Cutting-edge building practices in West Philly's 60th Street District

More than just a Pretty Face

by Alon Abramson

We all love before-and-after pictures, but sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the superficial even when a radical transformation has taken place. At first glance, you might think the brightly painted storefronts and homes on 60th Street in West Philadelphia are simply spruced up versions of their neighbors. But the real story is the long-term plan, and the serious green building practices, behind those beautiful faces. 

Once a thriving business district, the 60th Street commercial corridor slipped into decline after decades of disinvestment, changes in neighborhood demographics and a shrinking population. It suffered another blow in the early 2000s when construction on the Market-Frankford El cut off one of the main transportation modes to the area. A vibrant commercial strip once ran for seven blocks from Market to Catherine Streets in the form of two-story rowhomes with businesses on the first floors and apartments above.  

Wells Fargo drew up a redevelopment plan for 60th Street that laid the groundwork for a partnership between the Partnership Community Development Corporation (PCDC) and West Philadelphia Real Estate (WPRE). Their study found that the neighborhood economy wasn’t yet strong enough to support former levels of commercial activity, and proposed concentrating businesses to the three blocks from Market to Spruce Streets instead. 

Properties south of Spruce Street were developed as single-family homes or duplexes. WPRE redeveloped 45 vacant properties and empty lots into 81 units. All residential properties are priced for residents with low incomes, and rents are adjusted as necessary based on financial need; six of these properties were made ADA-accessible. At press time, all but one property had been leased. 

All properties are being certified to Energy Star standards for their excellent energy performance, as well as the more comprehensive LEED standards from the U.S. Green Building Council, which also takes into account the site, air quality, water use and materials used in construction. The new and remodeled buildings include efficient appliances, lighting, mechanical systems and water heaters. The highly insulated roofs and walls and efficient doors and windows were used to make sure the building contain cooled or heated air.

The 60th Street District development proves that it’s possible to build new and retrofitted high-efficiency green buildings that blend into existing neighborhoods.