Where We’re Going…5 Futuristic Philly Developments for Back to the Future Day

Between floating cars, park space on rooftops and sky-piercing building, Philadelphia has more than a few "heavy" developments in the works.

Photo credit: Sean Marshall via Flickr

Sadly, we still need roads in 2015. Photo credit: Sean Marshall via Flickr

We’ve reached one of those where-were-you-when-type moments in human history that you’ll almost definitely tell your grandkids about one day: Back to the Future Day. That’s right, in case you’ve been living under a rock (or have somehow never seen the classic movie), it’s October 21, 2015, otherwise known as the exact date when Marty McFly and Doctor Emmett Brown traveled into the future in Back to the Future II.

The historic event got us thinking: Philly is undergoing some major changes (not unlike McFly’s hometown of Hill Valley did in the movie), but are we seeing some of the same futuristic stuff happening in the City of Brotherly Love?

Actually, yeah, we kind of are. So grab Einie and take a trip with us to Philadelphia 2015 and beyond. You better buckle up, because where we’re going…we probably won’t have open streets and we’ll still very much need roads.

Floating Cars at 500 Walnut?

Alright, so we haven’t quite mastered the whole floating, time-traveling cars thing yet, but we have found a way to get a robot to park our cars for us! 1706 Rittenhouse was the first automated car park in the city (here’s a fun video), and now developer Tom Scannapieco is at it again at his latest high-end high-rise, 500 Walnut. Don’t believe us? Here’s proof:

Residents will only have to pull their car up to the garage, swipe their fob, and a floating (and glowing?) robotic slab will retrieve the car, moving the it to an open spot. While it’s not exactly where-we’re-going-we-won’t-need-roads territory, it’s essentially driverless, and that’s some heavy stuff, Doc.

Innovation Abounds

Just as the Hill Valley of 2015 became almost unrecognizable to Doc Brown and Marty McFly, Philadelphia is zooming into the future at breakneck speed. Comcast already claims the tallest building in the city, and they’re well on their way to building the one that will eventually top it. The Comcast Innovation and Technology Center is designed by Sir Norman Foster (+ Partners)***, and will feature a bevy of high tech work spaces and amenities to lure a generation that’s the perfect blend of the the super-cool Marty and his nerdy father, George McFly.

Meanwhile, University City is also exploding in growth, as the Eds, Meds and Tech sectors are fueling what amounts to the extension of Center City across the Schuylkill River. uCity Square will look to blend innovative businesses with a neighborhood vibe that’s anchored by a public square, not unlike the town square seen throughout Back to the Future.  Who knows, maybe a company located within uCity Square will finally bring the hoverboard to the masses? One can only hope.

Though it’s kind of cut off from Center City, The Navy Yard is also brimming with action, as Liberty Property Trust seemingly announces a new tricked-out building each week. Though we love the glass castle that is the GSK building, the unveiling of the “gravity-defying” office building at 1200 Intrepid Avenue–designed by world-renown architect Bjarke Ingels–has got us all kinds of excited for the future. As we saw in Back to the Future III, let’s hope the powers that be can channel their inner Doc Brown and bring the railroad, er subway, into the fold. That could really change the game.

***Though the Back to the Future franchise never really delved into the realm of outer space, it’s worth noting that CITC architect Sir Norman Foster is on some next-level stuff as it pertains to living on other planets. He’s currently in advanced stages of designing ways for humans to live on both the Moon and on Mars–great scott! Here’s a peek:

Signs, Signs and Urban Experiential Displays

Remember that scene in Back to the Future II where Marty McFly learns that the Chicago Cubs actually won the World Series via some wild 3-D/holographic display? Well, that’s essentially the magic that the City of Philadelphia is hoping to capture when they announced their plans to install Urban Experiential Displays, aka UEDs, on the streets of Center City. The plan hasn’t been implemented yet, but it has made its way through the necessary approvals, so it might be only a matter of time before we see this guy next to Reading Terminal Market. Wait a minute. Is that Biff Tannen chucking those street urchins’ ball into the balcony of a nearby house? Today it is.

Whenever they happen to arrive, UEDs will be joining an increasingly crowded display market. Cabs have ’em. There’s now a digital billboard that crowns the glorious Lits Bros. building on Market Street. Dilworth Park, the Comcast Center, entrances to SEPTA stations, restrooms … the list of high-def screens constantly blasting information at us at all times is growing by the day.

Parks Above the City

Thanks to Fairmount Park and an impressive public park system, Philadelphia is not lacking in the green space department. However, developers are conjuring up more and more ways to bring the park to the busy people of our fair city. Cira Green, for example, is currently in progress high above the banks of the Schuylkill River (check out this must-see picture). Sat between the ever-growing FMC Tower and evo apartment building, the park will turn a drab parking structure into a park-topped public amenity with some amazing views of the city.

It’s not just developers, either. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown recently introduced a bill that would make it more enticing for builders to include green roofs on residential projects. The result will be lower energy bills and less stormwater runoff seeping into the city’s rivers.

Next-Gen Community Hubs

Straying away from a direct link to the movie yet again, we’d like to give a little love to the some next-gen thinking that’s sure to have a major impact on Philly’s neighborhoods. The library at Broad and Morris Street in South Philly has been demolished and work is humming along to create a community hub that combines the everyday assets of Philadelphia’s library system with the health prowess (and dough) of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In all, the facility will take over the entire block and have a new green playground space, a community care center featuring a library, a rec center and basketball court, a city health center and a CHOP neighborhood care center. Here’s a look at the plan (pdf).

The program is being backed by a massive grant from the William Penn Foundation, and several current branches will be revamped “into centers that cater towards the specific needs of their surrounding community.”