Many organizations and people are behind this year’s Philly Free Streets event.
The city goes “car free” on Broad Street from City Hall all the way up to Butler Avenue in North Philadelphia Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. That’s more than eight miles of “street access” for people to walk, bike, and play. You can jump in at any point.
WHYY’s Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn and PlanPhilly’s community engagement editor Diana Lu hopped on SEPTA’s Broad Street line earlier this week, then surfaced to check out part of the route. Here is their conversation:
Jennifer Lynn: Well, we get the big fan here underground in the subway, but it’s really not enough. It’s a hot day doing this adventure.
Diana Lu: Oh, gosh, I am so sweaty right now, but I’m excited.
JL: Well, let’s kick it off below ground, then head up.
JL: We’re getting up at the Fairmount stop. When I think Fairmount, I think about the Art Museum and all the posh little restaurants that you can gather around up and down Spring Garden Street and beyond. And, you know, we’re really at the base of a Salvation Army headquarters.
DL: And look how gorgeous that Greater Exodus Baptist Church is… so striking. It’s one of the first things you see next to the Broad Street Trust.
JL: Well, it’s the old Broad Street Trust building with these giant pillars. And I don’t know what that’s made of… marble? Stone?
DL: The bones of the building have stayed perfectly intact, and so it’s living its second, maybe third, life right now.
JL: Diana, how does this event strengthen businesses? I’m hoping your expertise in public, private initiatives can help with this answer.
DL: Right? North Broad Street is one long commercial corridor, but there are gaps for the pedestrian experience. So you may not, at first glance, think about a cluster of businesses on your jaunt up North Broad Street. So part of the mission of this event is for people to appreciate some of the businesses that are there without driving by.
JL: There are a lot of not-for-profits, as well, churches and service organizations. This event seems like a classic example of community engagement.
DL: Yeah, I mean all the different organizers that put this together… you have the city, you have North Broad Renaissance, which is a pretty new organization, only a couple years old. Fairmount CDC is popping in at some point. The Knight Foundation is participating in some things. The Water Department and Mural Arts have several activities at different stops. This shows there are so many groups coming together to have this miles-of-miles-long block party.
JL: It’s a mixer. It’s pretty fascinating. How likely are Philadelphians to be to get out to explore different neighborhoods?
DL: Oh my gosh. That is our greatest strength, and I think one of our weaknesses. Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. And when you love your neighborhood so much, what do you do? Stay there.
JL: Some relationships are going to be built around getting to know the history of Philadelphia. There’s some efforts underway during the Free Streets events to raise awareness about African-American history from City Hall heading north.
Little things on our walk today, whether we’re passing Cecil B. Moore Avenue and it tips off thoughts about his great legacy as an activist and his role in education. We can pass the Divine Lorraine Hotel, which has been rehabbed, But back in the day, it was a place for interracial folks to go and have a place to stay or a place to work. There’s so much going on historically … it’s pretty powerful.
DL: I think loving any part of Philadelphia, you inherently become a bit of the fan. Historian. Right?
JL: It’s a Monday, mid-morning … there’s plenty of traffic, but on Free Streets day there will be no traffic. The only noise will be kids shrieking. Maybe some music. Wonder what it’s going to be like. I’m sort of excited to find out … It feels like it could be throngs of people or smatterings of people.
DL: And both are lovely, right? You can have little clusters around the intersections that Philly Free Streets has identified, and there will be a little block parties. And then, after that, I think there will be some spaces in between where it’s a little less congested, and you can just ride your bike.
You might be able to stroll and just get away from the noise a little bit, and then it’s time for the next stop and more clusters of people again. But you can really go at the pace that you want to go, and that’s perfect when you’re thinking about having families with elders or kids, toddlers who are walking a little bit more slowly, or if somebody has a dog and just wants to sniff a lamppost.
JL: Or do something else on that lamppost.
DL: Yes, and you’ll be outdoors.
JL: Well, this has been a fun adventure. We’re going to catch the bus heading back.
DL: Yeah. Let’s get to it.
JL: You’re too agreeable, Diana. Go back to your office.
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