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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