The Porch: a super-sized parklet full of potential

On November 2, the new public space on 30th Street Station’s south side officially opened with much fanfare. Circus performers unfurled a small banner above the large crowd, revealing the plaza’s new name: “The Porch at 30th Street Station.”

30th Street Station is a jewel, ringed by streets choked with cars and difficult pedestrian crossings, so the idea for an improved public space outside the station should be applauded. The station’s new “Porch” is an improvement over the barren sidewalk and parking lane it replaces, though it current design features and amenities are minimal.

Although the Porch was billed as “Philadelphia’s next great public space,” it reads more like a big parklet. That is by design. Instead of starting with a grand, expensive design for the space, The Porch is comprised of speedy, low-cost interventions, meant to make use of the new public space until a more permanent design can be developed and installed.

The Porch is a 50-foot wide by 565-foot long concrete plaza running parallel to Market Street on the south side of 30th Street Station. It is intended as a flexible space that will evolve over time. For now, The Porch has new movable, multi-colored café tables and chairs along with maroon umbrellas to provide shade. Long rectangular concrete tree planters line the Market Street side, separating the plaza from the street, and come spring the foliage will help soften the hardscape. Additional planters break up the Porch’s length, and large round pots are clustered at the plaza’s narrow ends. New pedestrian lighting was also added at the perimeter of the plaza.

The Porch was created out of an opportunity presented by a multi-million dollar PennDOT road construction project for six bridges around 30th Street Station. The simple fact that The Porch is there at all is no small victory, requiring the coordination and commitment of PennDOT, Amtrak, the City, and University City District (UCD) to make it happen. UCD will manage and program The Porch, and they see it as a work-in-progress.

UCD wanted to build off of the PennDOT project, and sought to create a new public space through small, affordable, and adaptable measures. This allows UCD to take a bottom-up approach that is user-driven, and they’ll be observing how people use and move through the new public space. And that won’t happen in earnest until the weather warms up again. Even on these temperate, bright November days, repeat visits to The Porch have felt a bit lonely, with people mostly passing through and very few lingering. People attract people, so UCD has scheduled lots of events on The Porch through early December.

The Porch is a space with tremendous potential, and certainly the location is worthy of the improvements. Here’s hoping that we don’t have to wait too long for UCD to find funding to continue enhancements – big and small – for 30th Street Station’s new public space.

And as for the crowdsourced name, I’m hoping it grows on me. (By the way, no word as to who gets bragging rights for winning the naming contest and the associated Amtrak gift certificate.) I appreciate that “The Porch” aspires to be inviting, informal, and transitional. Maybe as people adopt The Porch as a public space and we’ll hear phrases like “Meet me at The Porch” creep into our city vernacular.

UCD is trying to get more people to come hang out on The Porch well into December: They’ve scheduled lunchtime exercise classes (Fridays, 12:30-1:30) and accordion music (Tuesdays, 11am-1pm), a farmer’s market (Wednesdays 3-7pm), and performances by the West Philadelphia Orchestra (Thursdays 4-6pm) and the Give & Take jugglers and their Little Circus (Fridays 4-6pm). If you drop by The Porch, tell Eyes on the Street what you think.

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