Philly Planning for the Future of the Lower Schuylkill

Mr. Fox

An innovation district, an energy corridor, and a logistics hub are three major elements of the Lower Schuylkill Master plan, a long-term vision released by the City this month that accounts for 68 percent of the city’s underutilized and vacant industrial land.

The Hidden River

The plan, still in the process of being completed, seeks to revitalize a 4,100 acre six-mile stretch of the river south of the Grays Ferry Bridge at 34th Street that goes from University City to the Airport. It focuses on revitalizing former industrial land by making use of leftover refineries, freight lines and rail lines. The $411M project includes a vision to make improvements in infrastructure, roads, the environment, and public amenities that would attract more than $860M in private investment and up to 6,500 new jobs while establishing 46 acres of green space and five miles of new trails, according to the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC). The Department of Commerce and PIDC presented the plan, the result of a few-year-long collaboration, earlier this month. Major elements so far announced by the City include creating an identity for the Lower Schuylkill, improving the connections between communities, protecting and fostering diverse uses, and revealing The Hidden River, a nickname of the Schuylkill.

Looking south, some zones that will be focal points of the plan. Image from
Rendering of an extension of the Schuylkill River Trail. Image from

The major elements mentioned above are visions for the types of businesses that might exist in a thriving Lower Schuylkill economy. An innovation district would be focused around Bartram’s Garden. It would be a collection of businesses, technology and life-science companies, and research spun out of nearby universities and medical schools. The area would connect with a bicycle and pedestrian river trail north to academic campuses in University City.

An energy corridor would include the former Sunoco Oil refinery now owned by Philadelphia Energy Solutions and be geared toward traditional energy distribution and the development of new technology. A logistics hub closer to the airport might cater to related businesses, warehousing, airport suppliers and service providers, passenger- and air-freight-related businesses, and manufacturing. The research and design element jobs needed to spur this vision could come from the Penn’s South Bank campus, a 23-acre site located at the former DuPont Plant. Penn officials envision start-up businesses blossoming at this mixed-use campus.

Conceptual drawing of South Bank campus

The industrial giants like Sunoco and DuPont that once dominated operations along the Lower Schuylkill have left an area with interesting redevelopment potential. It represents an opportunity to expand the riverfront Philadelphia has been redeveloping with aplomb in recent years. Perhaps a bike trail might one day run all the way down to the airport. It’s important to remember these are planning stages of a long-term vision- ideas that direct the present toward the future.

--Lou Mancinelli