Industrial Legacies In Entrepreneurial Philadelphia

Philadelphia, like so many other once-industrial cities, has had limited success redefining itself competitively in a global capital market (Adams et al. 1990; Bissinger 1997). Narrowly dodging bankruptcy in the early 1990s, the city has since committed itself to, inter alia, a series of place-making projects and schemes designed to (hypothetically) reverse decades of economic decline and population loss, attract economic investment, lure tourist dollars, and boost service sector job growth. New professional sports stadia, state of the art cultural and convention centers, a variety of ad campaigns and package deals intended to lure prospective tourists and conventioneers, and a proposal to reclaim the Delaware River industrial waterfront and become a "New River City" are all indicative of post-industrial Philadelphia's determination for a new, more culturally attractive, economically lucrative, and competitive identity (see Harvey 1989).

It was only a matter of time before attention was cast on the city's Fairmount Park System which, at 8,900 acres, or 10 percent of the city's land area, is among the largest urban parks in the world. Fairmount Park was established by city ordinance in 1855 at the height of the city's industrial era and on the heels of an 1854 regional consolidation act that increased the city's area tenfold. It was the cultural centerpiece of Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exposition/World's Fair, trumpeted by the city's industrial and governmental elites as the hallmark of the city's arrival to world class status. Today, over 90 percent of the park system's area is encompassed in seven watersheds whose distribution, size, and shape reflect and, to a degree, maintain historical social and economic divisions across Philadelphia's landscape (see Figure 13.1). Nearly 61 percent (5,441 acres) of the park's area is dedicated to natural

Figure 13.1 Fairmount Park system (map by Jason Davidson, Temple University)
Figure 13.2 Fairmount Park budget as a percentage of Philadelphia's operating budget, 1950-2001

landscapes, primarily urban woodlands, wetlands, and meadows. Over the past three decades, the geometries and geographies of these watershed areas, combined with a generation of fiscal neglect and political ambivalence (adjusting for inflation, the park has not experienced a budget increase since 1970, and is a fraction of its pre-1970 total see Figure 13.2); full-time personnel has been cut by two-thirds; per capita park expenditures are among the lowest in the nation (Harnik 2000)), have resulted in extensive and, in places, intensive landscape level environmental changes. Soil erosion, runoff, and pollution threaten many of the streams coursing through the city's interior. An extensive, mid-successional hardwood forest is increasingly exposed to external disturbances and stressors like disease and pollution. But perhaps the most identifiable indicator of change is the expanding diversity and density of non-native, "weedy" species whose ranks now constitute one-third of the park's floral diversity.

In 1996, the William Penn Foundation (the Delaware Valley's largest and wealthiest institution of regional philanthropy and place-making investment) awarded an unprecedented $26.6 million grant to the City of Philadelphia to be used to halt or reverse decades of ecological change, restore the park's native ecology, and establish a viable environmental education programme espousing the significance and complexity of indigenous ecologies to urban life (see Goldenberg 1999). Soon thereafter, the city controller's office released a widely cited and extensively adopted document (Philadelphia: a New Urban Direction 1999) laying the groundwork and establishing a blueprint for urban renewal and competitiveness; in it, the restoration of Fairmount Park is posited as a fundamental and achievable goal towards the production of a more economically prosperous city future, thereby bringing to the project the extra political punch and legitimacy that it needed to gain the attention of a still-ambivalent mayor and city council. An official from the city's largest, wealthiest, and most successful business improvement district was brought in to lead the five-year restoration programme.

Restoration plans were developed for each of the seven watersheds with the overall goal of "enhancing native species and natural processes" throughout Fairmount Park's natural landscapes (Fairmount Park Commission 1999:1-15); accordingly, "ecological condition [was] the primary justification for restoration activities". A consortium of regional institutions, both public and private, produced the restoration plans, developed and implemented their priorities and agendas. Key among this new partnership were: the Natural Lands Restoration and Environmental Education Program (NLREEP, developed through the Penn grant and in charge of grant oversight and implementation); the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences and the Patrick Center for Environmental Research (in charge of restoration science, field research for the Restoration Master Plan); the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (consulting); Community Resources (a not-for-profit consulting agency); and the Fairmount Park Commission (see Goldenberg 1999).2 Community meetings and participatory activities were used to solicit public opinion of the Restoration Master Plan and disseminate and gather popular support for the environmental imaginary that it advanced. However, any illusion the restorationists may have had about community consensus or the plan's rapid adoption dissipated when confronted with the park's inherited and fragmented geography; one that places it in a variety of communities whose capacities, abilities, and positionalities to respond to and interpret changes in their adjacent ecologies vary considerably.

Plagued by relentless patterns of white flight and the inherited racial and class fragmentations of the twentieth century, Philadelphia remains among the most segregated and racially polarized cities in the US. Indeed, its persistently high values among a variety of segregation indices identify Philadelphia as one of a handful of US cities perpetually identified as hypersegregated (see Massey and Denton 1989). The history of racial segregation in Philadelphia is lengthy and complex and beyond the scope of this chapter. Significantly, however, the social and economic distinctions between black and white Philadelphia are startling. Census data from 2000 indicate widening distinctions between black and white Philadelphia along a variety of social and economic axes: median family incomes differences of 35.5 percent; a three-fold difference in family poverty rate; an unemployment rate twice as high as white Philadelphia; and an annual violent crime rate (murder and rape) that is nearly twice that in white neighbourhoods. These local social conditions contextualize the significance and meaning of urban environments within or adjacent to inner-city black neighbourhoods in Philadelphia; they shape how these areas of the park system are used, accessed, and perceived and how local environmental changes and restoration efforts are interpreted.

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