The New York Times Calls Philadelphia An “Urban Outdoor Oasis”
In their perennial "52 Places to Go in 2015," The New York Times cites Spruce Street Harbor Park as just one of the many reasons Philadelphia is becoming an "urban outdoor oasis."
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In The New York Times’ influential “52 Places To Go In 2015” article, appearing in the January 11, 2015 edition of the newspaper, writer Nell McShane Wulfhart calls Philadelphia “an urban outdoor oasis,” attributing the city’s transformation to places like Dilworth Park, Race Street Pier, Spruce Street Harbor Park and Bike Share. And what an urban oasis it is.
Philadelphia’s residents and visitors are heading outdoors in huge numbers thanks to the activation of many under-utilized spaces in recent years. Lively urban parks, reimagined recreational landscapes and spirited pop-up gardens have taken over once-overlooked patches of land and water. These transformations have the city’s civic planners reclaiming inactive riverbanks, surplus lots and forlorn rail lines while stimulating a fun and festive sense of community pride.
Much of the action can be spotted in Center City and on Philadelphia’s two rivers: the quiet, beautiful Schuylkill to the west and the shipping waterway of the Delaware 30 blocks to the east. In between the two rivers, picturesque parks and lively beer gardens now live in once-abandoned parcels of land.
The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) is spearheading much of the development along the city’s eastern waterfront. As cities worldwide find new ways to bring activity to post-industrial ports and piers, the organization moves ahead with a master development plan that creates appealing public destinations every half-mile and truly connects the city to its waterfront from north to south:
- Delaware River Trail: The first 1,400-foot-long portion of the riverfront trail is now open for cyclists and walkers from Spring Garden Street to Ellen Street. Now, the DWRC is turning its attention to the next two phases: replacing the southern portion of the trail that currently runs between Washington Avenue and Pier 70 Boulevard and cutting the ribbon on the SugarHouse Casino portion, which will link the existing part of the Riverfront trail at Ellen Street to the casino’s current bike path. The trail forms part of the East Coast Greenway and will link to a planned river-to-river bike path. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and the William Penn Foundation funded this project. (215) 629-3200, delawareriverwaterfront.com
- Race Street Pier: Located in the shadow of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the first project in DRWC’s master plan for the Central Delaware River features two levels for recreation. The upper terrace, dubbed the Grand Sky Promenade, rises 12 feet toward the bridge and is paved with Trex, a sustainable, synthetic decking material made out of reclaimed plastic and wood. The promenade is connected to the lower terrace by a multi-tiered seating area, perfect for watching the tide roll in. The DRWC conducts free yoga classes seven days a week in season. Major funding came from the William Penn Foundation. Columbus Boulevard & Race Street, (215) 629-3200, racestreetpier.com
- Waterfront Winterfest: In 2013, the DRWC got people buzzing with the first installment of its Waterfront Winterfest, a seasonal garden and village featuring ice skating at the Blue Cross RiverRink, shops, music, food and fire pits. Year two of Waterfront Winterfest (running through March 1, 2015) features an even cozier lodge experience, upscale food, fireplaces, fire pits, a new light show and more activities inside and outside of the lodge. 101 S. Columbus Boulevard, (215) 925-RINK, waterfrontwinterfest.com
- Spruce Street Harbor Park: DRWC followed up Waterfront Winterfest with the wildly popular Spruce Street Harbor Park. In 2015, the summertimepop-up will implement the successful elements of the 2014 edition, like the hammocks and floating barges, and will add additional elements to make the park even better and more successful. For its first year, Spruce Street Harbor received a $310,000 ArtPlace America grant. Columbus Boulevard & Spruce Street, (215) 629-3200, sprucestreetharborpark.com
- Washington Avenue Pier: Capitalizing on the success of Race Street Pier, DRWC debuted Washington Avenue Pier. Visitors can climb a beacon created by artist Jody Pinto, take in river views from an elevated boardwalk and follow markers that relate the site’s history as a major immigration hub and the nation’s first navy yard. The William Penn Foundation, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and DRWC provided the $2.15 million in funding for this project. Columbus Boulevard & Washington Avenue, (215) 629-3200, delawareriverwaterfront.com
- Pier 68: On Pier 68, scheduled to open in mid-2015, recreational anglers and recreation-seekers can fish, relax, bring picnics and observe the tidal nature of the Delaware River from up close. The $1.7 million in funding for this project came from the William Penn Foundation, the City of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Wells Fargo and Walmart. Columbus Boulevard &
Pier 70 Boulevard, delawareriverwaterfront.com
Long a labor of love for citizens who live in the western part of Center City, the Schuylkill River Trail, overseen by the Schuylkill River Trail Council, is beginning to connect the lower part of the river to trails that wind through Manayunk all the way to Valley Forge and beyond.
- Schuylkill River Trail: The paved riverfront trail that currently runs from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to the Schuylkill River Park and its popular dog park is about to get even longer.Beginning with construction in 2015,runners, bikers, bladers and outdoor types will be able to cruise along the river from Christian Street to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kelly Drive and beyond. The extended portion of the riverside trail will connect to stretches that abut Water Works Restaurant & Lounge, Paine’s Park skateboard park and Lloyd Hall, with bike and Segway rentals. Also under construction beginning in 2015: Bartram’s Mile, a new greenway that will soon expand riverfront access in Southwest Philadelphia from Grays Ferry Avenue to 56th Street. Future plans for the trail include repurposing an abandoned historic railroad crossing just south of Grays Ferry Avenue Bridge, connecting the Grays Ferry Crescent and Bartram’s Mile. (215) 222-6030,schuylkillbanks.org
- Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk: Philadelphia gets its first permanent boardwalk in the form of a 15-foot-wide, 2,000-foot-long, ADA-compliant concrete path that juts out above the Schuylkill River. It provides runners, bikers and pedestrians with easy connections to the Schuylkill River Trail between Locust Street and the South Street Bridge. Those who want to take in the scenery can do so at any of the four overlooks offering city and waterfront views. The boardwalk opened to rave reviews in fall 2014 and was funded principally by the Federal Highway Department of Transportation. Schuylkill River at Locust Street, (215) 222-6030, schuylkillbanks.org
- Venice Island: The Philadelphia Water Department has partnered with the Parks and Recreation department and residents of Philadelphia’s Manayunk neighborhood to turn a municipal project into an island-size children’s attraction. Here’s how it happened: The utility built a four million-gallon underground water tank and a pumping station with a green roof. On top of the tank went a 250-seat performing arts center devoted primarily to kids’ theater, an outdoor amphitheater, basketball and volleyball courts, a “sprayground” water feature and lots of park space with stunning sunrise and sunset water views. The water department paid for construction, and the parks department will operate the recreational attractions. Main Street & Cotton Street,
(215) 482-9565, manayunk.com/dsr/veniceisland.html
Center City District is spearheading much of the park work in the core of the city, with solid contributions from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to ensure that recreational opportunities abound in parks and pockets all over downtown Philly.
- Dilworth Park: In September 2014, City Hall’s front yard went from a concrete jungle to a
$55 million multi-use park, complete with tree groves, benches, a Cuban-themed cafe and areas for outdoor events and performances. A programmable fountain offers children a place to romp and splash in warm-weather months. During the winter, an ice rink brings skaters to the promenade. Sloping glass headhouses lead to the major transit hub below the park. Donors include the U.S, Department of Transportation, Center City District, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, City of Philadelphia and SEPTA, as well as private foundations, businesses and individuals. 15th & Market Streets, (215) 482-9565, ccdparks.org/dilworth-park
- Sister Cities Park: Moms bring their strollers for free fitness classes (with singing) and music lovers bring their own bottles for picnics and performances at the landscaped urban oasis. For less organized fun, the park features a cafe, an eco-smart visitor center, an outdoor children’s discovery garden and play area, a boat pond, a pint-sized hill that evokes the Wissahickon Valley and a fountain that pays tribute to Philadelphia’s 10 sister cities. Center City District maintains and programs the park, which was rehabbed with help from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the William Penn Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 18th Street & Logan Square, (215) 440-5500, ccdparks.org/sister-cities-park
- The Oval: Ben Franklin surely would have appreciated this pop-up park, which in the warm months occupies a little-used parking lot on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Themed days and nights spotlight food and fashion trucks, movies, a beer garden, free health and fitness classes and an art installation commissioned by the Association for Public Art. The park, open for its second year in 2014, was imagined and executed by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and the Fairmount Park Conservancy with funding from PNC. 2601 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, theovalphl.org
- PHS Pop Up Garden: The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society is taking its popular pop-ups on the road in 2015, bringing various versions of its greening projects (called “horticultural interventions” by staffers) to underused lots both big and small. The organization is holding talks with SEPTA to beautify and program property around transit stations and expects to stage its fifth transient summer beer garden at yet another Center City space in 2015. Major funders in 2104 include Coastal Source, EP Henry, IKEA and Peirce College. (215) 988-8800,phsonline.org/greening/pop-up-gardens
- Reading Viaduct: Work could begin as soon as 2015 to transform a quarter-mile section of an abandoned rail line into a leafy green space with flowering plants and plenty of room to walk, sit and admire the Center City view from the raised rails. With help from the William Penn Foundation and the Poor Richard’s Charitable Trust, Center City District has completed the community-approved design for a portion of the viaduct and is currently raising money to begin renovations. Vine Street between Callowhill & Noble Streets,centercityphila.org/about/viaduct
Center City & Beyond:
- Pedal power hits Philadelphia in April 2015 with the launch of the city’s Bike Share program. Cyclists will be able to rent more than 600 bikes located at more than 60 stations throughout Center City and beyond. Day, monthly and annual passes available. phila.gov/bikeshare,bikesharephiladelphia.org
- Frankford Pause: Looking like a set out of a futuristic Hairspray, this neon-pink pop-up park will open in spring 2015. Commissioned by the Frankford Community Development Corporation as a place to fuse art and public activity, the park will display magenta lights that grow brighter when the SEPTA train pulls into the adjacent station and dim as it leaves. A community garden and stage also anchor the megaphone-shaped space. Frankford Avenue & Paul Street, destinationfrankford.com/frankford-pause
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