Post-Refinery Futures

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Project Team

Authors: Marni Burns, Selina Cheah, Andrew Dobshinsky, Kate Farquhar, Jonathan Franklin, Sarah Leaskey, Hangxing Liu, Michael Miller, Lucinda Sanders, Nate Wooten

Firm: OLIN

Project Description

Philadelphia’s refinery was the largest on the East Coast and one of the oldest in the world, operating from the 1860’s until its catastrophic explosion in 2019. The refinery’s closure leaves a complicated legacy and an opportunity to reposition Philadelphia’s industrial engine for the post-carbon future. The site’s new owner, Hilco, proposes industrial and commercial redevelopment anchored by a multi-modal logistics center. While an improvement on the refinery, the plans fall short of civic aspirations for remediation, renewable energy generation, job creation, and public space: the kind of bold vision that would redress 150 years of environmental injustice.

In 2020, OLIN began partnering with advocates working to articulate such a vision. The priorities that emerged align closely with Green New Deal values of jobs, justice, and decarbonization. For the Superstudio, we have chosen not to advance design or planning proposals – which must move at the speed of partnership and engagement – but to deepen our understanding of topics central to post-refinery futures: economic development, air quality, soil and water remediation, access to nature, and memory. We have also situated the Philadelphia refinery within a national context of similar sites, the communities that surround them, and the tangled web of infrastructure and markets that drive their past, present and future. If we accept that the transition away from a fossil fuel economy has already begun, Philadelphia will be one of many such sites: an exemplar of lands that hold great potential and hope, but also raw and complicated legacies.


Additional Links

Project on JSTOR

Studio Description

OLIN’s practice seeks to realize just, ecologically sound landscapes, creating opportunities for all forged from our diverse talents, cultures, and perspectives. Today, our common futures are threatened by numerous inequities and the dire environmental dilemmas perpetuated by our carbon-dependent economies. House Resolution 109, which charts how the climate crisis exacerbates environmental, social, and economic injustices, and proposes an immediate and large-scale response, is a powerful platform for realizing this design agenda. OLIN and the landscape architecture profession are positioned to assist in the crucial effort of designing for conservation, transformation, and climate and community resiliency. We recognize that this urgent work must build on the efforts—and recognize the sacrifices—already made by frontline and vulnerable communities. OLIN has developed a two-prong strategy. The first is to submit a selection of current and past projects that most align with the Green New Deal’s aims to the Superstudio initiative to provide tangible examples of successes and challenges. The second initiative is for OLIN Labs to commit to making 2021 the Year of the Green New Deal through research, vision, and design that leans on the fabric of actual projects and living relationships with partners, clients, and communities. We are excited to undertake this commitment in solidarity with our field, nonprofits, activists, researchers, planners, allied design and engineering professions, and policy and governmental partners.

These are our objectives: 1. Envision and communicate the role of Landscape Architecture practitioners in realizing a Green New Deal. 2. Strengthen OLIN’s capacity to address systemic challenges by running a series of internal design studios and research initiatives through the spring of 2021. 3. Develop and utilize tools to measure our work’s impact and outcomes across social, economic, ecological, and environmental spectrums. Four teams within our office have organized practice-based design studios run by OLIN staff through June 2021, as part of the LAF Superstudio. Another four teams have launched longer-term research and advocacy initiatives that will run through the end of 2021 and beyond. These initiatives are all aligned with the tenets and goals of the Green New Deal and may ultimately take the form of education series, grant proposals, or venues for community-building. All eight teams have built upon existing external partnerships with community groups, public representatives, and allied professionals. We are thrilled to see the diversity of ideas that these teams have developed. Studios range from expanding our profession’s toolkit for good job creation, to a new biochar economy, large scale land management strategies, LGBTQ+ cultural heritage sites, and social justice for fence-line communities impacted by fossil fuel production. Most of these initiatives are tied to real, current projects, clients, and communities and offer real potential for concrete, sustained action.