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Working Papers

Hard Landing

Working paper #499
Witold Rybczynski

For more than forty years, Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia has been the site of grand development proposals, all unbuilt. The checkered development history of this site serves not only as a cautionary tale but also as a chronicle of how urban development theories have changed, yet stayed the same. Over the years, master planners and developer teams have proposed a variety of uses: residential, commercial, retail, entertainment, institutional. The site has some inherent limitations in terms of access and closeness to the city, which have defeated all development attempts thus far, most recently a $329 million entertainment and retail complex. The Penn’s Landing site teaches several lessons: it is difficult to develop large urban sites; it is important to understand the market; it is difficult to combine public and private spaces in a city; and waterfront sites are not automatically commercially attractive.

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