Public Space as connector was an issue for Philadelphians in 2011

My beats are varied but, time and time again, public space is the connector. That Philadelphians feel strongly about this issue, too, is clear. Some of PlanPhilly’s most-read stories addressed this arena, from my piece examining the increased presence of the homeless on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as it undergoes a thorough revamping [http://planphilly.com/parkway-grows-so-does-its-homeless-problem] to my look at our collective reckoning on the place and purpose of our often-overwhelming amount of murals [http://planphilly.com/philadelphia-suffering-mural-fatigue].

That latter story (as well as Ashley Hahn’s detailing of another mural controversy in Bella Vista, http://planphilly.com/eyesonthestreet/2011/10/12/defending-autumn-in-bella-vista)

pushed the exploration into the neighborhood level — a good thing since stumbling upon these spats often reveals bigger implications. Such was the case with my look at the fight over a tiny un-deeded street in Washington Square West. [http://planphilly.com/one-little-street-some-big-questions). The controversy that murals and small patches of land can provoke show that what we deem public space isn’t restricted just to grand boulevards and ambitious open space plans.

Mainly, though, my coverage of three citywide bodies, the Parks & Recreation, Art, and Historical Commissions, provided peeks into how some of the biggest projects in town will shape our experience of the city.

Parks & Recreation is still finding its wings, but with a few new spaces planned for next year and a commitment to bettering its vendor offerings, 2012 may give the department a higher profile.

This year’s new spaces, then, came from elsewhere. The Race Street Pier Park in Old City [http://planphilly.com/closer-look-race-street-pier} may have been just a quick-start action item for the Central Delaware plan, but in its creativity and execution, it deserves big applause. On a smaller level, Lenfest Plaza [http://planphilly.com/lenfest-plaza-lights-weekend], in between the two wings of the Pennslyvania Academy of Fine Arts, isn’t as unqualified of a success, but at the very least it gifts us with new views of the Furness masterpiece and fills in a previously unloved and under-used street.

A third project, the PHS Pop-Up Garden at 20th and Market, http://planphilly.com/phs-pops-20th-and-market, was less impactful — after all, it was temporary! — but it wins kudos for sheer innovation. In partnering with the owner of Center City’s one truly empty lot, PHS elevated the discourse on the highest and best use for public land.

So, too, did the Center City District, by embarking on everything from a series of improvements at the little-noticed but highly-recognized Chestnut Park [http://planphilly.com/news/notebook/kiosk-keeps-em-coming-chestnut-park] to tackling the massive redevelopment of Dilworth Plaza

[http://planphilly.com/art-commission-gets-detailed-look-dilworth-plaza-and-phillylive-plans]

Finally, in recognition that public space can be interior as well, some of the most exciting news of 2011 came as the Monaco Hotel made the rounds and received go-aheads from the Art and Historical commissions to proceed with an ambitious adaptive reuse of the long-fallow Lafayette Building on Independence Mall.[ http://planphilly.com/sneak-peek-work-gets-underway-lafayette-building] With what looks to be a lovingly restored lobby, a much-needed restaurant, and even a splashy rooftop bar, the project promises to add a little pizzazz to the this corner of Old City, and to provide the kinds of public gathering spaces that we all cherish.

Contact the reporter at jgreco@planphilly.com and follow her on Twitter @joanngreco

Coming Monday: Property tax delinquency and school closings.

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