Good Design Helps Build a Strong Economy: An Interview With the Philadelphia Commerce Department

September 29, 2015 | 2015 Festival, DesignPhiladelphia

It’s difficult to find a person who would disagree that Philadelphia is a city rooted in its diverse, tight-knit communities. In this candid interview,  the Commerce Department describes how they are working to overcome Philadelphia’s deep seated issues, and develop a city that thrives on the strength of its communities. At the core of these plans is good design. In the words of the Commerce Department, the city is cultivating a “kind of design [that] is not about flashy new forms or unique ‘object’ buildings, but is about placemaking, sensitivity to context, elegance and quality.”

Read the below interview to get the whole story...

"What issue in Philadelphia is the Philadelphia Commerce Department working to overcome?"

The mission of the Philadelphia Commerce Department is to create an economic environment throughout Philadelphia that is conducive to business success & job creation. We want Philadelphia to be a place of choice for businesses to move here, stay here and grow here.  We also want our business community to reflect the diversity of our population.

Each of these goals presents challenges that we have worked very hard during this administration to overcome.  Over the course of many decades, Philadelphia developed a reputation as a difficult place to do business:  too insular, too bureaucratic, too unwelcoming.  While some of this reputation was based on mythology and hyperbole, enough of it rang true to make us focus on the complex interweave of things that make a city more desirable:  attract new residents, especially those with ambition and a higher skill base; support start-up businesses and entrepreneurs throughout the city; simplify regulations and ease the business tax burden; market the city nationally and internationally; advocate for the city with our residents and guests – get them to see the extraordinary assets that we have; make the city more beautiful, better designed and fun to be in; created plans that are visionary and practical; and expand the opportunities for businesses owned by minorities, women and the disabled.  We have made progress on each of these initiatives.

"What are you working on now or in the near future that's exciting?"

There is an unprecedented amount of development going on in this city.  Between 2011 and 2017, we now project that there will be over $11 billion of new investment.  The range of projects covers small scale neighborhood residential infill all the way up corporate and institutional expansion.  We are seeing new and renovated buildings for offices, hotels, schools, residences, institutions and even industry.  Despite the current jitters that the world economy is experiencing, Philadelphia continues to be a place where people are making investments.  For this administration, with four months to go, we are trying to complete some of our major projects.  The two most significant recent ‘boxes checked’ are the impending renovation of the Gallery and the Divine Lorraine Hotel.  Each of these projects took years of planning and advocacy from government and our quasi-public partners.  The role of government in the realization of these projects is profound and largely not understood by the public.  But what WILL be understood is the rebirth of two great places in the city:  East Market Street and North Broad Street.

"What trends do you see in design in Philadelphia today?"

Philadelphia is a city with great streets, great urban spaces and great urban vitality – better than most American cities.  Design that serves to improve upon those assets is what makes Philadelphia that much better.  That kind of design is not about flashy new forms or unique ‘object’ buildings, but is about placemaking, sensitivity to context, elegance and quality.  We see a great number of development proposals that have come through our offices and are convinced that developers – whether commercial, residential or institutional – understand this phenomenon and are stepping up their game.  Not every building, not every space will be a winner, but the bar has definitely been set higher and we are seeing the results.  Best of all, the public not only understands this raising of standards, but expects it and that will make for an ever-improving trend in design.


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