It feels like forever.
When the city and community organizations broke ground on the construction of The Rail Park, a three-mile-stretch of abandoned Conrail pathways last Halloween, it was expected the first phase of the park would be open, well...now.
However, there’s been a bit of delay as the city’s Streets Department needs to shore up the 13th Street Bridge. With that said, the appropriately named Michael Garden, vice chairman for the Friends of the Rail Park, a nonprofit organization working in tandem with the city, confirmed to PW the stretch of Phase One will still open later this spring despite the bridge delay.
In addition to confirming the quarter-mile sneak peek, we caught up with Garden to talk FOTRP’s complete vision, its partnership with the city and other community organizations, where the entire schedule stands and what more needs to be done on a stretch of land slated to change the way we travel and explore Philadelphia’s many neighborhoods.
The Rail Park is in Phase One of development with plans to open a stretch of it later this month. But you announced plans have been delayed a bit. What’s holding you up?
Phase One is being spearheaded by the Center City District, which has been integral in raising the funding as well as doing the construction management. The groundbreaking was on Halloween 2016, and at that time it was projected that’d we’d be open right about now. The work of the [Center City District] has been on schedule, but what has come up is that the Streets Department has decided that it needs to rebuild the 13th Street Bridge on Newall Street. That bridge is going to be rebuilt by the Streets Department, which is going to push back the opening until about May or June, with no official date set as of yet.
Bummer. Tell us there’s good news…
Yep, the good news for many of us is that we’re going to open the park to the public as first impressions are important to us, so we’re going to open the quarter-mile stretch once the leaves are in full bloom later this spring. Phase One is a quarter-mile section of a three-mile long vision and for us, it’s all about a proof of concept and an opportunity for us to show the world what is possible here in Philadelphia.
How excited are you to have this open up, since even this little first stretch is years in the making?
It’s very exciting to have Phase One opening up. It’s been a real brick and mortar result of this big, broad vision for many years now. But what it also does is raise the bar in terms of what’s next. And in regarding what’s next, our organization is looking at what are the potential next phases and how are we going to go about it to be more connected to the city at-large in making this a go-to destination and involving a community at-large. Community engagement that took place during Phase One was largely limited to the Callowhill Neighborhood Association. Our vision for the three-mile site is that it’s going to be a forward-thinking, progressive public space for all Philadelphians. In order to achieve that, we are already actively reaching out to community organizations all across the city.
Why are you looking for community-wide involvement for such a short stretch? Seems like a too many cooks situation, no?
We have to reach out to these organizations to ask them what would you want to do if you got in your car or used a form of transportation to get here. It’s a travel to this park if you’re coming from South Philly, North Philly, Southwest Philly, West Philly, all these other communities and not just the 10 neighborhoods that the park happens to connect. That [holistic] community vision is really important to us.
How much are you stressing that this is not in any way similar to the High Line in New York City?
It’s very different. Actually, what people should know is that the predecessor of the High Line in New York is the Promenade Plantee in Paris, which opened in 1994. David Bowie once said “it’s not who does it first, it’s who does it second that counts,” and that’s the case with the High Line, it gets all the credit but the Promenade Plantee which is also about three-miles-long, like our site, also includes elevated sections, like our Viaduct and like the High Line, but it also includes street level and is “open to the sky” which is railroad lingo for a cut. It also has some amazing tunnels and we have an amazing tunnel under Pennsylvania Avenue that we hope to develop. I will say that in a comparison to the High Line, that it’s touted for the economic development that it drove and we know that this park here in Philadelphia will drive economic development, which is a fact of all well-designed and maintained park systems.
What can people expect when they get a chance to peruse the quarter-mile stretch later this spring?
I think the park itself will be enjoyable and pleasant, but this first phase will only be a quarter-mile long, so you’re going to walk from one end to the other and be able to take in some really great views, but it’s not going to have that transformative quality that the entire stretch will have one it’s completed. I’m looking forward to when it threads through some of our most important cultural institutions like the [Philadelphia] Museum of Art and the Pearlman, the Rodin Museum, the Barnes, the main branch of the Free Library, it cuts right through the [Community College of Philadelphia] before going east of Broad Street. The three-mile site has the potential of changing the way we move through the city, changing the way we connect with other neighborhoods and opening many of us up to parts of the city least explored. It’s exciting to be a part of and we’re excited to provide a bit of a sneak peek, just in time for some warmer weather.
Warmer temperatures mean you literally have no excuse to stay inside. These upcoming events and programs help with planning where to go and what to do.
Such great weather, but where to enjoy it? Look no further than Franklin Square, an urban green space that was part of William Penn’s original plans for the city. The eight-acre, public square has all the elements to make for a terrific outing: a miniature golf course, classic carousel, burger joint, storytelling bench, picnic area and more. | Currently open. Times vary. Free admission. Prices vary for attractions. Franklin Square, 200 N. 6th St. historicphiladelphia.org/franklin-square/what-to-see/
Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
For a cultural day out, relax with the tranquil, award-winning Japanese garden. Take a tour of the gardens, sit in on a tea ceremony, and participate in a number of events that highlight Japanese traditions. | March 24. Times vary. $12, adult general admission. Discounted tickets available. Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, Horticultural and Lansdowne drives. japanesehouse.org
Philadelphia PHLASH Downtown Loop
There are so many things to do in Philly, and with the rising temps, there shouldn’t be any reason not to do as much as possible in an outing. With service every 15 minutes, this is an inexpensive ride to all the must Philly spots: Penn’s Landing, National Museum of Jewish American History, The Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum, the Perelman Building, Eastern State Penitentiary, The Franklin Institute, National Constitution Center, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Reading Terminal Market, the Shops at Liberty Place, the Please Touch Museum, the Philadelphia Zoo, One Liberty Observation Deck, and the Museum of the American Revolution. | March 29 – April 29, May 1 – Sept. 3. Times vary. $2 per person per ride or $5 for an all-day pass. Children 4 and under and seniors, free. SEPTA pass and key card holders ride, free. Locations vary.ridephillyphlash.com
Reopening of LOVE Park
In the City of Brotherly Love, the LOVE Park is a signature go-to hangout. While the park partially reopened from its 2016-2018 renovation for the Christmas Village, the park will now be complete with the return of the iconic LOVE stature, refurbished to its former glory. | Spring TBA. Love Park, 16th and JFK Boulevard.visitphilly.com/museums-attractions/philadelphia/love-park/
Penn Relays Carnival
On your marks, get set, go! OK, more like watch athletes “go” while you snack on something in the stands. Vicariously get some exercise, while you watch the nation’s oldest and largest collegiate meet, comprised of high school, college and professional track stars. | April 26-28. Times vary. Prices vary. Franklin Field at University of Pennsylvania, 235 S. 33rd St. thepennrelays.com
Broad Street Run
During the winter you made your New Year’s resolutions, but during spring you can show off your hard work. Grab your sneakers or get ready to cheer by the sidelines for this 10-mile course through North, Center and South Philadelphia. | May 6. 8am. $53, individual registration for race. Free admission for spectators. Starts at the Central High School Athletic Field at Broad Street and Somerville Avenue.broadstreetrun.com
Parks on Tap
The traveling beer garden is heading on back to Philly green spaces. For libations, non-alcoholic-beverages and snacks, Parks on Tap hits up 20 parks over a course of 20 weeks. Bring the family, Fido too, for the pop-up beer gardens that connect man and nature – and alcohol too. | May 17-Oct. 1. Times vary. Free admission. Locations vary.parksontap.com
Ahoy, Matey! Spend Memorial Day Weekend at the waterfront for some nautical festivities. Enjoy ship tours, and sailing expeditions down the Delaware River. Watch the Parade of Sail as tall ships from U.S. and internationalports dock in Philly. | May 24-28. Times vary. Prices vary. Independence Seaport Museum and Penn’s Landing.sailphiladelphia.org
Spruce Street Harbor Park
Who needs to go down the shore, when you have a gorgeous urban beach in Philly? Come to the pop-up park for the signature hammocks complete with hanging LED lights, a floating restaurant, beer garden and outdoor games along the waterfront boardwalk. | Opens in May. Times vary. Free admission. Spruce Street Harbor Park, 301 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd. delawareriverwaterfront.com/places/spruce-street-harbor-park
Night Market Philadelphia
Beep, beep! The food trucks are back in the neighborhood. Get ready to dig in to street eats with The Food Trust Night Markets. Taking over different parts of Philly for evening festivities, join thousands of visitors for the pop-up market foods and live music. | Spring TBA. Times vary. Free admission. Locations vary. thefoodtrust.org/night-market
– ANDREA CANTOR | @ANDREAJCANTOR