Philadelphia’s scenic Benjamin Franklin Parkway contains a sprawling park that is mostly unknown and inaccessible to the public because of high-speed traffic coursing down the multi-lane throughway.
PennPraxis, the applied research arm of the School of Design, has proposed a plan to give the road a long-overdue makeover, creating four parks that will offer enticing green spaces for picnicking, concerts, and other activities. The plan also calls for additional benches, cafes, and recreational facilities.
“We started coming up with a whole series of recommendations that are really designed as urban parks like Fitler Square, with playground equipment and much-needed park space,” says Harris Steinberg, executive director of PennPraxis. “[These can be] places for seniors to go during the day, places for moms and dads with small children to go.”
Working with Philadelphia city officials throughout the past year, PennPraxis devised the plan “More Park, Less Way,” which proposes replacing the parking lot at Eakins Oval near the Philadelphia Museum of Art with green space. Traffic-calming features and crosswalks would be added along the Parkway to make it easier and safer to access adjacent parks and museums.
“It has, at its core, this absolutely spectacular setting that’s pretty much unsurpassed in the United States as far as I’m concerned, particularly that vista down the Parkway to City Hall,” Steinberg says. “It’s pretty breathtaking.”
With the support of Mayor Michael Nutter and Deputy Mayor Mike DiBerardinis, Steinberg is optimistic that the changes could be made within the next three years. He says the action plan could be implemented right now.
“Removing the cars doesn’t cost anything other than losing parking fees,” he says. “And Mayor Nutter is committed to this plan.”
Steinberg, who previously devised the “Creating a Civic Vision for the Central Delaware Riverfront” plan to revitalize Philadelphia’s Delaware riverfront, says he hopes the Parkway can be transformed into a place for residents throughout the Philadelphia area to enjoy, while also attracting tourists.
“If we can make this transition into this much more nuanced, fine urban fabric that will attract people, we might have a shot at changing the dynamic without losing its essence, which is this glorious, civic promenade,” he says.
Originally published on February 14, 2013