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The past couple years proved the value of Philly’s public space, with the Department of Parks and Recreation estimating a 50% jump in usage after the pandemic hit. There’ll be even more to love in the next few years.
Some of the milestones coming up soon include a ground-breaking on the first phase in the revamp of FDR Park; more details about the future of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway; a start to the restoration of Cobbs Creek Golf Course — and more.
Here’s a look at some of the parks and public spaces currently in the works throughout the city.
Floating Water Workshop
The Fund for the Water Works received a $3 million grant from the state last year to construct a “Floating Water Workshop” on the Schuylkill — a 5,400-sq.-ft. learning space with exhibits where visitors can learn about water science.
Like the name implies, the workshop would be situated on the river itself. Two walkways would connect the workshop to the east bank and Schuylkill River Trail south of Fairmount Water Works. The plan is to keep the space open for public, walk-on visits from June through November while also offering reserved educational programs and hosting performances and events.
The state grant will fund brick-and-mortar costs and must be matched 1:1 with non-state funds. The William Penn Foundation granted $700,000 toward the project in 2020.
Timeline: Construction is expected to begin in 2023.
Benjamin Franklin Parkway redesign
Building off of the 2013 “More Park, Less Way” Parks & Rec action plan, the city is planning an overhaul of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway between Logan Circle and the Philadelphia Art Museum to make it more of a pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented public space.
Last year, the city picked the firm Design Workshop to lead the process. The firm wants to change the parkway “from a major roadway back to Philadelphia’s garden,” the CEO, Kurt Culbertson, said at a July workshop before the city made its choice. Design Workshop’s ideas include disconnecting the parkway from I-676, increasing the amount of public art closer to the parkway’s center, and establishing a series of differentiated gardens as “a nod to Philadelphia as the ‘city of neighborhoods.'”
Design Workshop has been tasked with conducting public engagement on the project as well as figuring out the design (which won’t necessarily match their proposal from last July), a possible schedule, and the likely costs.
Timeline: The redesign is a multi-year project, and Design Workshop is expected to move forward with the process early this year. According to the project website, “implementation of key aspects of this public realm plan is intended to be able to be achieved in time for the 2026 celebration of the semiquincentennial (250th anniversary) of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776.”
FDR Park revamp
A $250 million “master plan” to redesign South Philly’s 348-acre FDR Park is underway. The plan aims in part to reduce flooding in the park and provide more access points to “the Lakes” and wildlife, while incorporating climate change considerations into its design.
The plan splits the park into two “zones”: the ecological core and the urban edge. In tending to the ecological core, stewards of the park hope to restore the park’s lakes — Edgewood Lake, Pattison Lagoon, and Meadow Lake — to improve water quality throughout the park, as well as construct 45 acres of wetlands on the southwest side of the park. Another piece of the plan is to construct a hill where park visitors can climb, see the Philly skyline, or go sledding.
The “urban edge” will include a new entrance area with public bathrooms, a “Great Lawn” on the east side of the park, basketball courts underneath the I-95 corridor, and 12 multipurpose fields. The fields have proven to be one of the park’s more controversial additions — some residents feel strongly the city should keep the area in its natural state, while others worry the fields could bring large-scale tournaments and increased traffic.
The project is currently in its “Gateway Phase,” which it’s kicking off with the construction of a welcome center and play space. The former guardhouse for the Fairmount Park Guard near the Broad Street and Pattison Avenue entrance to the park will become a welcome center with equipment rentals, bathrooms, food vendors, and an information center.
The 2-acre play space — which will include a mega-swing set, slides, treehouses, and a picnic area, among other features — was designed with accessibility in mind, according to Allison Schapker of the Fairmount Park Conservancy.
Timeline: The overall project is a multi-year endeavor, and timelines vary on its different elements. As for the “Gateway Phase,” bidding for the welcome center and play space projects will happen in the spring, with hopes of breaking ground this summer. The play space is expected to be completed by summer 2023, and the welcome center is expected to open in fall 2023.
The Park at Penn’s Landing
As part of its “Master Plan” for the Central Delaware River developed a decade ago (master plans are trendy, we hear), the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation is planning an 11.5-acre highway cap at Penn’s Landing. It’s planned to bridge over I-95 and Columbus Avenue, bounded by Chestnut Street, Walnut Street, Front Street, and the Delaware River.
It’s slated to include open space for programming, a playground, a timber structure with a cafe, rentable event space, and public bathrooms inside, an area with nooks, gardens, and a fountain, and a multi-purpose plaza that can be used as a marketplace, roller rink, ice rink, or movie screening area.
The design is pretty much set, per the organization’s website, but the organization still welcomes feedback on the programming residents would like to see at the park.
Timeline: The original plan was to break ground in 2021, but pandemic delays set that back. According to the project website, construction is expected to begin this year. DRWC is shooting for a 2026 opening.
Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission pocket park
With a $82,500 grant from the William Penn Foundation, the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission last year started planning a public space next to its Callhowhill location, which provides beds and food to people in need. The park is meant specifically to welcome people experiencing homelessness, and the org said it plans to seek input from people in that community about the park’s design.
Timeline: Construction is set to begin sometime this year.
Cobbs Creek Golf Course restoration
A plan to restore the historic, century-old Cobbs Creek Golf Course is finally underway, following a 30-year lease agreement between the city and the nonprofit Cobbs Creek Foundation. Though the foundation reported income of just $3 million in 2019, according to tax records, it is pledging to invest $65 million for the restoration of the course and the transformation of surrounding areas into public space.
The West Philadelphia public golf course closed in 2020 after erosion and flooding from Cobbs Creek deteriorated much of the greens and fairways.
The restoration project aims to renew severely eroded areas along the creek and its tributaries, improve roadways and pedestrian paths to the site, and restore natural habitats that could create up to 37 acres of wetlands, according to the city. It will also introduce a new education and community engagement center, a driving range, a short course, and a restaurant. The Cobbs Creek Foundation plans to establish programming at the campus for the surrounding community.
Timeline: Work is scheduled to begin this May. The education center and driving range are supposed to open to the public in May 2023, and the course is expected to open in May 2024.
Graffiti Pier transition to public space
The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation signed a memorandum of understanding with Conrail in 2019 to take over Graffiti Pier at the Port Richmond waterfront and turn it into a public park.
The design plans for the park, announced by the DRWC in 2020, don’t change very much. The organization plans to “not touch” most aspects of the pier, but add upgraded seawalls, a formal and accessible second-level entrance, safety guardrails, better surfacing, more plants, new street furniture and walls with paintable surfaces, trash cans, and public restrooms. The tip of the pier, along with nearby Pier 20 (Pebble Beach), is planned to be turned into a shade park.
Timeline: DRWC is still working on final acquisition of the site with Conrail and are looking for grants for design and construction for the project’s first phase. The organization “[hopes] to have more information on a timeline for all of this in the coming months,” the DRWC team told Billy Penn.