The South Philly Studio Project: Neighborhoods – Step 1 (Centers)

I’ve decided to start something of an intellectual exercise. I really loved school, especially my workshop and studio classes where we got to really get into a neighborhood, analyze it, and propose physical improvements for it.

So I’m just going to do that.

I’m going to use Emily Talen’s Urban Design Reclaimed to guide this project, because a) it’s just a good book and b) it breaks the planning and design process down into small, quickly accomplished steps, which I think will improve my posting schedule. Initially, I’m planning on focusing on southwest South Philly, in the area bounded by Broad Street, Passyunk Avenue, and Oregon Avenue.

While this will be something of an academic project and I’m not planning on holding any public meetings or anything, I would welcome collaboration, either in the comments section here or on Twitter, where I’m @davidbmunson and am planning to use the hashtag #SouthPhillyStudio.

I think this could be a lot of fun.


The first section of Urban Design Reclaimed addresses “citywide issues requiring a big picture view,” and the first exercise in this section deals with neighborhoods. The purpose of the exercise is to determine a set of neighborhoods, each with a center and a boundary.

Step 1 (Centers)

The first step in the exercise, and the subject of this post, is the identification of potential neighborhood centers. Talen suggests a series of potential neighborhood centers: “street intersections, civic spaces like schools and parks, and commercial areas.” These potential centers can be found on the map below. Since there are no arterial streets cutting through the study area, I mapped the intersections of collector streets within the neighborhood. Parks have their own layer; civic spaces include schools, churches, rec centers, hospitals, police/fire stations, and libraries. I mapped areas of primarily commercial use, as well as corner stores within the neighborhood.

The next step would be to map a quarter mile around each of these potential centers to make sure that the neighborhood has good coverage, but it’s plainly apparent to me that the entire study area would be completely covered. I came up with two alternatives for how to map potential centers: eliminate the corner stores and intersections from the map, as they are the most ubiquitous; or, map corners where at least three of the four corner properties are some sort of potential center, thus creating what I’m modestly calling super centers.

Either alternative completely covers the study area, as shown in the maps below.

The result of the exercise is that there are sufficient potential neighborhood centers throughout the study area that any resident could walk to one in less than five minutes. The next step is to delineate neighborhood boundaries within the study area, which I will do in my next post.

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