Designers seek public’s input on future of Reading viaduct

    “Design is the thread that runs through everything,” is the lead slogan of the annual DesignPhiladelphia festival. This year it ranges from the intricacies of religious embroidery to the fabric of the urban grid.

    That’s a huge breadth of material to present, which is why the festival guide is 148 pages long. It more or less breaks down into two categories: the design of objects and the design of cities.

    One of the bigger ideas bouncing around Philadelphia right now is what to do with the Reading Viaduct. Three miles of unused railroad now cuts a swath through Center City and North Philadelphia. In places, it’s a giant trash trough; in others, an overhead weed farm.

    ViaductGreene, with a grant through the Community Design Collaborative, is working with some heavy-hitting designers such as OLIN (who designed the Barnes Foundation landscaping) and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (who did the Liberty Bell Center) to come up with ideas on how to convert the dilapidated tracks into a linear park, a la New York City’s High Line.

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    Now the public has a chance to get on the ground floor of the future development. On Saturday, designers will ask for input on how to best develop the viaduct.

    The session will focus on a crucial three blocks of the viaduct, between 13th and 16th streets, just north of Callowhill, where the City Branch arm of the Reading Railroad crosses beneath Broad Street.

    “Most people, when they drive over Broad Street, they don’t actually notice or realize that they are on a bridge,” said Leah Murphy, a project manager with ViaductGreene. “But there is a bridge structure that supports it over the City Branch.”

    The success of a possible park hinges on how well it connects with Broad Street. That is the showpiece location.

    “We really see the future linear park as Philadelphia’s next great civic space, and this is the point where it intersects with great civic street — Broad Street,” said Murphy. “Whatever happens there could be a really exciting moment along the route.”

    Murphy says recent activity on North Broad Street, including plans for a casino in the former Inquirer building and the purchase of the Divine Lorraine Hotel, along with the upcoming replacement of the Broad Street decking over the City Branch gulch, will all affect how the tracks will be converted into a park.

    The public session will be helpd Saturday at 3 p.m. in the Underground Arts Building, 1200 Callowhill St.

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