G. Prospects

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.