LOVE Park’s enduring magnetism

Community Contributor Bob Bruhin sees LOVE Park as Philly’s funky common ground – a perspective he’s especially come to appreciate photographing LOVE Park.

LOVE Park is a nexus.

While Vincent Kling’s original design for JFK Plaza has definitely not aged well, there’s still something about the location and the tone of the park that separates it from other Philadelphia parks and recreation areas. None of William Penn’s classic five squares seem to attract anywhere near the human diversity that LOVE Park enjoys. Soon this may change as Dilworth Park gains the focus it truly deserves. Historically, however, LOVE Park has been unique in that people from all neighborhoods meet and mix there. Add the steady stream of visitors from out of town (and from outside the US) as well random local individuals who all visit this space just to be photographed in front of Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture, and you have what may be one of the most magnetic sites in town: Visitors rarely check out Albert Laessle’s “Billy” in Rittenhouse square. Locals rarely check out the Liberty Bell on Independence Mall. Everybody visits the LOVE statue.

Of course, I’m not idly talking about the diversity LOVE Park attracts. On Friday, June 22, 2012 I began my own personal project documenting the park’s visitors. For over a year I took around 500 photos a month of random individuals in the park, resulting in what I called, “A daily celebration of vibrant diversity displayed by Philadelphia residents and visitors as seen through the lens of one ardent lover of public art.”

This was an experiment in narrowly focused art blogging, inspired by sites like Skull-a-Day, The Sartorialist, and Streets Dept. The goal was to take something ubiquitous in the Philadelphia scene, something so commonplace that most Philadelphians reflexively ignore it, and attempt to see it through new eyes. My goal was to really look at what happened in this space: to quietly document visitors and residents in the very act of documenting one another.

Of course, this was all approached with respect and honor. The goal was to more clearly see the raw beauty of humanity through this study. To highlight and to observe who we truly are in all our diverse forms, fashions, and relationships. To capture our expressions and our gestures as we are casually posing for and photographing one another in a public place. To observe and record with love the nearly infinite stream of strangers that pass through this park every day.

Somewhere along the way I realized there were solid reasons why LOVE Park alone seemed to enjoy this endless stream of humanity. It occurred to me that when we weren’t looking — and despite the awkward physical design or the plaza, itself — LOVE Park still became a model for the kind of Landscape Urbanism cities are now avidly striving to achieve. Sitting, as it does, with commercial buildings to the south, residences to the north, government to the southeast, and tourism to the northwest — atop an underground junction between rail, subway, trolley, and even automobile — it offers more than just Indiana’s magnet. Indiana’s magnet manages to bind together a dynamic urban node in ways unlike any we have managed to deliberately manufacture thus far: a casual little park at the feet of a gigantic park/way. If the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the crown of the Parkway, LOVE Park is her funky boots, where we dance and laugh and hang out together.

Shooting LOVE Park over and over has made me love it more. You get people from all different parts of the city, and from all over the world, mingling and bumping into each other. Whatever happens to the park in the future, we need to make sure to preserve and enhance this aspect of the space.


See LOVE Park through Bob Bruhin’s lens (click through slideshow): 

LOVE Park is being redesigned. Share your thoughts about what JFK Plaza/LOVE Park should become by participating in a input session hosted by our colleagues at PennPraxis along with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and Fairmount Park Conservancy at the Free Library (1901 Vine St) on Wednesday, December 10. 5:30pm. Pre-reigster here.


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