Visionary Low Energy Urban Planning in Philly

This is a great feature – where could we do this kind of planning here?

From Carfree Times/Car Free


Gaslight Village Conceptual Plan

Taken from

Gaslight Village

The Main Idea

Gaslight Village is a proposed mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented, urban village on the site of a former gas works on the east bank of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River. When completed, it will be home to some 4,000 families.

Conceptual Site Plan
Philadelphia street market

One of Philadelphia’s street markets
©2010 J.Crawford

Shopping, businesses, social, educational, recreational, and community activities will be clustered around Gaslight Square, at the heart of the village and close to the transport hub. A variety of sustainable industries will provide local employment for many residents of Gaslight Village. The district will not be entirely self-contained, but nearly all requirements of daily life will be located within it.
The site seen from Passyunk Avenue Bridge

The site, seen from Passyunk Avenue Bridge
©2010 J.Crawford

Location, Shape, and Size

The site is located in South Philadelphia at the former Municipal Gas Works. The site is served by a single road and a heavy-rail freight railroad that passes through the middle of the site.

Overall, the village and the adjacent industrial zone occupy a rough ellipse almost a mile long and nearly 3000 feet wide. The site occupies about 220 acres.

The site is divided into two major parts by the rail line. The southern part will be a mixed-use district containing everything except “utility” functions such as freight handling, parking, trash processing, warehousing, and manufacturing. Utility functions will be located on the north side of the rail line and served by both road and rail freight.

A parking garage and the central transport station will also be located north of the rail line, near the main entrance to Gaslight Square. Also situated in the garage will be car-sharing facilities and a baggage handling operation. Streets in the pedestrian zone will be accessible to emergency service vehicles.

The site will be linked by rail to SEPTA’s Market-Frankford Line, with convenient transfer to SEPTA trolley and regional rail services, and to Amtrak at 30th Street Station. The site is linked to the Grays Ferry community via Schuylkill Avenue, and other South Philadelphia neighborhoods are just across the Schuylkill Expressway and will be accessible by extensions of existing SEPTA bus routes.

Green Space

Much of the southern part of the district will be surrounded by green space, some of it devoted to parklands and playing fields. The greenbelt will be situated between the Schuylkill River and the southern edge of the pedestrian district. Most of the greenbelt will be more than 600 feet wide. Some of this area may be dedicated to “permaculture,” a form of high-yield, sustainable agriculture that would provide appreciable amounts of food and significant employment.

Amsterdam Courtyard
©2003 J.Crawford

Nearly all blocks will have spacious interior courtyards that will provide green space adjacent to most buildings. These courtyards will average 100 by 150 feet. Most of them will be planted with trees to provide shade and a degree of privacy.

Why is Gaslight Village Needed?

Like most other northeastern industrial cities, Philadelphia suffered after WWII from rapid suburban growth and the hollowing-out of the urban core. This caused serious urban problems and created a sprawling suburban form based on intensive automobile use. This arrangement probably cannot be sustained in the face of peak oil, climate change, and economic constraints.

The city has lost much of the opportunity that once characterized life there, along with nearly a quarter of its population. Those who are left behind, except for a few living in gentrified pockets, have fewer and poorer choices of work, schools, health care, recreation, and culture. Personal safety and security have declined significantly. Over the past 50 years, many attempts have been made to revitalize Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, but few have had lasting positive effect. The pedestrian village model offers a cost-effective, efficient, and attractive way to integrate the people of the community with the jobs, goods, and services they need and with the amenities that make urban living an attractive alternative to the suburbs.

Venice Street Scene
©2002 J.Crawford

Compared with the oldest (and most desirable) neighborhoods, neighborhoods built or reconfigured for automobile dominance waste much precious urban land, while pushing people’s homes, jobs, and schools farther apart, providing an inferior quality of life burdened by heavy car traffic. Gaslight Village is largely a return to the earlier, more successful urban patterns that once formed the bedrock of Philadelphia’s vigorous economy.

Village Character

Gaslight Village will blend the best of 18th and 19th century Philadelphia tradition with the most efficient and sustainable technologies of the 21st century. Iconic images of Philadelphia’s old streets are familiar to people around the world. These are beautiful, human-scaled places with narrow streets and small three-story buildings. These buildings are usually of traditional brick construction, which is economical to maintain, fireproof, durable, and beautiful.
Elfreth's Alley, Philadelphia

Elfreth’s Alley, Philadelphia
©2010 J.Crawford

Gaslight Square, the new community’s center, may resemble Independence Hall but will incorporate solar heating and electricity generation, advanced insulation practices, and teleconferencing facilities. Local offices, shops, and services will provide the goods and services of daily life within easy walking distance of home, without the need to drive, or even take transit. Biking will also be well supported and the streets will be amply wide for both pedestrians and cyclists.
Daily Life in Venice

Daily Life in Venice
©2001 J.Crawford

Local businesses will be supplied through the industrial area, with excellent access to both rail freight and trucking, largely eliminating the need to move heavy freight through the community’s streets.

A walk through the streets of Gaslight Village will reveal much in common with Society Hill, Queen Village, or Elfreth’s Alley, but people won’t have to compete with cars for space in our streets. Children will play safely while adults relax in the tranquil atmosphere of their local streets and squares.
South Hutchinson St., Philadelphia

South Hutchinson St., Philadelphia
©2010 J.Crawford

Typical buildings will be of brick construction, from 2½ to 4 stories in height, sharing walls with their neighbors, as is traditional in Philadelphia townhouses. This arrangement greatly reduces the exposed wall surface, with corresponding reductions in heating and cooling loads. Nearly all buildings will enjoy generous interior courtyards, immediately adjacent to the backs of the houses.
Tree-Lined Narrow Street

Tree-Lined Narrow Street in Portugal
©2006 J.Crawford

A wide swath of green space will sweep around the district from the west, across the south, and on to the east, ending at the railroad tracks. A variety of green uses, including playing fields, a waterfront promenade, parkland, community gardens, and permaculture will be situated in the green belt. Most streets will be shaded by trees.

A vital characteristic of communities such as we propose is tight social bonding within the community. This can still be seen in some Philadelphia neighborhoods, but in other neighborhoods it has largely disappeared, to be replaced by fear and suspicion. We view the fostering of a healthy community as one of the greatest benefits Gaslight Village will offer, and a huge improvement in the quality of life for many of the people who will move there. We expect diverse, mutually-supportive communities to arise once an attractive and safe stage for community life is provided in the human-scaled streets free of the noise and danger of cars.


How will we pay for this? Feasibility studies will require a comparatively modest grant from a foundation committed to demonstrating state-of-the-art sustainable urbanism. Once the project is under way, we can anticipate remediation assistance from federal, state, and local agencies to clean up toxic material from the former gas works. Umbrella financing packages will be arranged for core industrial startups and Gaslight Square commercial/residential construction to ensure that the initial critical mass of people and business is achieved. We anticipate that once the character of this remarkable community becomes familiar to Philadelphians there will be considerable demand for building sites in the remainder of Gaslight Village.

Ongoing financing for the rest of the build-out would come from traditional sources on a project-by-project basis. We expect this to be self-organizing because the economics are compelling: floor-area and per-capita costs should be much lower than comparable suburban development. At the same time, Gaslight Village should enjoy a quality of life far better than is the norm in any American city today.
Ravenna Cyclists

Biking in Ravenna, Italy
©2002 J.Crawford

Local stores become economically viable because they need allocate no land for parking lots. Most stores will be located on the ground floors of buildings that have residences on the upper floors. Offices may be situated on the ground floors of buildings more distant from Gaslight Square. This makes highly efficient use of the valuable ground floor locations while providing economical housing above. This is an age-old pattern that still used in most of Europe, much of New York City, and some parts of Philadelphia even today.

Gaslight Village is not a gentrification project. Real city neighborhoods are enriched by the presence of residents and workers from all walks of life and of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It is our intention to help create a community that welcomes all and provides opportunities across the economic spectrum.

We anticipate an appreciable demand for labor to clean up toxic waste at the old gas works site. This will provide initial employment at the site, even before any housing is constructed.

We expect that the sizable industrial area situated on the north side of the tracks will host a variety of prosperous industries, most of which will address the need for increased sustainability in all of life’s activities. These industries tend to be labor intensive, which assures a supply of jobs for the residents of the village.


Medium-density construction in the manner proposed for the village is intrinsically energy efficient. Transport energy will probably be reduced ten-fold. Most of the transport that is not human-powered will be efficient rail or bus service. Initially this will probably be diesel powered, but more sustainable vehicles can be introduced as they become available. Other energy consumption, principally in the form of space heating and cooling, will be reduced by 50% or more compared to typical American usage. Of course, air pollution emissions should be correspondingly reduced.

Energy efficiency will also be improved by better freight transport. The site will be arranged to support rail transport in preference to trucks. Container use will be facilitated, and we anticipate direct delivery of containers to a long line of buildings immediately south of the tracks. These would be the active warehouses of the village and also home to stores selling bulky and heavy items. We anticipate that this arrangement will support a trend away from road freight in the coming decades, spurred by the inherent efficiency of rail transport.
Salzburg Pedestrians

Strolling in Salzburg, Austria
©2002 J.Crawford

Within Gaslight Village, most freight will move on pallet movers, freight bikes, and hand carts. The distances are short, so these modes can be employed with relative economy, and the peaceful life on the streets will be minimally disrupted by freight movement. A few exceptions for the entry of trucks may be required, but a hefty fee for truck entry would discourage this.


It is not yet possible to build a sustainable city, but Gaslight Village moves as close to that goal as can currently be achieved and probably does not conflict with future requirements that may emerge. The design model intrinsically provides vastly reduced energy consumption.

We propose to establish some core industries that we expect to grow in the decades ahead as energy and materials shortages increasingly afflict the global economy. We foresee industries to reclaim materials from the waste stream and make useful goods from them. For example, wood in the waste stream would be recovered and reworked to remove metal objects before being laminated into new, durable solid-wood planks that can be used for many purposes. This recovered wood could become the feed stock for a furniture industry producing goods that can be expected to last decades, not years as is the case with fiberboard furniture now so widely produced and frequently discarded.
Campo San Bartolomeo

Campo San Bartolomeo, Venice
©2001 J.Crawford

These changes also ameliorate the problems with solid waste disposal that are becoming ever more serious as available land-fill sites move farther and farther away from cities. At the same time, valuable resources, particularly metals, will be recovered and reused or recycled. The reductions in mineral ore excavation and refining alone are sufficient justify this approach.

Siena, Italy
©2008 J.Crawford


Urban neighborhoods of the type we propose are inherently crime-resistant. They provide safety and security advantages compared to other models, both urban and suburban. The chief improvement comes from the fact that all areas are occupied both night and day, providing a dense network of human security: eyes on the street. That combined with the stronger community ties that we anticipate will help to keep people safe on the streets. Furthermore, criminals will not be able to use cars to mask their identities or for a quick getaway.

Join Us

The Gaslight Village Symposium is currently organizing core groups, with the following goals:

  • Invite participation and secure buy-in from Philadelphia community opinion leaders and city officials
  • Prepare and submit a comprehensive and effective seed-money grant proposal
  • Present a detailed project plan to the public

In April of 2011, Philadelphia will host the “Brownfields 2011” conference. Planners, industry representatives, and EPA officials will gather from around the country to discuss the current state of brownfield redevelopment. We intend to make a full-scale presentation of Gaslight Village at that time.

If you find the possibilities discussed here intriguing, please join us in formulating plans for bringing them to fruition. Join the Gaslight Village Symposium.

Listen to the New Colonist Podcast interview about Gaslight Village.


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