This neighborhood is reaching a new crossroads with the millennium. It is
attracting new interest and investment. Decades of being overshadowed by
other promising areas had mostly insulated it from transformation through
large-scale real estate development since the 1920s, allowing all kinds
of local adaptation in small pieces serving individual needs and ambitions.
More positive national economic trends and renewed interest in Center City
are leading to new construction on long-vacant lots and the conversion of
office space in tall buildings to apartments. Meanwhile, potential visitor
traffic from the Convention Center is driving more hotel conversion, ground-story
commerce, and neighborhood amenities.
As investment looks to the area anew, the place is being recognized for
the values of an older urbanism now on the lips of planners. There is a
new appreciation of a walking city of intimate scale and quick changes,
an appreciation that, one hopes, will help preserve it from being redefined
in the big pieces that developers sometimes tend to prefer, but which could
well threaten the area's unique character. What had long survived out of
lack of investors' interest no longer has that defense.
Over the past few months this neighborhood has been a focus for a graduate
studio in the University of Pennsylvania's Historic Preservation Program
and an undergraduate class in Bryn Mawr College's Growth and Structure of
Cities Program. While the Bryn Mawr students focused mainly on historic
research reflected in many places in this exhibition and the associated
websites, one of the principal challenges for the Penn studio was finding
strategies and policies to assure the survival of this area's most valued
characteristics. Following a period of study and analysis, the Penn studio's
seventeen students devised a plan that proposes an urban conservation district,
providing a mechanism for community-based controls over future development.
They also created information kits and a signage program to raise awareness
of the historic, community, and architectural assets embodied in the neighborhood's
buildings. Although this was a student exercise, one hopes that this effort
may provoke discussions and ultimately measures that will help preserve
the qualities of this very vulnerable neighborhood against development efforts
that might otherwise be unsympathetic to the often off-center vitality,
human scale, lived-in authenticity, and deeply rooted continuities that
give western "Wash West" much of its character.
Section G: [exhibition]
Last Revision. 03/10/00 eb.