At first pass, Philadelphia's Elfreth's Alley looks like any other quaint, well-preserved historic street in a typical northeastern U.S. city. Look closer, though, and it'd apparent that the rowhouses are much older than the 19th-century homes found in New York's West Village or Boston's Beacon Hill. That's because Elfreth's Alley welcomed its first residents in 1702: the block-long lane is the oldest continually occupied residential street in the United States. Although the street is afforded protection by its National Historic Landmark status, escalating, ultra-bland development in Philly's historic core means that it, and the surrounding urban fabric, must protect their assets by conceiving of a future that balances site-sensitive private development with public amenities that cater to Philadelphians.
Old City District, a city-sponsored historic preservation group, commissioned planning consultants RBA Group and Philly–based Atkin Olshin Schade Architects to stake out a future for Old City. Vision2026 is intended to complement the City Planning Commission's Philadelphia2035 plan and, in a nod to local heritage, will coincide with the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
To some, Old City is thought to be bound by the Delaware River to the east, 4th Street to the west, Vine Street to the north, and Walnut Street to the south. The Old City District's definition is narrower, encompassing a 22-block area bounded by Front Street to the east, 6th Street to the west, Florist Street to the north, and Walnut and Dock streets to the south. The genesis of Vision2026 was a community discussion on development goals that began in January 2015. Traffic studies and user surveys evinced a desire for standard-issue urban features: Quality public space, public transportation access, better bike infrastructure, stores that serve the community's needs (especially a grocery store), and a development vision that encourages new investment without overriding the neighborhood's charm. The suggestions take a deep dive into specifics. To reduce car traffic, Vision2026 suggests improving bike infrastructure (addressing a lack of bike lanes and inconsistent linkage to the waterfront, for example) concurrently with initiatives to consolidate commercial package delivery, privilege commercial loading access over private parking, and promote the use of car shares. The population of Old City has grown 16 percent since 2000, and the area needs Complete Streets (streets designed for safe use by pedestrians, cars, and bicycles alike) to enhance the neighborhood's vitality. A proposal for a 2nd Street Station plaza (the 200 block of Market Street) envisions 14-foot sidewalks flanked by an allée-meets-bike lane. The proposal suggests eliminating street lights—a counterintuitive but effective traffic-calming measure—on the 10-foot-wide stretch of road set aside for private cars.