3.11.2009

Retail in Philadelphia


Sorry for the late notice, but at 9 o'clock this morning, my firm will be giving its final presentation at City Hall for a three-year study on retail in Philadelphia. This was my first assignment when I started this job, so there is a particular sense of personal satisfaction associated with this completion.

You'll soon be able to go to our website and download the 10-page executive summary, 700-page (!) report and appendices, and reams and reams of actual data on the 260+ commercial corridors in Philadelphia. But in the meantime, let me summarize three years of work into four points:

* A diversity of retail centers work in Philadelphia. As a group, the top-performing corridors turned out to be a nice mix of auto-oriented and transit-oriented, regional-serving and neighborhood-serving, old and new.

* There is a wide disparity in corridor performance. The top 5 percent of corridors represent a disproportionate amount of shopping trips and sales dollars, while the bottom 40 percent represent relatively little activity.

* Appearance matters. It turns out aesthetics are not just the purview of geeky designers with too-cool glasses who are detached from the real world; the most powerful interventions at the corridor level were those that gave visual signals of beauty, safety, cleanliness, and care.

* There's room for improvement re: making retail more pedestrian-accessible. Far too many transit-proximate sites were not transit-oriented, as vast seas of parking and drive-through uses announced to the world, "drive to us, don't walk to us." Meanwhile, auto-oriented corridors were particularly pedestrian-inhospitable, as evidenced by the fact that of trips of less than 1/4 mile to such places, 70 percent were by car.

Obviously, there's a lot more here, which you can hear about later this morning or read about to your heart's content from our report. We're hoping for lots of follow-on work; having spent three years exploring retail in Philadelphia, we've only scratched the surface of what we can know and what we can answer.
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