Elements of Urbanism: Harrisburg, PA

August 26, 2009 13 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a look at a city that proves big things can come in small packages: Harrisburg, PA

Tale of the Tape:

Harrisburg Population 2008: 47,148 (City); 528,892 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1791)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Harrisburg (89,544)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

Harrisburg: +3.89%
Jacksonville: +15.86%


Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Harrisburg: 362,782 (ranked 87 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)


Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Harrisburg: 1,740.9
Jacksonville: 2,149.2


City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Harrisburg: -1,724
Jacksonville: +72,312


Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center (yb. 1966) - 172,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

*-The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex is located outside of downtown Harrisburg.

Adjacent to Convention Center:

Harrisburg: N/A
Jacksonville: N/A


Tallest Building:

Harrisburg: 333 Market Street - 341 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet


Fortune 500 companies 2009:

Harrisburg: Rite Aid (100), Hershey (463)*
Jacksonville: CSX (240), Winn-Dixie (340)

*-Both companies are headquartered in cities just outside of Harrisburg.


Urban infill obstacles:

Harrisburg: Railyards and limited east-west connections cut the city in half.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Harrisburg: Restaurant Row (Second Street)
Jacksonville: East Bay Street, located between Main Street and Liberty Street.  


Common Downtown Albatross:


Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Harrisburg: 77 out of 100, according to walkscore.com (Downtown Harrisburg as keyword)
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

Visual Information

Green = Jacksonville's city limits (current urban core) before consolidation in 1968
Red = Jacksonville's current consolidated city-county limits

Jacksonville's current and original city limit boundaries over Harrisburg's city limits (highlighted in red).

Downtown Harrisburg

Downtown Harrisburg, is the central core business and government center for the greater metropolitan area of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA.

Harrisburg's downtown Center City comprises the original 80-acre (320,000 m2) borough laid out in a grid pattern by John Harris in 1785. East-west streets are named and north-south streets are numbered. Market Street, running east-west, is the dividing point between north and south street designations. Sightseeing is probably best done on foot downtown and by car elsewhere.[1]

Harrisburg's Central Business District includes the Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex and other state government offices, the Dauphin County Courthouse and other county government offices, City of Harrisburg offices, and other, non-government related commercial retail and office development. Some residential development, both in apartment high-rises and in the upper floors of mixed commercial/residential use buildings, is also located in the downtown area.

Downtown is bordered in the northwest by the mixed commercial/residential use Capitol District, in the west by the Susquehanna River, in the southwest by the largely residential Shipoke neighborhood, in the south by Interstate 83, in the east by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern Railway lines, and in the north by Midtown Harrisburg, a mixed-use commercial and residential neighborhood. Forster Street is usually considered the boundary between Downtown and Midtown Harrisburg. City Island, located in the middle of the Susquehanna River directly west of downtown, is typically considered part of Downtown Harrisburg.

"SoMa" (South of Market) District

In 2007, the Harristown Development Corporation, a private authority formed to redevelop downtown Harrisburg, designated downtown Harrisburg bounded by Market to the north, 3rd to the west, Chestnut to the south, and 4th to the east as Harrisburg's "SoMa" or South of Market district. Harrisburg plans to add brick-accented walkways and SoMa banners on the light poles to indicate the district's location. The development corporation is trying to foster a desirable location for international business and arts.

Strawberry Square

Strawberry Square is considered a project in the modern urban revitalization of center city Harrisburg. Phase I of this mixed-use facility originally opened in 1978, with 1,400,000 square feet (130,000 m2) of office and retail space overlooking the Capitol. Eleven years later, HDC completed the $21 million Phase II expansion. This included the restoration of ten 19th and 20th century buildings that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and represent the city's oldest remaining retail establishments.

Major tenants include Verizon, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg University, Temple University Harrisburg, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, and Salomon Smith Barney, Inc. In addition, Strawberry Square houses an array of service retail, upscale fashion shops, jewelers and other specialty stores. More than 40 shops and galleries along with 10 food emporiums are contained in about 170,000 square feet (16,000 m2) of retail space. Its food court includes a variety of national and international cuisine.

Due to its high name recognition and centralized location, Strawberry Square's atrium has become, in effect, a Harrisburg town square, hosting hundreds of community, education, and arts groups and events annually.

Strawberry Square is installing a digital sign network where visitors can see live, updated local news and weather as well as upcoming events in the mall and advertising from local business.

Harrisburg Transportation Center (formerly Pennsylvania Station, Harrisburg)

The current station was built by PRR in 1887 and significantly rebuilt with its distinctive barn roof in 1905 following a serious fire in 1904. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975,[3] [4] and is also designated as a National Historic Landmark.[5] The station is one of the few railway stations in the United States that still has a train shed above the tracks. It also has a red brick exterior, unlike many of the still-used U.S. railway stations built slightly later in the early 1900s that have white stone facing, such as 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and Union Station in Washington, D.C.

Intercity Rail
Amtrak provides service to the station via the Keystone Service and Pennsylvanian routes, which operate along the Keystone Corridor and Northeast Corridor. The Harrisburg Transportation Center is the western terminus of Amtrak's Keystone Service, which provides the bulk of the Amtrak service to and from Harrisburg. Primary cities served on Amtrak to and from Harrisburg include Lancaster, Philadelphia, and New York to the east and Altoona, Johnstown, and Pittsburgh to the west. Both staffed and Quik-Trak machine ticket service are available for all departures and red cap service is also available. In Federal Fiscal Year 2008, it was the 2nd busiest Amtrak station in Pennsylvania and 21st busiest in the United States.[7][8]. It ranks slightly ahead of the Lancaster Station in both categories (Lancaster is 3rd and 22nd respectively).

Intercity bus
There are four intercity bus operators (Greyhound Lines, Capitol Trailways, Fullington Trailways, and Susquehanna Trailways) that provide service to the station.

By late 2010, the Transportation Center will become the terminal point of the CORRIDORone commuter rail line.  The system will connect Harrisburg with Lancaster along the tracks currently being used by Amtrak's Keystone Corridor service.

In 1999, the Keystone Corridor was formally recognized as a "designated high speed corridor" by the Federal Railroad Administration, as part of the TEA-21 transportation bill. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will fund half of the project's costs, and Amtrak will fund the other half. Once the project is completed, and regional commuter rail is fully operational between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Amtrak plans to cease servicing smaller stations along the corridor which will be supplemented by CORRIDORone and SEPTA trains. This will allow for:

90-minute travel time between Harrisburg and Philadelphia on express trains
105-minute travel time on normal trains
Raising track speed to 110 mph (180 km/h) where possible
Increasing the number of daily round trips from 11 to 14
Replacing diesel trains with electric on Keystone service

Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex

The Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex, located in downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is the administrative hub of the government of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. At the center of the complex is the State Capitol with its gilt and marble halls, vast rotunda, murals and sculpture, sparkling crystals and gold leaf. The Capitol Complex is the location of many of state agencies, as well as classic buildings, parks, plazas, fountains, and celebrated statuary.

Restaurant Row

2nd street from Market to Forster is sometimes referred to as Restaurant Row for its collection of eateries. Most of Harrisburg's nightlife also takes place on 2nd street, where several bars and dance clubs call home. There is another cluster of nightclubs and bars around 3rd and North street.

Unique Harrisburg

  • The City of Harrisburg only covers 8.1 square miles of land area.  By contrast, Jacksonville covers 767 square miles.

  • Harrisburg is the 10th largest city in Pennsylvania, after Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Reading, Scranton Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Altoona.

  • Contrasted with its 1981 status as the second most distressed city in the nation, Harrisburg has undergone a dramatic economic change, with nearly $3 billion in new investment now realized.

  • The infamous Three Mile Island Nuclear Generation Station accident occurred just outside of Harrisburg in 1979.

  • The Pennsylvania State Farm Show is the largest indoor agriculture exposition in the United States.

  • After Harrisburg suffered years of being in bad shape economically, Stephen R. Reed was elected mayor in 1981 and has been re-elected ever since, making him the city's longest serving mayor.

  • In 1910, Harrisburg had 64,186 residents.  Jacksonville's population that year was 57,699.

Capital Area Greenbelt

The Capital Area Greenbelt is a 20-mile (32 km) long green belt around urbanized portions of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, linking many city neighborhoods, parks and open spaces. It provides recreational opportunities such as hiking, biking, birding, walking, jogging, and cross-country skiing for area residents and visitors of all ages.


Shipoke is delineated by Interstate 83 to the south, Paxton Street to the north, Race Street to the east, and the Susquehanna River to the west. Compared to Harrisburg's other neighborhoods, Shipoke is small.

Shipoke is in many ways the oldest section of the city, settled by Europeans in 1710 as a small trading post. It was here that the Harris Ferry and Tavern was originally located, which is the origin of the name Harrisburg. All of the neighborhood lies within the flood plain of the Susquehanna River. Most major storms lead to dangerous flooding in this area. After falling into disrepair, Shipoke was devastated by the flooding associated with Hurricane Agnes. Many of the Victorian houses were abandoned following the flooding, and they were sold to developers for nominal costs. More recently, the remnants of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 led to severe flooding and damage in this area. After years of rehabilitation, Shipoke now is a picturesque, affluent neighborhood known for its beautiful river views. A number of festivals are held annually in Riverfront Park along the river near Shipoke.

Capitol District

The Capitol District is a neighborhood adjacent to the state capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It is delineated by Forster St. to the North, State St. to the South, 3rd St. to the East, and the Susquehanna River to the west.[1] This neighborhood borders the large Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex and has easy access to the downtown Harrisburg. The Capital District is home to Saint Patrick's Cathedral, many beautiful houses, several small bistros, and a strong gay community.


The Midtown neighborhood is delineated by Forster Street to the south, Maclay Street to the north, 7th Street to the east, and the Susquehanna River to the west. Midtown is home to the Pennsylvania Governor's Mansion and the Broad Street Market, the oldest continually operated street market in the country.

Much of Midtown fell into disrepair in the 1970s and 1980s after the Hurricane Agnes floods which damaged many homes, especially in the Old Uptown area. However, since the 1990s the neighborhood has gentrified drastically especially along the Penn and Green street corridors. This is primarily due to a strong housing stock for renovation and proximity to the Central Business District, which has been experiencing growth itself. Today, gentrification is spreading as many historic homes are getting rehabbed and upgraded throughout the northern and eastern part of Midtown. Capitol Heights and Governor's Square are two new housing developments that are currently under construction. Together, they are adding several hundred new homes to Midtown.

Founded in 1860, the Broad Street Market is one of the oldest continuously operating farmers markets in the country.


Through the use of historic preservation, urban infill, density and connectivity, Harrisburg's urban core provides a glimpse of a downtown core which is seamlessly integrated with nearby walkable neighborhoods.

With connectivity and stronger design guidelines that stress walkability, Jacksonville's urban core can come back and offer a similar atmosphere for those who value sustainability over sprawl.

Article by Ennis Davis