Spruce Street Harbor Park offers a slice of summer at the Shore

After years of Philadelphia going to the Jersey Shore for the summer, this year the Jersey Shore is coming to Philadelphia.


On Tuesday, construction crews put the final touches on the Spruce Street Harbor Park, a sprawling pop-up park in Penn’s Landing, literally on the Delaware River.

Three 80-foot barges are docked to the riverbank, surrounding a water garden with floating islands of plants. The barges are piled with beach sand, a small performance stage, a bar, and a food concession by Chef Jose Garces. The floating barges bob slightly in the wake of passing boats.

“We’re hoping to get people down, take off their shoes, walk on the sand, have a beer, listen to music,” said David Fierabend, of Groundswell Design Group, who created the temporary beach park at the behest of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.

On terra firma, where there is now a narrow, grassy park near the Vietnam War memorial, Fierabend has created a kind of Jersey Shore mini-boardwalk, with games, concessions, arcades, and an actual boardwalk.

To the north, along the balcony of the Hyatt, a series of sandboxes leads to a misting corridor in front of the Seaport Museum, which in turn leads to the walking pier – the quay where kayaks and paddleboats are moored – piled with more sand and shipping containers converted into art galleries, all looping back toward the centerpiece water garden.

What was here before the landscape designer made all this happen?

“Absolutely nothing,” said Fierabend, who reused leftover materials from last year’s Waterfront Winterfest in Penn’s Landing, which he also designed. “It starts to make a big space feel appropriate.”

Philadelphia is the Orville Redenbacher of pop-up parks, with several temporary spaces opening up every year. The Spruce Street Harbor Park is one of the most ambitious in terms of size, design, and ambition.

The DRWC’s master plan calls for placing public parks every half-mile along the Delaware River. This $600,000 temporary park is meant to give a taste of what the waterfront could be.

“Big ideas don’t start small,” said Jodi Milkman, the DRWC vice president of communication. “We’re really excited about what we were able to pull together this year, and we’re hoping it grows and keeps popping up again until the bigger picture is served down here.”

The DRWC programs events and concerts in the Great Plaza in Penn’s Landing. The pop-up park is designed to be used every day, with or without special events planned. Beginning this weekend, the park will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. until Labor Day.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal