconnected to the downtown, to the airport and suburbs. Bolstered by strong legal protections for public waterfront access, Boston’s newest live, work play neighborhood has emerged.

While Kendall Square and the Seaport District have successfully attracted private investment, they are both actively grappling with the challenging task of creating a neighborhood that considers the full eco-system of community.  How do you build a neighborhood that creates connection and commitment from its residents?

On the trip home, I wondered, what are today’s big bets in public space and transit that will pay off for Philadelphia in the coming decades? How might our region build on the example of Rebuild to use innovative strategies to finance the public investments when federal dollars are in short supply? How can local partners collaborate to make big bets without overlooking the equally meaningful investments in the civic eco-system. We may need big infrastructure bets to  create innovation districts, but we’ll need the careful cultivation of our civic eco-system to have a thriving community.

Contributed by Allison Schapker. Allison is the Director of Capital Projects at the Fairmount Conservancy, winner of the WLI Langan Fall Meeting Scholarship, and member of the National Product Council: Public Development & Infrastructure.

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