The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) of Philadelphia can create a new neighborhood along the southern reach of the Central Delaware River by leveraging the reuse of old industrial piers as resilient, ecological infrastructure in order to anticipate the risks associated with sea-level rise, according to a new report released by ULI.

The report is based on recommendations from a panel of land use and coastal resilience experts convened last April through ULI’s Virtual Advisory Services Panel (vASP) offering. The vASP is a multi-day program that is tailored to meet a community’s specific needs, wherein ULI representatives hold in-depth interviews with local stakeholders and deliberate on potential courses of action before making a final presentation of their recommendations.

The panel’s core recommendations include:

  1. Create a comprehensive infrastructure plan to bring DRWC and private owners into consensus about sea-level rise, coastal inundation, flooding and infrastructure design assumptions.
  2. Immediately create a formal association of existing private landowners, similar to a business improvement district (BID), to foster partnership and coordination across public and private sectors.
  3. DRWC should continue to acquire abandoned piers and shorelines for the purposes of establishing unprecedented public access to the formerly industrial waterfront.
  4. Quantify how resilient coastal infrastructure creates value for adjacent parcels of developable land.
  5. Aggressively position the entire endeavor as eligible for resilient infrastructure funding from federal, state, city and philanthropic sources.
  6. Explore the use of land value capture mechanisms with the City of Philadelphia in order to facilitate the creation of Philadelphia’s newest mixed-use waterfront neighborhood and civic destination.

“Philadelphia’s Delaware River has all the ingredients to become the next great international urban waterfront;” said Uwe Brandes, Chair of the Advisory Panel. “Now is the time to design infrastructure which anticipates sea-level rise; catalyzes new private investment and becomes a distinct addition to the cultural history of this great city.”

Brandes, director of the urban planning program at Georgetown University, was joined on the panel by Elinor Bacon, president, E.R. Bacon Development, Washington, District of Columbia; Dr. Lynette Cardoch, director, resilience and adaptation, Moffatt & Nichol, Miami, Florida; Raymond W. Gastil, AICP, LEED AP ND, director, Remaking Cities Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Tyrone Rachal, president, Urban Key Capital Partners, principal, Red Rock Global, president, Red Rock Global Capital Partners, Atlanta, Georgia; Michael Rodriguez, lead economist, MITRE Corporation, McLean, Virginia; Michael Samuelian, FAIA, AICP, founding director, Urban Technology Hub, Cornell Tech, New York, New York; and Dawveed Scully, associate director and senior urban designer, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chicago, Illinois.

“DRWC is proud of our successes along the waterfront in the last ten years since we released the Master Plan for the Central Delaware and we have learned a great deal about implementing public realm improvements that reconnect Philadelphians to their river,” said DRWC’s President Joe Forkin. “With the help of this knowledgeable Advisory Services Panel, we are able to think more in depth about the many finger piers along the six miles of waterfront in our purview. We understand that even the most derelict of piers can play an important role in the creation of public space along the river and also serve as resilient infrastructure protecting against the effects of climate change, while also connecting to our vibrant waterfront neighborhoods and new economic development. We look forward to the next ten years with a renewed focus on resiliency and our role in advocating for the responsible and forward-thinking reuse of these piers.”

The Philadelphia virtual Advisory Services panel is part of a larger series of resilience technical assistance and learning opportunities, called the Resilient Land Use Cohort (RLUC). The RLUC is a network of ULI district councils, member experts, and community partners in seven cities working together to identify strategies to be more resilient in the face of climate change and other vulnerabilities, including floods, extreme storms, drought, wildfire, and extreme heat, as well as the related social, environmental, and economic impacts. Funding for this engagement and the cohort is provided by the ULI Foundation with support from JPMorgan Chase.

This panel is a virtual Advisory Services panel (vASP), a new Advisory Services product created as a response to continuing ULI’s mission of creating vibrant, sustainable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The vASP is 3.5-day panel that convenes a multi-disciplinary panel of 4 to 6 experts from across the United States who possess a range of professional backgrounds and use their collective skills to meet the needs of an identified land use or policy challenge.

Since 1947, the ULI advisory services program assembles experts in the fields of real estate and land use planning to participate on panels worldwide, offering recommendations for complex planning and development projects, programs, and policies. Panels have developed more than 700 studies for a broad range of land uses, ranging from waterfront properties to inner-city retail.

According to Thomas Eitler, senior vice president of ULI’s advisory services program, the strength of the program lies in ULI’s unique ability to draw on the substantial knowledge of its 45,000-plus members, including land developers, engineers, public officials, academics, lenders, architects, planners and urban designers. “The independent views of the panelists bring a fresh perspective to the land use challenge,” Eitler said. “The advisory services program is all about offering creative, innovative approaches to community building.”

The DRWC Advisory Services report can be found on ULI’s Knowledge Finder platform.