One of the defining characteristics of a great neighborhood is having a commercial corridor that brings the community together while also attracting visitors from well beyond the reaches of its boundaries. N. 2nd. Street in Northern Liberties has long been one of our favorite commercial corridors, and it brings much to the table while possessing plenty of room for improvement. The historic architecture mixed with the industrial past combined with contemporary developments make this an eclectic and exciting area. This is all despite a quite frankly atrocious street presence in many areas. Sometimes cozy and tree-covered, other times a wide, barren raceway, 2nd Street has issues, including near constant construction activity, back-in parking, poorly marked intersections, a lack of block-to-block cohesion, and a streetscape that generally favors cars over pedestrians and cyclists.
As you’ve probably guessed, this hopefully won’t be the case forever. While perusing the Northern Liberties Business Improvement District (NLBID) page, we noticed something that we hadn’t heard about before, aside from a press release back in August with scant details. NLBID has teamed with KieranTimberlake and PORT Urbanism to bring us the Streetscape Vision Plan. As the document’s title suggests, this is a master plan for what could be done along 2nd Street from Girard to Callowhill, not a finalized plan for what will be. Projects like this can take many years to design, finance and build, so think of this as a major early step in the process that will guide all future steps. Speaking of steps, let’s start with step one and show you the area to be impacted.
Before we get to the details, let’s talk about why this type of update could have a huge impact. The current streetscape is a mess, and this stretch’s success from a business standpoint is highly dependent on people wanting to be there. And boy oh boy, there will be a lot more people very close by very soon.
If you think NoLibs can get crazy now, imagine the scene when, say, 5600+ units are added to the mix in the next several years. If nothing changes, the main drag will become more crowded for pedestrians while becoming even more nightmarish for drivers and cyclists in the area (if that’s even possible). But there are plenty of opportunities to take currently wasted space and turn it into something awesome. Per plans, that seems to be exactly what’s coming our way.
The centerpiece of this revamped design is what the planners have dubbed “Market Green” which fronts neither Market Street nor the closer-by Green Street. We’ll forgive the generic name, as the design between Poplar and Fairmount looks quite impressive. Plans call for trading out the extra-wide roadway for much more pedestrian and retail space. Outdoor seating, trees, and a changed parking design will all help engage what is currently a dusty, open, poorly maintained, tree-free couple of blocks.
There will also be sculptural pavilions along the entire length of the street, which will add shade and interest, while offering opportunities for other programming. Standardized signage, lighting and seating will also make the stretch feel more tied together.
A block to the north of Market Green, the needlessly large intersection at Laurel St. could be home to a new pocket park. For those who have traversed this intersection, a streamlined approach sure does sound good. Oh, and how about some more greenery and landscaping instead of the awkwardly wide road?
What would a grand avenue be without a proper entrance? Plans call for two gateways, one each at the northern and southern ends. The northern end will be anchored at the very busy corner of 2nd & Germantown, which might be the most construction-heavy intersection in the entire city. Signage will guide visitors to the main corridor with easy-to-see visual cues.
Even more exciting is the gateway on the south end of the corridor at Spring Garden. Not only will signage direct folks to the main drag, but an extended mural wall/park space could reach all the way to Willow Street towards Callowhill. Not only would this make for a lovely pop of green in front of the big plans National/KRE have for this neck of the woods, it would form a true connector between Northern Liberties and Old City that hasn’t existed since the urban renewal era. Just imagine this area if they can get the Spring Garden Street Greenway up and running, too.
To say this would be a big change is quite the understatement. The pedestrian and bicyclist experience will be totally transformed while car traffic will be modulated to a large degree. There will undoubtedly be pushback to reducing 2nd to one lane at points, but calming traffic is absolutely the right move here. We can only hope that a certain other street on the other side of town gets a similar treatment in the near future.