Community and Regional Planning students envision future of the Fort Washington Office Park
Landscape Architecture senior Amy Reese and Community and Regional Planning graduate student Shane Godshall with with GIS specialist Md. Mahbubur R. Meenar and A.S.M. Abdul Bari on a project to re-envision the Fort Washington Office Park.
The Fort Washington Office Park a location that employs 14,000 people is suffering from a crisis of age.
Originally developed in the mid-1950s, the 563 acre office park in Upper Dublin Township was one of the first of its type in suburban Philadelphia. Built within a natural basin, many of the buildings were erected long before there were laws in place to prevent building within floodplains.
The resulting flooding and storm water management issues within the office park have hampered growth within the region, according to a study developed by students for the Community and Regional Planning 414: Advanced Topics and Techniques in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class. Today a full 30 percent of the building space stands vacant — 65 percent of the buildings are within the floodplain or floodway.
During the fall semester, the five students, using the latest GIS mapping technology, were tasked with redesigning the Fort Washington Office Park to alleviate the ongoing flooding issues and renew interest in the area as a viable, thriving business location.
“Sustainable development is one of the most talked about topics in the field of planning today. The use of GIS in sustainable development is inevitable, mostly because of better availability of GIS data sets and the increasing use of this technology,” said Md. Mahbubur R. Meenar, a Senior GIS Specialist with the Center for Sustainable Communities, who is teaching the CRP 414 course with fellow GIS specialist A.S.M. Abdul Bari. “The purpose of this project is to illustrate the procedures the team instantiated to handle sustainable development issues using GIS and demonstrate how planning students address real-life problems and focus on solving those issues in innovative ways.”
According to Bari, there is often a misconception among people who have heard of GIS that it is simply a mapping tool. Because it is based upon the real world, however, “GIS is never a static map.”
“It’s mapping that answers questions, mapping that can guide you to a solution,” he said. “It can present scenarios that answer not only what is, but what if and what could happen.”
The CRP 414 team — coming from diverse fields, including landscape architecture, public policy, economics, and planning — approached the Fort Washington Office Park project in several ways, added Meenar.
CRP graduate student Jon Kugel provides an introduction for the Fort Washington Office Park project.
The team developed a GIS-based site assessment based on a series of “windshield surveys” and site visits; created a suitability study for future development, prioritizing the natural and built features that should be preserved; and recommended future development scenarios using three dimensional GIS visualization.
According to the study, the older buildings within the office park do not manage storm water effectively — some inlets are deteriorated and clog with debris and storm water is routed to streams causing erosion. The office park consists of 50 percent impervious surface, significantly more ground level parking than is necessary, and poor usage of parking garages.
“If these buildings were built today, they would not be allowed, but it is here and it needs to be improved,” Jon Kugel, who is in his second year of the CRP graduate program. “This project has been a great opportunity to study various different aspects of planning — storm water management, floodplain mitigation, transportation, land use, open space. We’ve been able to use the latest technology to achieve something tangible.”
The students’ vision for the future is a Fort Washington Office Park where buildings that are constantly encroached by the floodplain are removed; old buildings are renovated to keep the office park looking new; the existing buildings have been condensed into two sections to create greenways; and additional amenities such as restaurants, shops, health centers, and other entertainment opportunities have been incorporated to give the area a “Main Street” feel to attract visitors after hours.”
“The whole concept utilizes green networks and natural features. While it does introduce more development, that development takes a clustered approach and takes better advantage of the available open space,” said Amy Reese, a senior Landscape Architecture student who is taking the graduate-level Community and Regional Planning course. “We’ve envisioned allées of street trees, a pedestrian network, the use of green roof technology — something I would love to see on some of the rectangular, flat buildings — and gathering spaces for eating, visiting, and additional vendors. The act of sustainability is a fairly new concept. In the future, we’d like to design the entire office park, looking beyond its boundaries to tie it into the greater community.”
According to Bari, the office park project won’t simply remain a classroom endeavor. The information will be provided to the township. The project will also be published in The New Planner, a student publication of the American Planning Association.