A recent trip to Philadelphia led me to Walnut Street between 9th and 17th streets. As I walked along the sidewalk I realized how nice the area felt and remembered some of the reasons as related to principles of urban planning. The feeling that was conveyed from wide sidewalks, tree lined streets, and youthful fun businesses was one of comfort and competence. Not having visited that part of Philly (or any part for that matter) in a few years, I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality feel of the area.
Speaking in terms of urban design, it was created very smartly. The traffic patterns flowed smoothly, conversely to the busy bustle of New York City. One reason is that this is a much smaller and less dense area, but it was designed that way for a reason. This allowed for some on street parking which adds a level of protection for pedestrians on the sidewalks. The overall design philosophy, in my opinion was that of New Urbanism. Specifically, the area where I was looking at apartments, was very local (walking distance) to all the amenities needed to live well. The subway line and bus service is well within walking distance from pretty much all the commercial areas around Walnut.
Some nice features of the area are convenient parking, nearby public transit, walkability, nice bars and restaurants, and entertainment outlets. Also located in the area is Rittenhouse Square, Washington Square, and the Walnut Street Theater. The theater is the “oldest continuously run theater in the English-speaking world.” The theater helps top off the rich cultural emphasis planners placed in the area.
This is a fine example of a well planned area that is a successful commercial district and asset to the city. The key to having a nice development such as this is the early work of planners in the late 17th century. Rittenhouse Square was one of the original parks preserved by William Penn, and has been a highly desired place to live ever since. There are several main lines of transportation which are in the vicinity of the park, as well as a library and parts of the University of the Arts. It shows that planning is a very important process and is one that must be concentrated on the distant future. From a personal standpoint, planning is a futile effort for the now. Many of the most successful and popular destinations are places that were planned in great detail, coinciding with the initial development of the country. Apart from that aside, I feel that planning does have its place and can be a powerful tool for creating desireable spaces. Using places like Rittenhouse Square and Walnut Street as examples (there are countless more good examples), we can try to shape our future to be a place we want to live.