Property developer Eric Blumenfeld plans to develop the vacant lot in Center City at 1900 Arch Street by building a high-rise complex, including apartments and a restaurant. Blumenfeld claims that he is taking the expressed concerns of the building’s neighbors in the existing Kennedy House apartments in mind by designing his building “to create as much air space… as possible.”
But the neighbors Blumenfeld has in mind are too few in number. If Center City were merely a bedroom community for rich people, it might be acceptable to ask the ones nearest to the proposed project what shape they’d like it to take.
Center City, however, belongs to more than just the relatively small, well-heeled group that has brought about its gentrification over the last twenty years. The wealth of civic, commercial, and cultural resources found there belong to more than just those who have used their money to huddle around them. Presumably, that’s why taxpayers all over Philadelphia pay for the larger numbers of police, cleaner streets, and special cultural opportunities found in Center City.
In other words, downtown’s neighbors aren’t just downtown. They’re spread all over the city and suburbs– wherever people are drawn into Center City to do or buy something.
Blumenfeld’s proposed development does these neighbors a disservice. It wastes Center City’s space. Vacant lots don’t open often. When they do, their future use should be carefully considered by the relevant regulatory bodies. Regulators should not necessarily choose the use that will make a developer the most money. Instead, they should seek to add to Center City what it lacks.
Center City especially lacks parking. Outsiders who would like to take advantage of all that downtown has to offer are discouraged from doing so by the unavailability of parking at a reasonable price. Building yet more residences instead of parking facilities adds a few people to the number who can easily take advantage of Center City’s resources, while further excluding others.
Center City isn’t a gated community, and it shouldn’t be allowed to effectively become one. When lots open, they should be rezoned especially for inclusion of parking garages. A new regulatory body independent of the awful Parking Authority should be created to limit prices charged in private lots. And if developers like Blumenfeld won’t build garages, the eminent domain power should be invoked to buy the land so that the city can build them.