Following weekend bicycle and walking tours that drew about 100 participants, the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation and PennPraxis hosted a more intimate dinner last night at Bartram’s Gardens to further discussion about a possible mile-long waterfront trail leading from the Grays Ferry bridge through the gardens to the 58th Street Greenway.
About 25 people — mostly those in planning and related fields — gathered to share ideas about access, connections, and uses for the new trail, dubbed Bartram’s Mile.
After a short introduction from Deputy Mayor Michael DiBerardinis, PennPraxis’ Harris Steinberg led a presentation offering specifics on opportunities and challenges facing the project. Assets, he said, include diverse residential neighborhoods around the area in question, much publicly owned vacant land, and several existing river trails.
Constraints, though, include railroad lines, environmental grunge, and non-connectivity.
Steinberg also presented a look at projects around the world from which Philadelphia might draw lessons, including Lachine Canal in Montreal, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and two Chinese redevelopment sites.
Audience members had a lot of questions.
How deep did the land stretch from the riverbanks? (100-feet, not including the much wider swath of Bartram’s Gardens itself.) Has a budget been established? (Not yet. “We’re in the blue sky phase,” said Steinberg.) Had there been any thought of including housing? (“The economic development folks tell us there’s no market,” answered Steinberg.) How about connecting the plot to The Woodlands cemetery across the river? (Under consideration, but it’s complicated.)
Steinberg, along with Andrew Goodman of Praxis, Maitreyi Roy, the new executive director of Bartram’s, Mark Focht, first deputy commissioner of Parks and Recreation, and Jose Almiñana of Andropogon (which will handle preliminary design drafts for the mile), then led two more targeted discussion sessions.
One table attempted to stick to ideas around public space and river health, while the other was charged with tackling issues related to connectivity and access. Inevitably, though, the four ideas merged and overlapped.
Takeaways from both discussions included:
• The need to strike a balance between the tranquility of the river with more active planned uses such as cycling.
• The need to address both the trail’s industrial and botanical heritages.
• The need to ensure safety, access, and connectivity along the trail and the “fingers” that lead back into the neighborhoods.
Specifically, architect and preservationist Bob Thomas suggested adaptively reusing existing buildings on the site to create a more coherent campus feel. Others discussed introducing public art that plays homage to the site’s former industrial use while serving utilitarian purposes for, say, reclining or playing.
Architect Ed Bronstein emphasized that the proposed trail “finally gives some real importance to the edges of the river” and takes advantage of the “fantastic potential of the site,” while Shawn Megill Legendre of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, observed that the stretch represents a “key piece in the regional trails network.
“It really extends the region’s goals of building off of existing spines,” he concluded.
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