Urban planner Tom Gallas literally wore out a car making the trip from D.C. to Philadelphia as many as three times a week during the planning process for this turnaround project in the City of Brotherly Love. “It took some time to develop a strong bond of trust [between the developer and urban planners and the local community],” recalls his business partner, John Torti. “The police came to the first meeting.”
Making way for the renewal effort first required the demolition of the Martin Luther King Plaza Towers, a 594-unit public housing project on six acres in the Hawthorne neighborhood. A virtual icon of urban blight, the towers had become symbolic of being poor in Philadelphia. By the time a decision was made to raze the dilapidated structures, more than 200 units were already uninhabitable due to disrepair.
Restoring vitality to the neighborhood subsequently hinged on two pivotal elements: an urban square invoking the principles that drove William Penn's original design for the city, and infill housing that was consistent with the native dwelling type, historic row homes.
It wasn't long before the revitalization began to yield benefits beyond aesthetics, says Ziaur Rahman, senior development manager for the Philadelphia Housing Authority. “Crime has gone considerably down, and the whole neighborhood has been transformed ... into an urban neighborhood. It's had positive social growth with price appreciation for everyone.”
See all 2007 Builder's Choice Award Winners
Category: Infill community;
Entrant/Architect/Land planner: Torti Gallas and Partners, Silver Spring, Md.;
Builder: Domus, Philadelphia;
Developer: Philadelphia Housing Authority, Philadelphia;
Landscape architect: Brickman Group, Aston, Pa.