Friday, October 9, 2009

Dilworth Plaza

Is the Dilworth Plaza redesign really that great, or does it look so good because it's clean? Renderings often conceal bad design, especially when you take a desolate, dirty public space and airbrush in pedestrians, trees, and shiny new pavement. If two designs were given to someone unfamiliar with Dilworth Plaza, would a rendering of a new Dilworth Plaza look any more impressive than a rendering of a cleaned and bustling Dilworth Plaza as it exists today? Probably not. But Dilworth Plaza doesn't lack design and good design isn't going to save it. What a new design will do - good or bad - is remind us all that Dilworth Plaza is here.

No matter what plan is put forth, naysayers will always argue any public space will become a concrete landfill collecting trash from commuters and a gathering place for homeless and pigeons. It took half a century to make the more seasoned Philadelphians realize that Independence Mall wasn't our Hooverville. And plenty who still use that term refuse to accept it as the successful public space it has become.

But Dilworth Plaza isn't about them, it doesn't have to be about them, and in a fitting honor commemorating its namesake, Richardson Dilworth wouldn't have want it to be about them. Dilworth Plaza is about the new life surrounding City Hall. Once closed at five on Friday, overlooked by a macabre and charred One Meridian Place, this forgotten gem in the shadow of one of the most impressive and architecturally revered buildings in the world has the potential to attract those who have made Center City Philadelphia what it has become in the past two decades.

Overlooked by the new Residences at the Ritz, surrounded by a growing number of hotels, adjacent to the new entrance of the Convention Center, Dilworth Plaza's reinvention isn't about architecture and design, it's about attracting activity to the literal heart of our city.

The unintrusive glass entrances, similar to the entrance across the street and the east entrance to Suburban Station - both underrated and undercelebrated improvements to the overall City Hall/Suburban Station transportation complex - don't overwhelm this natural space. In the overall design we see a lot of the same concrete but we also see a lot of grass. Given the advantages growing around it, this square has the potential to become a twilight enclave of Bohemia much like Rittenhouse and Washington Squares. Add to it a large shallow pool outfitted for fountains and easily transformed into an ice skating rink, it draws even more activity by attracting families, friends, and couples seeking unique evening or weekend afternoon activities that don't require a car.

As it exists, Dilworth Plaza doesn't need a lot of work. What it needs is a simple facelift - seen here - a good scrubdown with Lysol, and more than anything a reminder to all of us that it is here and that is exactly what this plan does.

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