Design Advocacy Group (DAG) is a coalition of 2,100 architects and building industry professionals in Philadelphia that advocate for equity in the built environment. On August 20, DAG came out against the Philadelphia 76ers’ $1.3 billion downtown revitalization plan by Gensler to build a new stadium slash residential tower in the city’s Chinatown.
“Center City Philadelphia has some problems. The proposed Sixers’ arena is not the solution,” a press release from DAG’s steering committee stated.
As previously reported by AN, the proposal by 76 DevCo. and Gensler to redesign the area at Market and 10th Street on SEPTA’s Jefferson Street Station has been met with significant community pushback. 76 DevCo. and Gensler first released renderings of their plans in June, and then revealed a subsequent redesign in July that featured a new 20-story residential tower. Philadelphia architect, and steering committee chair, Eli Storch critiqued the second revision, telling local reporters that the updated version uses a “tacked on” tower resulting in a proposal that isn’t “fully cooked or fully considered.”
While community organizers continue to vocalize concerns related to gentrification, DAG’s critique relates mostly to urban design on East Market Street.
“Many kinds of criticism have been leveled against the Sixers’ proposal – based on its negative social impact, economics, and politics. These are legitimate areas of concern, but this analysis focuses on questions of urban design,” DAG’s steering committee said. “What Market East needs is an influx of 24/7 street-oriented activity, preferably connecting with and amplifying the vibrancy of Chinatown. The published plans for the arena, although sketchy, suffice to show that the new structure will not generate what is required.”
DAG’s steering committee further notes that the massive investment simply won’t yield a good enough return. DAG says the new complex will deliver “a gigantic blank box on top of another indoor shopping mall, like the one we have. Except for the forty-some times a year that the Sixers’ play, the arena will not fill the surrounding streets with activity, and on those few busy nights, Sixers’ fans, who are not known to be devotees of public transportation, will clog the area in search of parking places. Moreover, rather than integrate itself into the fabric of the city, the project will abolish Filbert Street, bury SEPTA’s Jefferson regional rail station, and wall off Chinatown.”
DAG also notes that the current urban design doesn’t go far enough in delivering “the kind of lively urban environment that we need and deserve.” The steering committee says a good precedent can be seen just across the street at East Market. “Here, new and newly energized streetscapes are lined with shops and restaurants, above which rise new apartment buildings, a hotel in a meticulously restored historic landmark, and a glistening new in-patient care building for Thomas Jefferson hospital,” DAG said.
Nicole Gainer, a spokesperson for 76 DevCo., responded to the open letter with comments in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Gainer said the open letter contained “several glaring inaccuracies”, without addressing what these inaccuracies were. Furthermore, Gainer accused DAG of trying to “minimize an unprecedented private sector development that will generate more than $1 billion in new tax revenues for the city, state and School District, create thousands of good new jobs and anchor the redevelopment of East Market Street.”