Building a better bridge to a more sustainable community

Ask anyone who is an expert on sustainability and they’ll probably tell you that the plans for a rebuilt South Street bridge violate just about every principle of sustainable infrastructure building that you can think of.

Rather than connecting University City and Center City with a walkable, bike-friendly span that would encourage people to visit both sides of the river without the use of their cars, the new South Street bridge is essentially a large exit/entrance ramp to the Schuylkill Expressway.

Bruce Schimmel, the City Paper’s Loose Canon, has been among those who have been beating the drum for a more sustainable Philadelphia and he took the opportunity at the announcement of Mayor Nutter’s choice for sustainability director to bring up the South Street bridge debacle.

Through most of the column, Schimmel points out the apparent frostiness that Nutter’s selection – the brilliant and thoughtful Mark Alan Hughes, former Daily News columnist and current Penn scholar – was met with by Schimmel’s affectionately named “greenistas.”

When he got a chance to ask Hughes about the bridge, Hughes, who spends a lot of time at Penn and lives, I believe, in or near Center City, was surprisingly quiet on the issue:

So I later asked Hughes about the current hot topic: the South Street Bridge. The city’s plans are blessed by UPenn, but in the opinion of many (including some maintaining their silence inside Penn), the plans make a mockery of sustainability.

Would Hughes weigh in on the South Street Bridge? His circuitous response would have made Alan Greenspan proud, the gist being, “Answer unclear, ask later.”

Hughes may have the mayor’s ear. Now it’s a matter of whether he’ll open his mouth. Let’s hope to hear from him soon. Because keeping quiet, now, would be very unfunny indeed.

Hughes is a Nutter confidant, having sign onto the mayor’s campaign at a time when few believed that Nutter had a chance of winning. It’ll be interesting to see how big a role Hughes plays – both publicly and behind closed doors. Will he just be in charge of penning op-eds for the dailies on the administration’s positions on environmental issues and smart development or will he be crafting the policies that will put Philadelphia in the vanguard of progressive, visionary and sustainable cities?

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Filed under planning, Population Growth, Sustainability

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