Bringing Them Back Home

A Philadelphia planner is trying to bring people into the city.

By Joseph Staruski

Decades ago, America saw a great decline in urban populations as many people in the middle class moved to the suburbs. Gregory Krykewycz is hoping that that trend will change and that people might move back to urban spaces. In fact, he’s planning on it.

A mild-mannered academic urban planner, Krykewycz loves to talk about city planning. Bicycles, pedestrians, trains: these are the types of things that Krykewycz thinks about on a daily basis as an instructor at Drexel University, a volunteer at the Media Borough Environmental Advisory Council, and the Associate Director of Transportation for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

Greg Krykewycz

Why does he want to see people move back to the city? Well, mostly because it is good for the environment.

When he was younger, Krykewycz saw himself being an environmental planner. His hope was to buy up land outside of the city and prevent people from developing there. He wanted to directly fight back against the progress of suburban development and save the natural environment around the city.

“But I really quickly learned, once I got into school, that it’s really expensive,” said Krykewycz. So, he took a different approach. His plan now is to make the city so great that people simply do not want to move away. “It is better to make the developed places more attractive so that the development pressure outward is reduced and you get organic preservation of land as opposed to just buying everything up” he said.

Krykewycz likes what he does so much that he volunteers his time with the Media Borough Environmental Advisory Council. He has lived in Media, a borough west of Philadelphia near Swarthmore College, for four years and has volunteered there for most of that time.

He said he is currently working on the Media Borough Bike Plan as well as planning for an open streets event in the fall. The bike plan is an attempt to improve bicycle infrastructure in the borough especially by creating bicycle lanes. An open streets event is when a road is temporarily closed to its regular automobile traffic and opened up to pedestrians, bicycles, and activities.

Krykewycz also teaches at Drexel University a course called “Introduction to Urban and Environmental Planning.” He enjoys working with students who share his interests, saying, “they come to the planning class with the same environmental mindset I had when I discovered the profession.” He introduces them to the unique field of urban planning, which many might not have thought about before.

One of the projects Krykewycz worked on a few years ago was the Community Investment Index. He and his colleagues created maps to help investors decide where they should invest based on previous investments. He said, “when you’re an investor, you don’t want to be playing whack-a-mole.” Investors, instead, want to know exactly the right places to invest in order to be successful.

The planning agency’s goal was to get people to invest in the same areas repeatedly. This would directly prevent development in new suburban areas and preserve the natural environment. As Krykewycz elegantly put it, “Environmental planning is housing planning. It is all the same stuff.”

Another project Krykewycz recently undertook could end up saving dozens of lives.

US Route 1 known as Roosevelt Boulevard stretches through Northeast Philadelphia from Hunting Park to Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem. Thirty people died on Roosevelt Boulevard in only four years between 2009 and 2013 according to a report by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

Talking slowly and articulating his words, Krykewycz said that the road mixes lots of pedestrians with high-speed traffic: a dangerous combination. He said, “it’s a really unique roadway in a bad way… there’s a lot of crashes.”

Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission

Krykewycz is trying to change things. He and his colleagues have drafted multiple plans that would physically alter the roadway to make it appear more dangerous to drivers. Apparent danger makes people pay more attention and slow down. They add things like larger curbs, trees, curved intersections, and large crosswalks that make drivers recognize that there are pedestrians and that they need to slow down.

Some of their options do not cost a lot of money for the state and they can make a major difference in the overall safety of a road.

But even with all this work to can be difficult to get things done sometimes. One if the hardest parts of his job is getting people from different towns to work together. “We’ve got 351 local governments in our region. That’s a lot” said Krykewycz. All those different interests can lead to some strange phenomena.

For instance, Krykewycz explained that sometimes development occurs more on the borders of municipalities because each individual municipal government wants the traffic impact of new buildings to be shared with its neighbor. That is not necessarily something that is good from a planning perspective, but it is something that Krykewycz encounters occasionally regardless.

In the end, Krykewycz is hopeful and optimistic. He does not think the world is so bad, but he wants to make it better. He even admits, “Our long-range plan is kind of boring.” With his calm manner, looking through black glasses, he expressed his love for places that feel authentic especially the city.