Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Great Plains of North Philadelphia

(aka the Logan Triangle)

Philaphilia's GroJLart has on Naked Philly a feature about the ruins of the Logan Triangle, a region of subsiding land due to poor fill over the now-turned-into-a-sewer Wingohocking Creek. This area came to be because the dwellings there were simply made uninhabitable--which, of course, means that all but the most marginal uses of the site would have to deal with the sheer expense of environmental remediation.
Uses discussed on the comments include (1) a park, (2) a tree farm, (3) urban agriculture, (4) a golf course, and (5) a solar farm. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages.

The park sounds good in concept, but rapidly runs into a slight problem: it would be immediately across the street from the similar-size Hunting Park, which already has maintenance issues of its own. If we can't afford to maintain Hunting Park, why on earth should we put another Hunting Park right next to it?

The tree farm would not be yielding foodstuffs, so it can use the land as-is.

Urban agriculture would be yielding foodstuffs. The ground is contaminated. However, similar conditions don't stop Greensgrow. Like operations could certainly be set up throughout the area.

The golf course sounds like a pretty decent idea--but what about the contamination? And a larger issue--how would you market it? It seems like only an Arnold Palmer-designed course or something along that vein would be able to attract the golf-club set to that neighborhood.

The solar farm doesn't need to worry about contamination, but will still need to worry about subsidence. Industrial-scale solar panels are very delicate.

--And all of these have to sort out the ownership situation. The original subdivision was for residential properties; since, however, the conditions of the Logan Triangle prevent residential development, a core need is thus to ensure all the properties in the Triangle are consolidated before they are re-subdivided for whatever future use(s) will exist on this site. This will likely take the form of block conferral. Consolidating all these blocks into superblocks would still be detrimental to the long-term access of the site, and should not be considered short of a use necessitating a superblock (like a golf course).

The most likely result should be a variety of agrarian uses springing up on each block--tree farms, food farms, and solar farms--with perhaps a narrow band of commercial fronting the Boulevard (depending, of course, on the viability of the ground conditions). This could be done as a farmer's market--a wholesale space for each of the ten-to-fifteen or so potential properties within this site. Furthermore, the site can be developed through a collaboration between successful urban ag operations (Greensgrow, the Mill Creek Farm, etc.)--particularly those dealing with raised-bed operations--and the Logan neighborhood, so that these farms are not just some outside operation, but an important source of revenue and foodstuffs for the neighborhood itself. This, of course, provides work and ownership in one of the poorest parts of the city, and so catalyzes a local reinvestment cycle.


  1. If its to be a park, it can be a natural park. Very little maintenance needed. Just let the plants grow, and maybe maintain a single walking trail.

  2. What is the ground contaminated with? The NP article says it was filled with ash and cinder. That doesn't seem so bad.

  3. This ground should become an extension of Hunting Park. There really is no need to overthinking this.

    What ABSOLUTELY MUST NOT happen is for a retail development to be installed. If the area never needed that commercial infrastructure when there was were higher socioeconomics AND more people, why would it be good now? Of course this kind of idea is hatched by politicians in the name of "economic development".

  4. Extending Hunting Park--especially with a "natural" park--is, given local demographics, a stupendously bad idea. Can anyone say "crime vector"?

    No, what is needed is a way to (a) rehabilitate the site in such a way so as to be (b) economically productive to the community. There are few better alternatives for this than to lease blocks out as farm plots for (qualifying) locals.

    Agreed: No retail need exist on the site--except inasmuch as whatever underlying economic activities can generate (farmers markets, for example).

  5. Hey, Steve,

    1. You should put an email address on your blog.
    2. Email me! I have something to share... smithsj-at-gmail

    - Other Steve

  6. Steve, it's a bit over the top to say that making the Logan Triangle into "Hunting Park North" is a "stupendously bad" idea on the basis that it would somehow make this area more unlivable because it would worsen crime conditions in the area. One could easily spin economic development in this area as a "crime vector" since it could attract those would would prey on people who are making money in the area.

    I think that making the area available as farm plots for "qualifying" locals would certainly need to be a plan not created or run by the City. I could only imagine that it would turn into something like the Gift Property catch-22 where near-free houses are made available to people who fix them up. The program sounds like a great idea until one finds out that the only people that qualify for the program are people who have almost no hopes of ever being able to financially make the deal work.

    I have my doubts about urban agriculture anyway. One, there is nothing urban about agriculture and vice versa. Two, it signals to me that we are giving up on what makes cities great. Sure, this case is different because of the un-usability of the ground and the near-term economic hopes for the area, but that's why I think an urban park should be in this urban area.

  7. 1. Death and Life, Ch. 5. Read this and then tell me again a park here would not be stupendously bad.

    2. The idea of agriculture is not the same as houses. The point is hardly hobby farms. The point is farms as businesses, in the same mold as Greensgrow. The point, in other words, is that you are, in fact, offering these people livelihoods. The best way of ensuring it stays the case is to have it operate in concert--or with aid from--other successful local urban ag operations.

    The Logan Triangle is not fit for building homes. That's why we tore them all down. It's an economically depressed area, so an economically passive use (such as parkland) would not be locally helpful--and in fact, would most likely be actively harmful. It needs to be an economically active use, and hitched into the local economy, and the best way to do that without building anything is--agriculture.

  8. the cost to re-mediate the problem to prepare the ground for agriculture is about 50 million. the city is broke. where does the money come from?