Students present plans to revamp Roxborough’s Gorgas Park

Have you ever seen a tunnel exposing the earth’s layers of a hillside in a park? Or how about skywalks, bright orange canopies, water cisterns and solar powered irrigation systems? A small crowd leaned in while Philadelphia University students tempted their imaginations with those ideas at the Green Lane Methodist Church in Roxborough on Thursday night. 

Students in a Philadelphia University landscape architecture course prepared 14 different renderings of plans to revamp Gorgas Park, located along the 6400 block of Ridge Avenue. Previous meetings have shaped initial designs to meet the needs of the neighbors that use the area.

“This is great for the community,” beamed John Boyce founder of Friends of Gorgas Park. Boyce gave the students a tour and history lesson when the project first began a few weeks ago. He says that the ideas were founded in the existing assets of the park—like a city vista, steep slopes, numerous trees, a statue and winding pathways.

“For the most part, the kids took the features that were already there and worked with them, like the monument,” he said.

For many students, the park’s war memorial built in 1919 to honor WWI veterans was the focus of their design. Some students suggested to expand the site into a plaza for the yearly farmer’s market or create a spiral pathway leading to the site with benches.

Kabr Punde, a junior landscape architecture student and native of New Dehli says the park memorial reminded him of home. “We have a similar one in India, though much bigger in scale,” he said referring to the “Gate of India” a landmark for war veterans and a popular hang out spot.

“I tried to make this park a destination spot for picnics,” he said describing individual “pods” where a blanket would fit under a small tree and modular benches could be moved into different shapes.

Punde also suggested moving the children’s playground away from the street and creating vertical climbing spaces using the natural slope of the land.

But even the suggestion of removing the towering fence from around the monument brought up neighborhood ire.

“A fence is required because of the way society is today,” explained Bruce Hoffman, who has seen vandalism at the site himself. Hoffman acts as a steward of the memorial and is a vietnam veteran himself. Though he says the historical site needs work. “I’d love to see spot lighting underneath the statue, I think it’s the most beautiful memorial in the city—but right now I see a light pole in front of it,” he added.

The theme was to bring Gorgas Park into the 21st century and make more connections with the surrounding community, like the adjacent Roxborough High School. Neighbors say flooding at Gorgas was a huge issue, so students offered ideas like rain gardens, terraced water catchment systems, underground cisterns, and porus pathways to alleviate the damages.

Organizers say they want to hold a tent party at Gorgas Park in the spring to show off the designs and renderings, along with an art auction to raise funds that would help make the dreams a reality.

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