Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sprawlternatives: Philadelphia (Part 1)

Philadelphia City Hall
Source: Google Maps Street View

Sorry for the long delay! It turns out I don't like the concept of paying $10 per day for the Internet so I went off the grid for a while. It may sound ironic coming from a blogger, but that's actually not a bad thing. It gave me a chance to really explore Philadelphia for three full days.

There's a lot to say. Philadelphia is located in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania. The historic core is wedged in a 3.2 kilometer (2.0 mile) gap between the Delaware River to the east and the Schuylkill River to the west. The area that was marked off as downtown on my tourist map went from a highway in the north to South St. 1.6 km (1.0 miles) to the south. Hence the whole downtown area is a very compact and walkable rectangle. See the map below.

Central Philadelphia
Source: Google Maps

What's in this very walkable downtown area? Just about everything you can imagine.

Downtown Philadelphia's Perfect Walk Score
Source: Walkscore.com

The city wears its history on its sleeve. Philadelphia is the site of such things as the First Continental Congress (1774), Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed (1776) and the current U.S. Constitution was debated, drafted and adopted (1787), and much more.

From my perspective, one of the most interesting things about that history was Philadelphia's strong tradition of rowhouse building. An astonishing 61% of the city's housing units were rowhouses (only 6% for LA City) and 9% were duplexes, which are similar to rowhouses, as of the 2006-08 ACS. Also, the city has a 57% homeownership rate (higher than LA City's 39%), a 26% transit to work and an 8% walk to work rate (LA City's are 11% and 4% respectively). Rowhouses are denser than detached houses because they share walls, but they have some of the things people like about detached houses like separate entrances for each housing unit, and a small yard or two depending on the design. Density makes it possible to put things within walking and biking distance and supports frequent transit service.

Historical Rowhouses in Downtown Philadelphia
Source: Google Maps Street View

There's a lot to say about that transit service by the way, but I'll save it for next time since this post is getting kind of long! However, I hope that it's already starting to become clear that Philadelphia may be an excellent alternative to sprawl, or "sprawlternative" :)

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