Friday, May 27, 2011

I don't think we're in Philadelphia anymore, Toto...

A decade or two ago, were you to wander towards the Schuylkill from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you would find what you'd expect from a once great city damaged by decades of mismanagement. The grand Victorian gardens were overgrown with weeds, paths through the hillside were crumbling, and the river's shore was littered with garbage.

But somehow the Schuylkill Banks projects and the Philadelphia Museum of Art have managed to become iconic, successful public spaces that would make any First Class city jealous. And they're not even done. 

What is most amazing about the transformation in this aesthetically dramatic part of town, is that it has taken place not only in a city known for pissing away money on projects that don't move, but that it continues to progress in spite of a dreadful economy.

As an international crowd of tourists climb through the rocky gardens behind the museum, few know that the metal gazebo they're taking pictures from is a replica of a wooden gazebo that once stood in the same spot a century ago. The dedicated attention to detail and respect for the history of this space is astounding. 

Those managing these projects need to be managing our city.

Just beyond the renovated Waterworks, right before Boat House Row lies a small, relatively inaccessible island. As you walk towards Lloyd Hall from Waterworks, you would notice it behind the small algae laden inlet. OLIN has designed a new park for the island adding a small foot bridge for access. The project will be completed in 2013.

One of the most exciting projects along the Schuylkill River is the Boardwalk. To be completed in 2013 as well, the Schuylkill River Trail will continue beyond Locust Street as a 15 foot wide pier on the river complete with access to the new South Street Bridge.

What I have finally discovered about these beautiful spaces is that the Schuylkill River does not have to be solely enjoyed from its banks. Above or below the dam, launching a kayak is a piece of cake, and the water isn't nearly as disgusting as its reputation would lead you to believe. 

Naturally, as more and more people realize what a wonder resource these spaces have become, they will attract more and more crowds. It's a universal truth any urbanite must come to accept. Of course there are ways to address any potential overcrowding. Put the brilliant minds designing and managing the successes along the Schuylkill River to work on the massive banks of the Delaware.

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