The Oval is back for a fifth year

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This year, the pop-up park in front of the Art Museum is more than just a fun place to hang outside — although there is plenty of that, from a beer garden to DJs, dancing and movies.

It’s a way to tell the city how you feel.

In 2013, when Parks and Rec first teamed up with the Fairmount Park Conservancy to turn the parking area in the middle of Eakins Oval into a seasonal oasis of fun, food and games, it marked a big step forward. But the Ben Franklin Parkway is still one of the most underused public spaces in Philly.

This year’s incarnation of the summertime plaza — dubbed The Oval+ (because no one remembers the sad fate of Google+?) — will actually be a data collection point for feedback.

Philly icons from Questlove to Ben Franklin make appearances in the decor Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

The colorfully-painted lot is broken into open-air “rooms” by vertical mesh walls, and across the front of one is the installation’s tag line: “What’s Your Parkway, Philly?” There’s a chalk-friendly map of the Parkway on the ground, and visitors are encouraged to answer the question by drawing on it. The sketches will periodically be captured from overhead for later review by city officials. (If you don’t trust your art skills, you can always fill out a comment form online instead.)

Acting Parks Conservancy director Jamie Gauthier sits on a Soofa smart bench Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Data will also be collected passively. A series of “smart benches” by MIT Media Lab spinoff Soofa will track foot traffic numbers and patterns throughout the summer. Bonus: Those benches offer free, solar-powered charging for mobile devices.

Here’s what else is on tap for the 2017 pop-up, which runs July 20 through August 20, and has expanded programming that spills into two other park areas nearby.

It all unfolds in front of the Art Museum steps Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Beer garden and food trucks

Adult water ice, anyone? Along with selections from Yards Brewing and Berks County’s Blair Vinyards, vodka-spiked slushies are on the “Eakins Tavern” drink list. Meltkraft sandwiches populate the food menu, and the lineup of food trucks includes Cow and the Curd, Surf and Turf Truck, Foolish Waffles and more.

Water, water and more water

A drinking fountain equipped with one of the city’s fancy new bottle filling stations is front and center, complete with an easy way to fill dog bowls. No fretting if you didn’t carry your own bottle along, either, thanks to freebies provided by Oval sponsor PNC.

Greenery is spread throughout the installation Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Music, movies and dance

The event calendar is filled with various activities to get everyone shaking it, from kids to adults. A dance party for the little ones will take place every Saturday and Sunday, for example, while a different DJ will spin for hip-hop classes and jams on Thursday nights. Head to nearby Aviator Park (by the Franklin Institute) and Thursday will bring live jazz. A different free movie will be screened every Friday at 9 p.m.

Things to get you thinking

The Academy of Natural Science hosts a learning session each Wednesday, but there’s a chance to learn about the city just by walking around. The walls on one of the “rooms” design firm PORT Urbanism created is decorated with drawings of former Philly landmarks — think Spring Garden Water Works — overlaid on actual photos, with descriptions of the significance of each one.

Find the full event schedule and more info here.

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...