Philadelphia's Sky Park

Yes, it is time to revisit the long drawn out situation that is the Reading Viaduct Project.  The Reading Viaduct is a old elevated railway corridor formerly operated by the Reading Railroad, closed in 1984, providing passage for trains in and out of Down Town Philadelphia.  The 4.7-acre, mile long viaduct runs 10 blocks through the Callowhill and Chinatown neighborhoods just north of Center City.  The age old question of what to do with the high-line has plagued the city for over 20 years.  Can it be a catalyst for revitalization or will revitalization happen only when it comes down?  The Reading Viaduct would cost $50 million to demolish verses $36 million to retrofit, according to the Center City District.

Great examples in cities such as Paris (the Promenade Plantee) and New York City ( The High Line) answer this question quite simply, invest in unique public spaces and development will follow.  Cities are now recognizing that parks are good for their economies.  They are no longer just pleasant places to visit, they are a strong incentive for people and businesses to move to surrounding neighborhoods, and when great effort is given to design they become a catalyst for tourism and desirable places to frequent by city residents.

Paris Promenade Plantee

Manhattan's High Line park, built on an elevated railway trestle, has become both a symbol and a catalyst for an explosion of growth in the meatpacking district and the Chelsea neighborhood.  Now cities like Philadelphia are realizing they need more well planned public spaces and parks to support and encourage healthy economic growth in all sectors of its economy.  The High Line has taught that renovating and old railway can be the spark that helps improve a neighborhood and attract development.

NYC High Line

The High Line's first and second sections cost $153 million, but have generated an estimated $2 billion in new developments.  In the five years since construction started on the High Line, 29 new projects have been built or are underway in the neighborhood, according to the New York City Department of City Planning.  More than 2,500 new residential units, 1,000 hotel rooms and over 500,000 square feet of office and art gallery space have gone up.  The area around the park has also become a draw for start-ups and creative companies.

The City of Philadelphia and its neighborhoods can benefit significantly from a project of this magnitude. Although small in comparison to its peers, its economic impact and added value to surrounding neighborhoods including northern fringes of Center City would be huge, encouraging residential and commercial development, infrastructure improvements to city connectors, and a pleasant escape just minutes away from thousands of under-served city residents.

Support the project by friending the Reading Viaduct Park on Facebook.

Old Venice Island Gets a Makeover

The longtime neglected Recreation Center at Venice Island in Manayunk will finally get its $46 million extreme makeover next week.  The complicated three phase project will span over the next two years, removing the current rec-center, playground and swimming pool.  The Philadelphia Water Department will install a four million-gallon underground storm-water basin, known as "The Big Tank".  A first of its kind performing arts center will be constructed with a 250-seat amphitheater dressed in light wood paneling, and restoration will be focused on the athletic courts and play areas.

Next week, workers will begin dismantling and removing the playground equipment, basketball nets and hockey court, with demolition of the rec-center building scheduled for Aug. 29.  Temporary parking on the Cotton Street side of the site will be compete in December, as machines begin digging out the 400-foot long, 75 feet-wide, 25-foot deep underground retention pool on the Lock Street side of the 2.2-acre site.  The retention basin will catch and temporarily store diverted storm flow from the sanitary sewer running along the Manayunk Canal.  By April of 2013, the basin will have parking above it, and a water pumping station building with a green roof.


Zoning Code Reform

The Next Great City coalition has launched a web-based petition campaign to make a final push for reforming Philadelphia's archaic zoning code.  Citizens can sign the petition online at the Next Great City website.  The petition is the next step in a four- year process that began when NGC identified modern zoning policies as one of the top ways to build a positive future for Philadelphia.  In 2007, Next Great City led the efforts which helped to win the approval of 80 percent of Philadelphia voters to establish the Zoning Code Commission, charged with rewriting the code.  Since then, the NGC city-wide coalition has supported a new code that is smart, sensible and fair. City Council is scheduled to discuss and take a final vote on the new code proposals in September.

"Council can take action now to reshape our city for the next 50 years.  We need modern zoning rules and regulations to help make Philadelphia the Next Great American City," said Bryan Collins, Philadelphia outreach coordinator for Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, which manages the Next Great City Initiative.  "Thousands of citizens voted for this change, and community groups from throughout the city support it.  Signing the petition is one way we can show Council this broad support for the new zoning code."

The new code seeks to improve life for Philadelphians by focusing on: Neighborhoods, Simplification and Fairness, Business and job creation, The Elderly, and Sustainability.  the e-Petition will be delivered to City Council prior to the scheduled vote in the fall.  Read more on this at PlanPhilly.com


UCity Parklets Take Over

We are all accustomed to the terms pier park, pocket park, pop up parks, but the latest park trends seems to be the "Parklet".  The parklet is Philadelphia's latest idea to create green space.  Unveiled thursday afternoon in West Philadelphia, the first installment on 43rd street across from Clark Park was a huge success, beautifying what was once a dreary parking lane into a diners oasis.  Perfect for neighborhood cafe patrons to enjoy the outdoors without crowding sidewalks.

The Parklet is a raised platform on the street, two car spaces wide with tables, chairs and a few planters.  The parks faired to be very cost effective, at only $10,000, paid for by the William Penn Foundation, it is comparatively cheap.  Two more will be built in the near future throughout University City.  The parklet will be taken down the end of October, but if proven successful, we shall see its return next year.