Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Escaping the Cold...Underground

Now that it's nut shriveling cold outside, your cardio routine has probably taken a hit. The Schuylkill River Trail is so much more inviting than a stationary bike next to twelve others that smell like feet.

Well, have you ever thought of taking to SEPTA's expansive underground concourse for your evening jog? No. That's insane. Your gym's foot smell is way better than that piss smell. 

But what if the concourse looked like this?

That's a rendering of Manhattan's proposed Low Line. Utilizing an abandoned trolley terminal under the Lower East Side, New York hopes to bank on the success of its High Line and turn it upside down. Skylights will filter sunshine into the subterranean park offering a bit of nature during New York's brutal winter.

As Philadelphia wrestles with the logistics of creating our own variation of New York's High Line atop the abandoned Reading Viaduct, others have proposed converting its abandoned extension sunken below the city at Broad and Noble that continues all the way to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

While New York beat us to both the High Line and now, possibly, the Low Line, Philadelphia's potential is unique in that the two are already integrated. 

It's a tough sell. The Reading Viaduct Park has faced an uphill battle since it was first conceived but it's finally gaining a strong foothold in reality. But the proposition of an underground "park" anywhere in Philadelphia has been the butt of more C.H.U.D. jokes than actual praise.

That's understandable, but partially because it's been pitched primarily as an underground incarnation of the more logical Reading Viaduct Park. It seems hokey. "If we're using old tracks for an elevated park, why not make one in the tracks underground too?!" It's reactionary, not innovative. 

Obviously the best use for Philadelphia's abandoned rail - both above and below ground - would be to reopen it to subway/elevated trains carting people to black holes of speedy transportation like the Art Museum, the Zoo, and other neighborhoods in the Northwest.

Well, that's not happening. 

And to understand why an underground park is a good idea you have to stop thinking of it as a park. Even in New York, while the Low Line may offer similar plant life found above ground, it will likely find its best use as a well dressed concourse ferrying pedestrians throughout the Lower East Side during the winter and on rainy days. Clean, it will also offer recreationalists a unique reprieve from their boring gyms.

When you think about it that way, jogging throughout Philadelphia's concourse - and our own Low Line - don't seem like such a half baked idea. Philadelphia's abandoned tunnel, The City Branch Line, extends from Broad to Pennsylvania Avenue. It's not a long walk but the urban planning missteps that created Franklin Town make it an awkwardly disjointed one. One an underground concourse could easily address.

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