SemaConnect Blog


November 7, 2013

Emerging Urban Environments in the EV Economy: The Case of Philadelphia

Emerging Urban Environments in the EV Economy: The Case of Philadelphia
 
There was a time when locating an EV charging station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was an arduous task. Public charging stations were few and far between, and the lack of a unified EV charging network made charging an EV while on-the-go a difficult task.

 
But a recent look at the EV charging stations in Philadelphia reveals an abundance of charging locations, with new ones popping up all the time. As of today, 73 public EV charging stationsare online on the PlugShare network in the Philadelphia area – which doesn’t account for ones currently being installed, or ones not currently connected to the network.
 
Indeed the number of charging stations in Philadelphia has skyrocketed in recent years, putting the city on track to become a hub for the EV economy. But what have been the biggest contributors to Philadelphia’s current embrace of the EV market? Are there key demographic and geographic factors contributing to the city’s shift towards EVs?
Using Philadelphia as a case study, this article will examine the linkages between the EV market and key features of the 21st century urban environment.
 
Philadelphia: Population Trends and Characteristics
 
With over 1.5 million inhabitants and 64,000 people per square mile, Philadelphia is both the fifth largest and fifth densest city in the US. The city core features the third most populous downtown in the country after New York and Chicago. These characteristics suggest that Philadelphia’s urban form is conducive to alternative transportation options and more efficient trips between home, work, shopping, and leisure.
When it comes to building the 21stcentury landscape, higher density is key.
 
However, digging deeper into Philadelphia’s demographics and recent population trends uncovers some interesting social characteristics of the city’s inhabitants. According to census estimates, the share of the city’s population aged 20 to 34 grew from 20 percent to 26 percent between 2006 and 2012, which accounts for the entire city-wide increase over those years.
 
In terms of transportation choices, the proportion of Philadelphia’s residents who do not commute by car is higher than most US cities, with 63% of commuters opting for alternative transportation options.
These characteristics suggest that Philadelphia is attracting a younger demographic that increasingly embraces environmental values and a variety of transportation options. It is this population which will be pivotal as the city’s urban landscape transforms over the coming years.
 
Philadelphia and Electric Vehicles
 
Electric vehicles are playing an increasingly important role as Philadelphia’s urban environment changes to reflect shifting demographics and emerging technology.
 
The City of Philadelphia embarked on its first foray into EVs back in 2011. In August of 2011, a consortium of organizations including PECO, the Chamber of Commerce, Comcast, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, and a few major Philadelphia universities worked together to initiate a plan for constructing EV infrastructure throughout the city. The city installed its first public charging station at a parking garage near the Philadelphia Convention Center in November of that year. A small trickle of charging stations followed suit, with chargers cropping up in other parking garages, retail locations, and even gas stations across the region.
The private sector has been quick to jump on the opportunities presented by the EV economy in Philadelphia. Many commercial real estate developers have realized that tapping into the EV network with a charging station can help attract customers and improve their corporate image.
 
When it comes to the electric vehicles themselves, companies such as PhillyCarShare(now owned by Enterprise) have incorporated EVs in their fleet, facilitated by greater access to EV infrastructure.
 
King of Prussia Mall Embraces Electric Vehicles
 
In terms of leasable retail space, the King of Prussia Mallis the second largest shopping mall in the United States. It is also the host of one of Philadelphia’s busiest EV charging hotspots. If you go to the SemaConnect’s EV charging stationon the top level parking lot on a busy day you will see a steady stream of EVs drop by for a charge.
 
Installing EV charging stations at the King of Prussia Mall makes sense since it is a place many people spend several hours anyways. By providing an EV charging station at its parking lots, the mall is providing a valuable service to its EV driving customers. This in turn helps establish the mall as a hub on the EV network and add a green dimension to its corporate image.
 
The fact that the King of Prussia Mall contains one of the busiest EV charging ports in the region suggests that Philadelphia is attaching itself to the emerging EV market in a big way. As a hallmark feature of Philadelphia’s landscape, the King of Prussia Mall is a leading example for what the future economy holds. By providing valuable green amenities and establishing itself as a hub for EVs, the mall is paving the way for an EV ownership lifestyle that fits squarely within Philadelphia’s emerging 21st century values.
 
Conclusion
 
The economic and technical viability of EVs in Philadelphia is in part correlated with the city’s density, social demographics, and public policies.
 
The city’s high density and large population means that EVs are a feasible option for commutes between home and work. The installation of a series of EV charging stations at retail location such as the King of Prussia Mall opens up the use of EVs for leisure and shopping activities in the region. Finally, supportive government policies have made it easier for commercial real estate developers to build EV charging stations and show their support for the emerging EV economy.
 
Philadelphia has made some huge strides when it comes to creating an environment conducive to EV ownership. It will be interesting to see how the EV infrastructure laid at this stage of Philadelphia’s development will serve the city down the road as EVs become an increasingly common form of transportation.
 
Joseph Tohill is a freelance writer and online communications specialist for organizations in the sustainability sector. He has a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of British Columbia and spent most of his academic career studying sustainable urban development; namely the interdisciplinary relationship between built form and natural environment.
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