The University City District is attempting to cut a clearing in a concrete jungle.
As Pennsylvania Department of Transportation workers do maintenance on the foundation of 30th Street Station, they are also laying down a 40-foot-wide concrete slab as a public space.
It’s sandwiched between the train station and the four lanes of Market Street, across the street from the former post office building (now housing Internal Revenue Service offices), banked by a taxi circle and in the path of 34,000 daily commuters faced with awkward crosswalks.
Prema Gupta, with the University City District, says this tangle is the first impression of Philadelphia many people have. She speaks from personal experience.
There is “this magnificent view of the river, between these two beautiful, monumental buildings,” said Gupta. “And then you’re taken aback because you’re in a concrete jungle that was built for the automobile.”
PennDOT is paving over one of the station’s traffic lanes to achieve the public space. To figure out what to do with that concrete slab, the University City District is adopting the philosophy of being “lighter, quicker, and cheaper.” By the end of October there will be shade trees, tables with umbrellas and concrete planters.
“The idea is you take small, experimental steps, see what works, and inform greater capital investments in the future,” said Gupta. “We plan to program the site, extensively. We’re really good at creating destination events that activate public space. Because this is a beta version, we’re able to try all sorts of things.”
Those things could be activities such as farmers markets, music performances, perhaps even yoga classes.
If the small steps work, the UCD hopes to attract larger capital improvements such as a tall hedge of foliage to block out traffic and food kiosks.
In the short term, the University City District is holding a contest to name this new urban space. The winner will get a $500 Amtrak gift certificate. Entries can be submitted via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The winning entrant will be announced in October.