With the emergence of a new West Philadelphia-Center City “Innovation District,” supported by the growth of Philadelphia’s universities, businesses and health institutions, the historically industrial Grays Ferry Avenue and its surrounding residential neighborhoods are slated to experience enormous transformation in the coming years. On July 27th, ULI Philadelphia, together with PennPraxis—the center for applied research, practice and outreach at PennDesign—hosted a diverse group of over fifty participants, including local leaders from city agencies, community groups, major education and health institutions, and historic sites to discuss how to make Grays Ferry Avenue healthier, more sustainable, and more inclusive for those who live, work and travel along the corridor.
Leading up to the workshop, research on existing conditions of the corridor and outreach to local stakeholders for data gathering workshop participation was coordinated by a local leadership group, consisting of ULI Philadelphia, PennPraxis, the Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), the Health Promotion Council, Penn Facilities and Real Estate Services, Penn’s Office of Governmental and Community Affairs, University of the Sciences, and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC).
While presenting at the workshop, representatives from ULI national headquarters in Washington, D.C. explored case studies and illustrated how to effectively mobilize citizens, organizations and local governments to foster a healthy corridor, which they defined as: A place that reflects the culture of the community, promotes social cohesion, inspires and facilitates healthy eating and active living, provides and connects to a variety of economic and educational opportunities and housing and transportation choices, and adapts to the needs and concerns of residents.
Following presentations from ULI, leaders from PennPraxis, the PHMC’s Community Health Database (CHBD), and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health shared findings illustrating the health, housing, environmental, mobility challenges faced by Southwest Schuylkill and Grays Ferry, the neighborhoods directly adjacent to Grays Ferry Avenue.
Key statistics included:
- Two in five children who live in the neighborhoods adjacent to Grays Ferry Avenue have been diagnosed with asthma.
- Slightly less than half of residents who live in neighborhoods adjacent to Grays Ferry Avenue eat one serving or less of fruits and vegetables daily.
- Nearly one-quarter (23%) of adults who live in neighborhoods adjacent to Grays Ferry Avenue exercise once per week or not at all.
- Mortality rates for cancer and coronary heart disease are higher than Philadelphia overall, while the homicide rate is close to double that of Philadelphia as a whole.
Additionally, leaders from UPenn’s Facilities and Real Estate Services, PIDC and the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) provided overviews of projects both recently completed and currently in progress along the corridor, highlighting the Pennovation Works campus, the Schuylkill River Trail, and the greening of connector streets throughout the neighborhoods. The Local Leadership Group documented major findings and an existing conditions summary and distributed this information to each participant.
The meeting included a bus tour highlighting community landmarks, such as the new 56th Street Plaza atBartram’s Garden, which marks a key connection point for Bartram’s Mile, as well the Grays Ferry Crescent, key neighborhood parks and rec centers, and the Grays Ferry Shopping Center. Representatives from the Grays Ferry community organization Residents Organized for Advocacy and Direction (ROAD), the Southwest Community Development Corporation, and the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD)drew attention to current projects and discussed challenges and opportunities faced by residents and businesses presently and in the past.
Afternoon breakout sessions highlighted five topic areas that significantly contribute to the health of the corridor: housing, mobility, recreation, development and business/economy. Jill Roberts, Executive Director of the Healthy Rowhouse Project, shared the housing group’s concerns surrounding equitable development as development pressures loom, and also air quality, due to the auto-centric design of corridor and proximity to energy refineries and other industrial uses. Other ideas included opportunities to improve health outcomes for residents along the corridor, including coordinating new partnerships between community groups and the local anchor health and education institutions, encouraging local institutions to invest more in the health issues and beautification efforts of surrounding neighborhoods as well as boost local economic development by hiring local residents. Other groups identified improvements to enhance recreation opportunities and make the corridor more pedestrian and bike friendly, including improving sidewalks by planting trees and vegetation along the streets, establishing protected bike lanes, and improving connections between the neighborhood and the Schuylkill River Trail.
The challenges, opportunities and key questions identified by the breakout discussion groups were documented and will be used to guide the Local Leadership Group in developing the next phase of the project: ULI’s National Working Group. This gathering will include stakeholder interviews and the sharing of expertise from other cities and neighborhoods with similar concerns. This meeting will occur in the Fall of 2017. Quickly thereafter, the National Working Group will develop an action plan and implementation document, outlining priorities, strategies, key stakeholders and quick wins to transform Grays Ferry Avenue into a healthy corridor.
Grays Ferry Avenue is one of four corridors across the country selected this year by ULI’s National headquarters to carry out multiple workshops as part of ULI’s Healthy Corridor Program. PennPraxis Managing Director Julie Donofrio is a member of ULI Philadelphia and helped procure the grant and now serves as the project Chair.