Race Street Pier gets a slice of river life

Jan. 12, 2010

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

When the Race Street Pier opens as a public park, visitors will be able to walk out onto a raised section and get good views of the Ben Franklin Bridge, Center City, and the Delaware River from a totally new vantage point.

Or, they might walk down an alternate path, which takes them closer to the water, or just sit and relax on the grassy lawn or under a tree.

It was the variable nature of the suggested spaces and the activities that could take place there that led to the selection of this design – called The Slice – over the other two proposals submitted by James Corner Field Operations, the consultant hired by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation to turn a decrepit old pier into a vibrant public space.


The winning design was announced to a packed room at the Blue Cross RiverRink Tuesday night. The winner was selected by a DRWC committee, whose members include Deputy Mayor for Planning and Commerce Alan Greenberger and Penn School of Design Dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor. They considered input from the public – via a November public meeting and a survey – and advisors that included the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, an organization comprised of representatives from neighborhoods and organizations that line the Central Delaware.  The Slice was the favorite plan of all of those groups, said DRWC president Tom Corcoran.  “It was a combination of very interesting landscape architecture and a dramatic setting that offers dramatic views and many types of views,” he said.


Corner Field Operations’ Lisa Switkin, the project manager, said that an analysis of the public comment received on the three proposals showed a real fondness for the two-tiered approach, with an elevated end close to the bridge with nifty views and a lower level for chilling by the water. Participants thought it created a strong connection between the city and the river – which is the big point of this project, from the city’s perspective. They also really liked the concept of embedding solar lights into the paved areas.


While this concept got the most accolades, people also liked many elements of the other two proposals, “The Lawn,” which called for a gently sloped park with a huge open lawn in the center – and “The Deck,” a large, decked space with an urban beach in the center.  The only element that did not receive many favorable reviews? The urban beach.


Corner Field now has the big picture concept for the Pier, said Switkin, who was also lead designer on New York’s High Line project. But there are still a lot of details to be nailed down. One of the more interesting is the question of how to create the upward slope at the end of the pier. It must be compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and it must drain properly, Switkin said. “Right now, we’re looking at two different options. One is a lightweight, sort of geo-foam which they use a lot to build up things. It’s a structural foam product,” she said. “Another is structural steel with concrete paving on top.”


The team is also refining the design and analyzing costs.

In addition, Corner Field Operations will have more detailed proposals on trees and plants, lighting and furniture as well as samples of some of the products they plan to use in the park, by the next public meeting on March 23. During that meeting, participants will be divided into small groups to discuss the new information and provide feedback.

The design and construction of the project have been financed by a $1 million grant from the William Penn Foundation. The goal is to have the Race Street Pier open sometime next summer or fall.


“It’s going to be a phenomenon for Philadelphia,” Greenberger said. “People are going to love being out on this pier.”

For one thing, “there is always some magic associated with the edge” of things, and the edge of the pier will bring people right out into the river that has largely been cut off from city neighborhoods.

The ability to stand so close to the bridge will also have magic, he said.

“It’s going to be a far more powerful experience than anyone realizes yet.”

Contact the reporter at kelliespatrick@gmail.com

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