Penn Park Opens

Neither gray skies nor a blustery cold front could cloud the sunny smiles or curb the enthusiasm of those who came out to enjoy the opening of Penn Park. In fact, a rainbow crowned the closing of the event.

Perhaps the brightest smile of all belonged to Penn President Amy Gutmann as she thanked the many people who helped to make the park a reality.

"Seeing is believing: With your strong support, Penn has transformed an asphalt parking lot into a bit of paradise for our entire community," she said during the celebration on Sept. 15, topped off with a commemorative tree planting  with Penn trustees, project donors and elected officials.  Following the planting, Gutmann was escorted by Penn cheerleaders, the Quaker mascot and the Penn Band to the center of the park where she cut a ribbon held by athletes and coaches in an official opening to the new athletic fields.

Penn Park is 24 acres of playing fields, open recreational space and pedestrian walkways located between Walnut and South streets. In less than two years, 45,000 cubic yards of soil, 2,200 pilings and more than 500 trees were installed to create green canopied hills, picnic areas and enjoyable green space where a weed-strewn, decaying asphalt parking lot used to be.

Contrasting the site as a former resting place for broken-down vehicles, Penn Board of Trustees Chairman David L. Cohen emphasized its sustainable features, including underground basins that capture rainwater and mitigate storm water overflow into the Schuylkill River. Cohen noted that Penn has "set a standard for sustainability that nobody else in this country comes close to."

Penn Park also supports Mayor Michael Nutter's goal to plant 300,000 trees in Philadelphia by 2015: "I'm counting every one of them," he joked. On a more serious note, Mayor Nutter predicted that Penn Park is a model greening project other communities will seek to duplicate.

Penn Park increases the University's green space by 20 percent, and as Gutmann noted, "is the consummate expression of our efforts to connect West Philadelphia and Center City, to weave together Philadelphia's two most vibrant and exciting neighborhoods."

Text by Julie McWilliams
Video by Kurtis Sensenig
Photos by Scott Spitzer