PennPraxis Process R.I.P.?

Well, this is sad to write. I attended the steering committee meeting of the PennPraxis/Philly Planning Commission-led central Delaware Riverfront development initiative on January 29th. It was an excellent meeting. Paul Levy of Center City District led with the proposal that the Praxis plan be flexible with a build/no build option concerning the casinos. There was NO dissent in the room, except from Harris Steinberg (of Praxis) and Janice Woodcock (PCPC)- they have the non-open and transparent parts of the process to consider. But everyone else in the room was pulling in the same direction.

No one thought casinos on the riverfront was a good idea, and everyone felt that there was at least an even chance that they would be defeated. I left that meeting with hope in my heart that the consensus of the room would carry the day and influence the process. After all, was not that part of the William Penn Trust’s mandate? That the process be community driven? Here was community consensus, and that is no small feat in this town!

Alas, this past Monday at the Advisory Group meeting, we were informed by Steinberg, by Woodcock, by city solicitor Kevin Greenburger representing the Mayor’s office, by Rina Cutler representing PennDOT (who’s only concern is making sure that second rate transportation plans get shoved through the system so no one has to do any erasing) that the casinos are coming, that the consensus of the community does not, in fact, matter, but that if we wanted to go ahead and pick out pretty railing and light fixtures, we should remain interested.

Of course, there are serious issues besides casinos at stake, and I think many believe that there’s some way to resolve the other issues while ignoring the elephant in the room. Actually, most often the people representing the various civic groups are told, this is the only process in town. Like it or lump it.

Well, I’m officially lumping it. I see really talented people in Steinberg and Woodcock, who are very dedicated to their task. But they have let the grey blandness of unimaginative and brutal bureaucrats- whose best idea for our riverfront is to turn it into a Las Vegas style strip- beat back their enthusiasm for what is possible.

The reason great ideas and true progress fail in this city is not because we lack talented, imaginative people, but that those in charge of this city’s development at the political level are untalented, unimaginative, only able to execute the same plays over and over. They are the reason we have not progressed as a city. They have actively impeded progress.

I remain a fan of the best possible riverfront and a believer in the problem-solving wonder of brilliant design solutions. I will attend their design workshops- I’m sure they’ll be very educational. However, I will be dedicating most of my (almost nonexistent) free time to getting signatures on a petition to place a referendum on the May ballot opposing casinos in our neighborhoods. If it passes, it will effectively kick the licensed casinos off our riverfront.

We have been told repeatedly that there is no appropriate place to talk about this issue, to demand a debate. We are supposed to just be polite, sit on our hands, shut up, go away, and just be happy with what is given to us. I say, enough is enough. I, for one, am sick of waiting for people who know what is right to do the right thing. And in fact there are actually lots of people who know what is right who ARE doing the right thing- they are shivering in the cold, collecting 20,000 petition signatures one by one. I’m with them.

2007-02-07 21:25:38

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