Interview with Anne Fadullon – Director of Planning and Development for the City of Philadelphia

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Andrew Gordon

Andrew Gordon is a Baker and Johnson student at Cornell University. His coverage area is Real Estate Finance, Investment and Technology. He can be reached for comment at Ahg63@cornell.edu.

Philadelphia has undergone significant real estate development over the past decade. Such growth has had many positive benefits for local communities and residents. That said, many issues that have plagued the region for decades have still remained a concern for planners in Philadelphia. Poverty levels continue to be a major impediment that planners hope to alleviate through policy changes and development initiatives. Philadelphia planners have also embraced how technology has become a tool that will have a substantial impact on the built environment. Anne Fadullon, Director of Planning and Development for the City of Philadelphia, recently provided her insight on how Philadelphia hopes to sustain the recent growth and planning initiatives, while also encouraging equitable development efforts that satisfy overarching community needs.

Can you describe your current role as Director of Planning and Development for the City of Philadelphia?

I work in a relatively new department, but the functions have existed for a long time. I oversee all aspects of planning and development in city. I oversee a variety of planning and development issues that come up every day. I am lucky to work in a department that it is very connected to residents and community in Philadelphia.

What neighborhoods/areas in Philadelphia are you most interested in from a planning and development perspective?

One of the more interesting is Eastwick, a neighborhood in Southwest Philadelphia. I think there is really great work going on there right now. That community has not had a lot of love from government. I think we’re really working to change that scenario there. I think we do some really incredible things in areas of North Philadelphia. I was just at a groundbreaking this morning for some new affordable housing units that we’re doing in the area. We appreciate our partnership with the housing authority there. Some of the work we’re doing in the Northwest and in Northeast Philadelphia around supporting our middle neighborhoods, again, is really great. There are also really incredible things now going on in West Philadelphia, both community neighborhood-focused development as well as some larger scale tech industry development.

What policy goals drive your decision making process? What are your most important initiatives and have they changed?

 I think the overriding policy goal is how is this going to affect existing residents and how is this going to benefit the city as a whole. Often times when you’re dealing with a specific project, you focus on that area right around the project and you have to always keep your broader vision about, how this could impact the city and how are we dealing with those issues. So, I think the biggest thing is really making sure that what we’re pushing is going to be equitable and beneficial across the board. That’s a complicated issue and it is sometimes complicated to implement in practice. What drew me to planning was implementing social, political, built environment changes and sometimes those things aren’t always in alignment. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t ask the question all the time about who is this benefiting? How is it equitable, and then trying to push those policies.

To what degree do projects embrace sustainable and environmentally conscious initiatives?

So, I think, obviously, sustainability and environmentally conscious initiatives have really been rising to the forefront. We’re really taking a lot of steps towards trying to make sure that we meet those goals. So, we’ve been retrofitting city buildings in order to ensure that they are as environmentally friendly as possible. Any new construction that the city does, as far as public projects, is built with these initiatives in mind. For example, we just announced an incentive program for solar. We really push, when we’re doing our affordable housing, to make sure that it is environmentally friendly and cost efficient from an operating perspective. We’re putting a lot of money into our parks and trail system. Our storm water, and water department efforts are really embracing creative ways to deal with sustainability concerns. We have grant programs to encourage industries to change their big surface parking lots into more impactful development projects. We are promoting a lot of efforts to push sustainability and being environmentally conscious. In fact, we have a specific office, the mayor’s office of sustainability to really focus on those issues and to drive that discussion.

What challenges do you face that other cities might not experience?

It’s not that other cities don’t experience it, but I think Philadelphia really struggles with our poverty level. It’s often touted and talked about in the media that we have a 25 percent poverty level. Approximately 170,000 people live in deep poverty, which presents many challenges from a planning perspective. That means that those households bring in 10,000 dollars a year or less. So, that is our biggest issue. It’s not an issue that we can resolve overnight. It didn’t take us a short time to get here. It was something that’s been building for a long time and it’s a challenge that we are facing and trying to deal with. But it’s been difficult for us to move the needle. But I have to say I don’t think really we’ve seen a lot of models of success about moving the needle on poverty that really is about lifting people up out of poverty as opposed to moving them someplace else or having lots of new people move in. We are really focused on how do we lift people up and out.

 Do you have any specific policy or development initiatives that address these issues?

I think there are a lot of things that we’re doing on the housing front. The mayor and this administration announced an additional 80 million dollars over the next five years for local funding for affordable housing. (Note: after the interview that additional funding was increased to 100 million dollars over five years.) That’s the most local funding, new local funding we’ve had in many, many years. We launched our first housing action plan at the end of last year. The first plan ever to address everything from homeless all the way through to market rate housing.

We also just announced an increase in our homebuyer assistance. We are working to further define and leverage the nexus between health and housing. We’ve also got a lot of things going on as far as education. We are doing our best to fund universal Pre-K. We continue to increase the ability for every child in Philadelphia to access quality Pre-K education. We are working with our K through 12 schools, with community Schools, a lot of after school initiatives, and mentorship programs. Then we are really trying to look at, particularly, our community college and what we can do to boost that as an asset. So, we’re really taking education head on. We took back control of our school district from the state. So, we are now locally controlled, which is great because it gives us a little more flexibility. But it also puts the responsibility firmly on us. Then in reference to employment, like I said, we’re really starting to grow jobs at a much faster rate than we’ve done previously.

What has been your most meaningful project or work-related experience?

 This is one of those things where it’s really hard to isolate one thing. For me what’s most rewarding in my work is when you go out into the community and you see the impact that something’s having on a community in a positive way, whether it’s just cleaning a yard, opening a new park, providing affordable housing, whether it’s rental housing, or home ownership. I also have to say that I’m just really lucky for the people I get to work with; the dedication of the staff is amazing. There are just so many things about the work that I do that is really rewarding.

When do developers get it wrong with respect to your policy goals?

 Issues arise when we’re asking developers about what they are providing to the city beyond their investment. We understand that a developer investing their dollars into a development is a large financial risk. Developers put a lot on the line and that there’s a lot at stake. We understand that they are in business to make money and there is nothing wrong with that.

You provide a lot of jobs and other offshoots and that’s all great stuff. But I also think when you’re building a development, particularly a development of scale where there’s impacts that happen across the city, whether you’re building something big that’s going to then mean more people have to use the transit system, or it’s going to put more pressure on the housing market, or it’s going to increase the city’s carbon footprint, or any of those things. So, we’re going to developers and asking how they think their development will impact the housing market and how can you help the city mitigate and provide more affordable opportunities. We may ask developers to push their building to a gold or a platinum certification and we’ll give you some density in exchange for that. We have to be mindful of the city as a whole and make sure that what they’re doing is beneficial to our existing residents as well as the new residents that they may be bringing into the city and that it makes sense holistically.

 What is your vision for the future of Philadelphia City Planning and Development?

I think the vision for the future is, frankly, a little bit of a work in progress. One of the things that we’re really starting to focus on is getting a better handle on how quickly technology, like virtual reality, or artificial intelligence, or any of those activities, is going to impact our built environment. As planners, we do a comprehensive plan. We have the 2035 overall citywide vision, which we did in 2010. We know it may be completely outdated based on potentially what could happen in our city by 2035. So, I think really what we’re focused on now is how do we get thought leaders to come together to think about. What is really going to be the impact on the city of these technological advancements that we all know are moving exponentially faster than technological advancements of the past. What I mean by that, for example, is it took about a hundred years for the telephone to become something that was widely used and it took 10 years for the cell phone, right? So, these advancements are coming quicker and our adaptability, our adopting them is going faster as well. And really, how does that impact us? So, looking at autonomous vehicles, for example, it’s not just, okay people might not need cars. But it could really change what gets built, where it gets built, and change the use of buildings where people live. We’re really trying to figure out who do we need to have in the room to better understand this. So, for example, what I mean by that is, there’s a lot of discussion in our city as we grow and across the country about inclusionary zoning, which is important. But I think just as important is the discussion around exclusionary zoning. We’ve gone out and we’ve seen a lot of cities that are probably 10-15 years ahead of us in their growth such as Seattle and San Francisco. Pay attention to your housing supply. Pay attention to how you’re using public land. Pay attention to your transit system, not only where it extends to but how it is priced. Pay attention to how systems are designed at making sure that the users of the system are partaking in the design of your system. So, I think there are those lessons that we can learn and we just want to make sure that we are acknowledging them and trying to put the right things in place to take advantage by some other places.

Fadullon, A (2019, May 10). Phone interview.

 

 

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