‘The Porch’ offers respite from hectic city pace

    One of the most pedestrian-unfriendly intersections in Philadelphia has been transformed into a porch. The space between 30th Street Station and Market Street is now a 40-foot-wide sidewalk with cafe chairs, tables with umbrellas, and planters.

    Wednesday, the University City District officially dubbed it “The Porch.”

    One of the most pedestrian-unfriendly intersections in Philadelphia has been transformed into a porch.

    The space between 30th Street Station and Market Street is now a 40-foot-wide sidewalk with cafe chairs, tables with umbrellas, and planters.  Wednesday, the University City District officially dubbed it “The Porch.”

    The name was chosen out of 500 contest entries.

    The newly paved space used to be part of a traffic circle circumventing the train station, which left precious little space for the thousands of people walking in and out of the station every day.

    Working fast to seize a narrow opportunity, the UCD piggybacked on some maintenance construction done by PennDOT to turn that pedestrian no-man’s-land into an inviting plaza.

    With support from the William Penn Foundation, the project cost less than $300,000.

    “Over the years, we’ve looked at how we could calm traffic down, straighten it out little bit,” said Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and utilities. “This is a good example of a project that had a variety of successes. Part of that success is we think Market Street will work better.”

    Now that it is there, the key to its future success lies in how it is used. Currently, those uses include small farmer’s market as well as open-air yoga and dance sessions coordinated by Drexel University.

    For the next year, analysts will study how the public utilizes the spaces and its furniture. That data will be considered as part of planning for a major comprehensive development, which could involve serious money.

    “There’s also a school of thought that says we can do it incrementally, we add features like food kiosks or benches. A sculptural bike rack keeps coming up,” said Prema Gupta with the UCD. “We can do it incrementally, or we could do it in a couple years with a capital infusion of money. The point is, what you see today is not the final project.”

    The Porch is part of a string of unrelated open-space developments in that area, including Penn Park at the University of Pennsylvania and the sidewalk improvement across the street at the old post office building, now the IRS building.

    “Along Schuylkill Avenue there will be a little pocket park called Esplanade,” said Gerard Sweeney, CEO of the company that owns the IRS building, Brandywine Realty Trust. “The Porch in conjunction with Schuylkill River Trail, Esplanade, Penn Park–all of a sudden starts creating some very vibrant open space at the front door of University City.”

    UCS will schedule concerts and film screenings at The Porch. Gupta said programming will not start in earnest until next spring.

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