Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Introduction and Speaker Bios

The evening began with some opening remarks by Roland Wall, Director for the Center of Environmental Policy at the Academy of Natural Sciences. First, Wall thanked everyone in attendance and wished them a happy Earth Day. He then thanked the sponsors of the event, The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Young Involved Philadelphia, PennPraxis, PlanPhilly, and the Great Works Symposium of Drexel University. Wall provided some background on the Academy of Natural Sciences, the oldest natural history museum in the country, which houses and curates more than 17 million specimens. The Academy conducts research experiments across the city and around the world and operate a variety of programs to bring scientific knowledge to the public. Furthermore, while working to communicate information about the sciences, the Academy also works to build bridges between the human community and the environment. This is accomplished by being a physical and intellectual space for discussion, thought, and action. The speaker argued that the Academy is uniquely suited to play that role as, for over sixty years, it has been doing major research on the environment and ecology and making important discoveries about how humans affect the environment. In 2008, with the assistance of the William Penn Foundation, the Academy broadened this role by launching the Center for Environmental Policy, which presents programs such as tonight’s event, as well as integrating the institution and its scientific and environmental knowledge into environmental decision-making. Wall invited the audience to visit the website (www.ansp.org/get-involved) to become involved and take part in upcoming Center programs and events. The speaker concluded by saying that among the most important lessons of the last forty years (since the first Earth Day) was that the environmental movement cannot exist in a vacuum, and that natural ecosystems are intimately linked to human ecosystems. Today, we understand that a sustainable environment is tied to a universe of social and economic issues as diverse as development, consumption, growth, human rights, and functional communities. Wall argued that it is therefore appropriate that our topic tonight is urban design, even though many do not see it as an environmental issue. In fact, one of the most critical sustainability topics is how we design, construct, and utilize, our built environment. Poorly conceived urban development can be one of the major obstacles to a healthy ecosystem. Functional, sustainable cities are both the drivers of economic prosperities and one of the important vehicles for promoting and protecting the planet’s environment. After that, Charlene Mires, one of the editors of the project, spoke briefly about the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia and its purposes, goals, and plans. Next, Ariel Ben-Amos, of Young Involved Philadelphia, introduced the agenda for the evening and the speakers. He began by explaining the mission of Young Involved Philadelphia (YIP). It was founded in late 2000 by two recent college graduates who wanted to find a way to harness the enthusiasm of young Philadelphians in shaping the future of the city. Over the past decade, the organization has grown tremendously with thousands of the young and young at heart subscribing to its newsletter. He stated that the group’s mission is to build relationships and increase civic engagement to empower and connect young citizens in Philadelphia. Ben-Amos thanked everyone in attendance and said that it was a testament to how invested everyone is in the success, triumphs, and failures of Philadelphia. He explained that the purpose of the evening was to listen to and engage with five stories about the Delaware River waterfront and Philadelphia. The five stories are distinct, specific, and overlapping and are the stories of visionaries, developers, implementers, and community activists. However, he added that these are not the only stories about the Delaware River or the city of Philadelphia. The men and women who staff nonprofit developers such as the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, the neighbors who serve on the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, and the people who run the train lines and ports along the river all have their own stories to tell. Ben-Amos introduced the panelists in the order of which they would speak: First, Scott Gabriel Knowles, Assistant Professor of History in the Department of History and Politics at Drexel University, would talk about the enduring conflicts around waterfront development and Ed Bacon’s visionary plan for the waterfront. Knowles is the director of the Great Works Symposium at Drexel University and is the author/editor of Imagining Philadelphia: Edmund Bacon and the Future of the City. Next, Harris M. Steinberg, Executive Director of PennPraxis, the consulting arm of the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania, would talk about his award-winning 2007 A Civic Vision for the Central Delaware. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania and his work at PennPraxis focuses on large-scale civic visioning and advocacy processes. Following Steinberg was Craig Schelter, who has a long history in planning and development in Philadelphia and is currently a principal of the consulting firm Schelter and Associates and Executive Director of the Development Workshop. He has served in various leadership capacities at the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. Schelter would speak about early waterfront planning in the 1980’s and how that set the stage for development over the last twenty to thirty years. After Schelter, Spencer Finch, the Director of Sustainable Development for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), a statewide environmental non-profit founded in 1970 and known for its innovative and collaborative approaches, would talk about how the PEC helped convene the coalition, prepare the documentation, and manage the application process for the successful $23 million TIGER stimulus grant for construction of regional trails, which Philadelphia and Camden received from the US Department of Transportation in February 2010. Last to speak was Jethro Heiko, the Strategic Organizing Director for Common Practice, a six-member studio which combines design, nonviolent strategy, and organizing disciplines to solve intractable problems. He is also founder of Neighbors Allied for the Best Riverfront and of Casino-Free Philadelphia and will talk about how neighbors organize and react to large development in their midst. Before moving to Philadelphia, Heiko worked for Boston’s Fenway Community Development Corporation for seven years, which included organizing the successful effort to renovate rather than demolish Fenway Park. Ben-Amos suggested that the stories should help people think about the processes and people who have built Philadelphia and how these different processes and different people interacted to help the city get where it is today along with how we can meet the challenges of the future together.

Share This Page: