By Matt Golas and Isaac Steinberg
A broad team effort that should inspire the most cynical Philadelphians brought home a $19 million payday that will not only give this city’s version of the Champs-Elysées a facelift but will also create a long, long overdue green park in the concrete and brick jungle that is South Philadelphia’s Hawthorne neighborhood.
In another of what seem like weekly good karma infusions since Michael Nutter took over the mayorship here, Ed Rendell, Hizzoner, Michael DeBerardinis (Secretary, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and a Philly native), Center City District boss Paul Levy, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Knight Foundation, the Fairmount Park Commission and the William Penn Foundation Thursday joined hands to provide details on the windfall of public and private funding for Benjamin Franklin Parkway improvements and an environmentally designed park at 12th and Catharine streets in South Philadelphia.
About $2 million will go toward the park, in a neighborhood known as Hawthorne. The park will sit on the site of the demolished Martin Luther King Jr. public housing project.
Pew’s Don Kimelman said Nutter made it clear from the outset that the city wanted neighborhood projects connected with the parkway improvements.
“The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has a long and successful record of creating high quality landscaping for some of Philadelphia’s most prominent public spaces. PHS beautifying the Rodin block will contribute to a dramatic improvement for the parkway. Likewise, the new park at 12th and Catharine will be a wonderful addition to a reborn Hawthorne neighborhood.”
Nutter reinforced that opinion.
“It’s a wonderful moment to be here today. We have to end the notion that parks and development have to be just in center city, we have to have both all over Philadelphia,” the mayor said. “We need to see this kind of community engagement all over Philadelphia, use it for a model for all of Philadelphia.”
At the forefront of the parkway effort is the Center City District, which led previous efforts to fund and redesign aspects of the Parkway and study vehicular and pedestrian traffic patterns, replace signage and install new lighting. CCD President Paul Levy touts its efforts behind the new outdoor café and information center, now under construction and due to open later this summer on the triangle of land bounded by the Parkway, 16th Street and Cherry Street.
“This is no longer a highway, but a quality pedestrian place in the city, and a quality public space,” Levy said.
“Now, walkable public spaces are the ones that are thriving in cities. The best is yet to come on the parkway.”
The café, Levy said, was the beginning of a series of improvements scheduled for the next few years.
“The significance is going to be, OK now there’s some dollars to back these things up, and it’s up to us now to make sure they get done, and that’s a good thing,” said Rob Stuart, president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. “There is much need for infrastructure improvements and additional dollars for planning for parts of the Parkway that are currently not working, like the Sister Cities Plaza near the Basilica. It’s great to see a combination of public and private investors in the Parkway.”
Some of Thursday’s announced cash will go toward enhancements in the 1600 and 1700 blocks of the parkway that include new granite curbing, new benches, trash receptacles and quality plantings, bringing to fruition urban planner Jacques Gréber’s original plan for the circle from a century ago. It also includes plans for Shakespeare Park – the area directly in front of the Free Library that opens onto the Parkway and Logan Circle, but which also straddles the Vine Street Expressway between two sections exposed to the air, creating vehicle exhaust and noise pollution.
The creation of Shakespeare Park would involve a pavilion, book stalls and sound barriers, for starters. If Levy has his way, the exposed parts of the expressway would be covered with more lawn space or gardens, but that goal might be prohibitively expensive in the short-term, at least with this amount of funding.
Levy said all of these ideas are part of a deliberate “place-making” plan – the “activation” of landscapes, streetscapes, roadways and public spaces that make up the Parkway, with the goal of making the boulevard an “animated cultural campus.”
The overall parkway plans will also include improving some traffic lanes, upgrading sidewalks and installing bicycle lanes and safer pedestrian crossings on the 1600, 1700, 2100 and 2200 blocks of the Parkway. The 1800 block on the south side of Logan Square will also be included in these plans.
CCD will manage the landscaping for Sister Cities Plaza. PHS, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fairmount Park Commission will manage the landscaping on the block surrounding the Rodin Museum, including new lighting and paving for the entry plaza upon which The Thinker sits, and restoring Meudon Gate, the main entryway to the garden. In response to this plan, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has committed to raising substantial funds to restore the Rodin Museum’s courtyard garden and ensure its continued maintenance.
PHS, CCD and the Fairmount Park Commission have jointly developed a long-term maintenance plan to continue landscaping after the work is completed.
Mark Focht, executive director of the Fairmount Park Commission, said these improvements would set the stage for the new Barnes Museum, expansions of the Free Library and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a proposed Holocaust Memorial Museum at 16th Street, south of the new café.
Last month, Levy told an audience at a meeting of the Central Philadelphia Development Corp., the CCD’s economic development vehicle, that the Knight Foundation had granted more than $800,000 for a major renovation of Dilworth Plaza, across from City Hall. Though not part of the Parkway, the plaza is adjacent to Love Park, and like the Sister Cities and other Parkway dead zones, it is desolate expanse and a regular location for the homeless. Levy said Dilworth Plaza plans might include an ice skating rink, similar to the one in New York’s Rockefeller Plaza.
Here’s the funding breakdown:
The Commonwealth: $6,450,000
The City: $6,400,000
William Penn: $1,000,000
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