Illuminating North Broad

Earlier this year Avenue of the Arts announced the first steps of a $50 million campaign to improve North Broad Street’s public environment, aiming to draw more eyes, and investment, along the corridor.

Development activity is already bubbling up in several hot spots along North Broad. Between City Hall and Spring Garden there’s lots of development interest, including Bart Blatstein’s redevelopment of the former state office building at North Broad and Spring Garden and his recent purchase of the Inquirer/Daily News building. There is also the continuation of arts-oriented development, as the PA Ballet plans its move to Broad and Wood.

Meanwhile, Temple University is also driving construction projects and private development, including a huge new residence hall at North Broad and Cecil B. Moore.

Uptown Theater marquee
(Uptown Theater marquis)

Despite these areas of investment, there are still a lot soft spots lining lower North Broad Street. Consider Broad and Fairmount where the Divine Lorraine towers in decay and the McKim, Mead & White PNC bank limps along. Will we see the Uptown Theater’s art deco glow? What about the Metropolitan Opera House? It’s a slow train.

To help encourage development, Avenue of the Arts is taking the strategy of investing in the public environment it used on South Broad and applying it to North Broad.

The thinking is that sometimes simple things, like planting trees and improving lighting, can help to unify private development efforts along a street corridor. Not only does this help a place hang together, despite soft spots, but sends a signal that this area is a priority for Philadelphia as a development zone.

So coming soon, nearly 300 trees will planted between City Hall and Glenwood Avenue, and art lighting will be installed installed along the center of North Broad.

Light Mast prototype at Temple.
(Light Mast prototype at Temple.)

The “Promenade of Lights” will consist of 55-foot tall “light masts” marching up North Broad between Spring Garden Street and Glenwood Avenue. This fall a prototype light mast was installed at Temple University.

In person the mast prototype is understated and modern. So minimalist that it looks utilitarian, and a bit like a car antenna. While I can imagine the visual interest the masts would create lining the street with soft light at night, drawing your eye up and down North Broad, I’m uncertain how they’ll read in daylight. I fear that the light mast design could be too plain making them look accidental, like decapitated street lamps or overgrown bollards. Broad Street has long been a lighting laboratory, so the new light masts are actually in keeping with this aspect of the street’s history.

Here’s hoping these streetscape improvements help people see North Broad anew, and drive private investment that will help revitalize the street. Bart Blatstein and Temple University can’t (and shouldn’t) do it on their own, and there are plenty of opportunities to be had.

Want more?

Check out the time lapse video below to watch the light mast prototype being constructed.

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