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How to Get a Pedestrian Plaza in Your Neighborhood — Lessons From Philly

10:47 AM EDT on June 4, 2014

After: Philadelphia activists just won a new pedestrian plaza for their neighborhood. Here's how they did it. Photo: This Old City
After: Philadelphia activists just won a new pedestrian plaza for their neighborhood. Here's how they did it. Photo: This Old City

After nine years of planning, strategizing and outreach, community activists in Philadelphia have a new pedestrian plaza in Center City. The Triangle at 23rd, South, and Grays Ferry Avenue looks pretty awesome, doesn't it?

Before: A forgettable space. Image: This Old City
Before: A forgettable space. Image: This Old City

Philly advocates certainly have reason to be proud of what they've created. And they want other people to replicate their success. Geoff Keys Thompson at This Old City shares a few key steps that should resonate in many other cities:

1. Make the case and build support

Over the years members of [the group that advocated for the change] tirelessly built the case for a pedestrian plaza and its benefits for nearby businesses. They drew on data and case studies from other cities. They regularly engaged with the property owners and businesses immediately flanking the Triangle. Yes, there was opposition. Yes, there were disagreements, but there was also perseverance and a sense even among those who opposed the project that the Triangle would eventually happen. They also enlisted the help of supportive property owners and businesses to woo the non-believers.

2. Make the space come alive

The Triangles committee also took action on behalf of the space. Monthly cleanups kept the space clean. Catherine Thorn fountain was fixed. Triangles folks applied new paint to the existing bollards and planted new plants in the garden around the fountain. Events like three jazz concerts last summer and a movie night all helped showcase the public space as a valuable community asset. Maintenance and improvements also assuaged concerns. After a plaza would be created, the community would be it's steward.

3. Grow your coalition to win over skeptics

All of this built a strong foundation of support within the local business association, South Street West. A chorus of support from other business owners made all the difference in helping to respond to the concerns of those less convinced of the Triangle’s worth as a pedestrian space. It also created fertile ground for later requests of financial support to get the plaza up and running once approval from the city was secured.

4. Fundraise creatively

Rather than hold out their hands and ask for donations, the Triangles committee of SOSNA created an opportunity for individuals and businesses to put their name on the space. Plant materials and design were donated by Pure, a nearby floral design and plant nursery at 22nd and Lombard. Large planters, 7 in total, were each sponsored by local businesses like Grace Tavern, the Igloo and South Square Market. Individuals also sponsored. The same strategy was used for Adirondack chairs facing Catherine Thorn fountain (originally horses used to come to water here), as well as the cafe tables and chairs that form seating in the center of the plaza. In return for their sponsorship, funders were given plaques placed on the items they sponsored. Funds raised in this process also funded the LED string lights (full disclosure: I strung and hung those lights). Triangles committee members also held events to support the Triangles, the most prominent being annual Plazaplazoozas that temporarily closed the plaza for a concert/street festival. South Square Market also solicited donations from store patrons directly by asking for contributions as customers checked out.

The lighting, street furniture, and planters for the plaza cost about $10,000, Thompson says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Reinventing Parking looks into parking policy in Japan and what makes it work so well. ATL Urbanist shares an animation showing how sprawl development has clustered around highways in the Atlanta region. And Mobilizing the Region compares the White House transportation bill proposal to the proposal from the Senate.

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