By Alan Greenberger
Believe it or not, manufacturing linguine and fettuccine in the same neighborhood was illegal in parts of this city until today. Sounds ridiculous, right? But it's one of the many idiosyncrasies of a complicated, outdated zoning code that, fortunately, no longer governs development in Philadelphia.
Today, however, marks the beginning of a new era in our city. Today, a new zoning code takes effect.
This code, the product of four years of hard work by thousands of citizens and many dedicated public servants, will make it easier to advance development and create jobs. It will support vibrant community corridors and encourage transit-oriented development. And perhaps most importantly, it will engage more Philadelphians in the development and growth of their neighborhoods.
This was not easy to get done; big things never are. But this code and the broader reforms in the city's comprehensive plan will help make planning and development here simple, smart, and fair.
Let's take each one of those in turn. The old zoning code, drafted in 1933 and updated in 1962, had become anything but simple. It authorized many land uses that have long since become obsolete, and it was understandably silent on many aspects of modern civic life. Over the years, a series of revisions prompted by changing times created a cobbled-together code so absurdly complicated that only a few Philadelphia lawyers actually understood it.
We have replaced the 410 uses in the old code with 99 simpler categories. This will dramatically reduce the number of projects that require variances, making it easier for developers, communities, and homeowners to get things done.
By making the zoning code simpler, we have also made it smarter. The new code replaces individual uses such as "manufacture of inks" with more generic categories such as "limited industrial," meaning less need for variances and a simpler process. This code is designed not for a point in time, but to stand the test of time. It provides a blueprint for sustainable growth and development by supporting, for example, more use of public transportation and the growth of transit hubs. And a smart code means smart planning and smart development.
Finally, a simple, smart zoning code is one that everybody can understand - and one without the many special provisions added for particular interest groups over the years. It will produce a much fairer development process, treating all communities, neighborhoods, and developments the same.
Thousands of Philadelphians were involved in developing this code, and many will be involved in implementing it through a new civic design review process. This is a blueprint for development that is truly a creation of the people of Philadelphia.
Zoning, planning, and design matter. They shape the places where we live and work. A smart development process can encourage development and job creation, while a complicated, obtuse process can drive them away. The new zoning code provides a road map for sustainable growth, job creation, and an engaged citizenry to shape the future of Philadelphia.