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Old City District releases design guide amid development boom

The guide addresses how to build in a way that blends the old and new

Old City District now has a design guide meant to serve as a reference for developers and architects.
Photo by Melissa Romero

Want to build in Old City? There’s now a guide for that.

Old City District has rolled out its 48-page Old City Design Guide that’s aimed to serve as a reference for developers, architects, and entrepreneurs who want to set up shop in one way or another in the historic district.

“We have created this Design Guide to provide property owners and developers with guidance regarding how they can make the most of their investments and ensure that the whole of Old City is greater than the sum of its parts,” Old City District’s executive director Job Itzkowitz said in an announcement.

The guide’s publication comes at a time when Old City is in the middle of a building boom for both housing and retail. The district estimates that at the neighborhood’s current growth, anywhere from 200 to 300 housing units could come online annually.

The design guide, in fact, is part of Old City District’s larger Vision2026, a framework for neighborhood’s growth and development. When coming up with that framework, concerns raised from stakeholders, residents, and business owners about maintaining the neighborhood’s historic fabric influenced Old City District to come up with a tool to help developers and architects “strike the right balance” in future projects.

Urban planner Jonas Maciunas helped Old City District come up with the design guide. There are helpful sections that lay out the neighborhood’s zoning codes and minimum parking requirements, but the majority of the reference guide focuses on a series of recommendations that encourage development that’s made to last, create and support the community, and provide public space.

And yes, it does highlight some examples of new builds and repurposed buildings in Old City, highlighting both the good and the bad.

Itzkowitz tells Curbed Philly he’s not aware of other local design guides of its kind that have been released by a neighborhood district. The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia does have its own design guidelines for new construction in historic districts, and other neighborhoods like Rittenhouse Square also have guides for property owners that offer information on how to maintain their historic properties.

You can read the full Old City Design Guide here.