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A Critical Take on Philadelphia's Big Innovation District Plans

Philadelphia Inquirer Architecture Critic Inga Saffron digs into the facts and fictions about innovation districts, as the city reveals a third splashy project touting its innovation district bonafides.
March 22, 2016, 8am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Inga Saffron turns a critical eye to the urban innovation district concept, especially as its being proffered in Philadelphia. Saffron's column follows recently revealed plans by Drexel University and its development partner, Brandywine Realty Trust, "to shape 14 acres on the west side of 30th Street Station into a conglomeration of offices, labs, apartments, shops, and landscaped public spaces where the Steve Jobses and Bill Gateses of the future can invent stuff and recreate together." Schuylkill Yards, as Drexel University's proposal is called, comes with a pricetag of $3.5 billion.

Schuylkill Yards is not alone among the development proposals on the table in Philadelphia. There's also, according to Saffron, the Science Center's new uCitySquare and the University of Pennsylvania's Pennovation campus in Gray's Ferry. 

Saffron tempers the optimism inherent in these development proposals. More likely than high-rise towers, says Saffron "is that we will see some of the modest, and less costly, parts of these plans come to pass." The remainder of the article serves as more of an explainer, describing some of the characteristics (i.e., "authenticity") that separate innovation districts from the more traditional central business districts that define the core of most large cities.

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