The Delaware River has brought life and commerce to the greater Philadelphia area for centuries. The first known inhabitants were the Lenni Lenape, whose culture and economy were based on the river’s resources. Beginning in 1524, European immigrants settled along the Delaware’s shores to fish and work in factory towns. Philadelphia became a thriving port, but its prosperity reduced the very resources it was built on, as the river became an open sewer and a breeding ground for disease. These changes adversely affected the communities that developed along it.
In 1972, the Clean Water Act spurred a cleanup of the river, but persistent stormwater management issues, industry, and accidents such as the 2004 Athos I oil spill continue to affect the Delaware River. The Delaware is a resilient river: native wildlife still inhabits its waters and shores, and local and regional restoration projects will conserve these for current and future generations. The Delaware provides most of Philadelphia’s drinking water and supports local businesses to regional economies.
Despite the importance of the Delaware and other local rivers to Philadelphia’s economy and culture, the Delaware has been treated as a back door to the city through pollution and little investment. This 50 year trend began to change in the 1990s and continues today with greenway projects and community development.
Many government agencies, non-profits, and concerned communities have begun addressing the revitalization of the river and its communities. The Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) is one such organization. The DRCC aims to reconnect communities with the Delaware River by building greenways and parks along its shores. These developments and their enabling policies will return the riverfront to a vibrant place to live, work, and play.
Interest in a North Delaware renaissance was catalyzed by then-Congressman Bob Borski, who invited regional government and business leaders on a boat cruise along the river. Miles of vacant property, environmental damage, and the resilient Delaware inspired these leaders to address the opportunities of the underutilized riverfront.
With local elected officials’ support, the City and the Delaware River Port Authority funded the development of a new Vision Plan by the Philadelphia’s City Planning Commission and partners, which addressed how the Delaware Riverfront could become the front door to new mixed-use neighborhoods, ecological restoration and public recreational opportunities.
To further this “green infrastructure” aspect of the Plan, Bob Borski and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) invited riverfront businesses, leaders of riverfront Community Development Corporations, City agencies and cabinet members, non-profit organizations, and elected officials to participate on the Northeast Riverfront Task Force to shape community vision for the riverfront.
It was during this process, in 2004, that Congressman Borski formed a non-profit organization, the Delaware River City Corp. (DRCC). The North Delaware Greenway Master Plan (2005) lays out the physical infrastructure to be built. In 2006, the entity was recognized by the City of Philadelphia and charged to guide and facilitate the implementation process for the Greenway Plan, to bring it to its fullest and best fruition.
In late 2008, the DRCC and the Fairmount Parks Commission dedicated the first new trail segment between Pennypack on the Delaware Park to the mouth of the Pennypack Creek. The Pennypack Park Trail Extension project includes ¾ miles of paved trail, benches and trash receptacles, as well as, a crushed stone path leading to an overlook at the mouth of the Pennypack Creek.
Since then, the DRCC has been building several other trail segments and parks, including Lardner’s Point Park, which opened in May 2012. Like the Pennypack Park Trail Extension, Lardner’s Point has become a local destination. By working with partners, funders, and other supporters, the DRCC hopes to realize the vision of a renewed North Delaware Riverfront that is a local and regional asset.