A Negotiation of Stakeholders at the PHC

For our policy class, we attended a meeting of the Philadelphia Historical Commission. I thought it would be interesting to analyze the proceedings through the lens of value theory, determining the various stakeholders and the values that drove their actions. One of the more interesting projects brought before the commission involved the erection of 5-story glass addition to an existing row house at 2108 Walnut Street and a 9-story new construction in the adjacent empty lot. At the ground level, the new construction would intentionally mimic the historic facades of the rest of the street scape by using similar brick and continuing the string course and cornice line. The stories that rose above were constructed of glass and stepped back far from the historic façade, so that they might appear to be part of the cityscape beyond and not an addition at all.

The stakeholders in this negation included the developers, the architect, the community members, and the Commission members, although the commissioners did not represent a single collective interest. They too seemed to be guided by values stemming from their particular backgrounds, be they architecture, community development, or architectural history. Randal Baron, who comes from a historic preservation background, voiced opposition to the design because he felt that even though the structure would be glass and stepped back, the addition would be drastic and prominent when viewed from further down the street. His opinion was informed by aesthetic values—how the experience of the building and street would be altered by the change. An architect on the commission, David Schaaf, congratulated the developers and architect for what he considered a brilliant solution to “mending the fabric” by filling in the empty lot with a design that echoed the existing façade. He too was invoking aesthetic values, but to complement the design. The developers were driven by economic use values—they wanted to create a financially viable design that would make their investment profitable. Meanwhile, the community member that spoke against the modernist design was probably driven by the social value of place attachment—the will to maintain the character of the neighborhood he was familiar with.

In the end, the plan was approved with a few minor concessions. The developers were required to more clearly articulate the cornice line to have it meet the existing one. They were also charged with restoring the functionality and appeal of the sidewalk by adding trees and filling in a driveway that disrupted pedestrian pathway. This seems to be a trend throughout many planning cases we explore in our policy class—often what seems like a considerable loss for preservation often represents other less obvious gains. It involves a critical assessment of values, and how to pursue those values to achieve the most mutually beneficial end.

the cornice line to have it meet the existing one. They were also charged with restoring the functionality and appeal of the sidewalk by adding trees and filling in a driveway that disrupted pedestrian pathway. This seems to be a trend throughout many planning cases we explore in our policy class—often what seems like a considerable loss for preservation often represents other less obvious gains. It involves a critical assessment of values, and how to pursue those values to achieve the most mutually beneficial end.

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