PHS Pops Up — this time on South Broad Street

Incorporating now-familiar design staples like “found” furniture, wood chips, and reused Flower Show display elements, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s latest Pop Up Garden received its official opening Wednesday afternoon. But although the empty-lot-brought-to-life scenario seems familiar — this is its third incarnation — this year’s version – at 313 South Broad Street – looks to be the best yet.

That’s thanks to the addition of longer opening hours, food and drink for sale, and even two state-of-the art temporary bathrooms (soap! flushable, so far, toilets!, and … air conditioning!). Although one promised restaurateur has backed out, the announcement of another one is imminent — and his or her presence is likely to make all the difference, turning the Pop Up on the UArts campus into a thriving space that will operate day and night. And, yes, there’s even new design features: party lights in the trees, shipping containers that act as beer and burger (or whatever) stations, and lots and lots of picnic benches to complement smaller assemblages of assorted chairs and cable spools-cum-tables, as designed by Groundswell.

With a jazz combo riffing in the background and a line forming at the Chipotle Mexican Grill taco station — Chipotle is one of the key sponsors of the $15,000 effort, along with The Hankin Group and Grant Thornton— the garden today already offered a welcome presence under the blazing sun, no celeb chef necessary. Tucked between the sad-but-picturesque crumbling brick wall of a huge and vacant building owned by music maven Kenny Gamble and the neo-gothic arches of the Broad Street Ministry church, the banana plants, trees, and lawns almost played second nature to the project’s most tangible point: activating an empty lot; in this case, one owned by the University of the Arts.

In praising, a “new partnership” with the school, PHS president Drew Becher said the relationship would continue through the year and into the theme of the 2014 Flower Show, “ARTiculture,” which will explore the connections between the arts and plants. That connection will be forged here, too, with students from the school slated to perform and exhibit. University president Sean Buffington marveled at the “jewel” that is South Broad Street, calling the garden a “symbol” of the “wonderful, spectacular things” that will occur on the street in the coming decade.

Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger seemed similarly awed with the space while making sure to mention that “closing gaps” such as this empty lot remains a critical necessity for the city. “Everyone will be sad” when the beer stops flowing and the planting are removed in October, Greenberger noted — leaving unspoken the idea that where a building once stood (demolished by the University), so should another.

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