After the success of NYC's High Line Park, Philadelphia is planning its own elevated park on a spur of the abandoned Reading Viaduct. Last used in 1984, the Reading Viaduct once brought passengers and freight into Center City, but was then abandoned to weeds and disrepair. Now the city is collaborating with Studio | Bryan Hanes and members of the community to develop a comprehensive plan for the quarter-mile park and revitalization of the space surrounding the viaduct. Although the Reading Viaduct isn't nearly as long as the High Line or Chicago's Bloomingdale Trail, this park will be a fantastic project and an important step towards a more sustainable Philadelphia. We also chatted with Paul Levy of Center City District to hear how Philly's park is different from the High Line and when work will hopefully commence.
Planning for the Reading Viaduct park began in 2010 when the Center City District commissioned an environmental and feasibility analysis of the Viaduct to determine its fate. The study revealed that it would be far less costly to transform the quarter-mile spur of the viaduct into an urban green space than demolish it and deal with any contaminated soil, which could be buried underneath. This information then encouraged the district to work on a plan for the park with Urban Engineers, Cecil Baker + Partners, and Friends of the High Line, and New York City. In 2011, the Center City District commissioned a concept design from Urban Engineers and Studio| Bryan Hanes.
The team conducted extensive analysis and community surveys to determine preferences. The results of the study revealed that the community participants “strongly favored making the park an informal, leafy green space with plenty of grass and flowering plants, and with room to walk and sit.” As a result, the design for the park includes wide shady, tree-lined walking paths, seating, accessible entrances, an outdoor classroom and even a place for dogs. Read on to hear from Paul Levy, of Center City District, about what’s in store for this project.
INHABITAT: Why do you think this is such an important project for Philadelphia?
Paul Levy: It is one of several projects in which investment in parks and green space that leverages residential and commercial development that can get Philadelphia on the path to adding jobs.
INHABITAT: Every elevated park project is now is being compared to New York’s High Line – how is your project different?
Paul Levy: NYC’s real estate market is hyper-inflated compared to Philadelphia. This area [Center City] will remain more mixed use in character and the level in investment in our viaduct will be far more modest than in New York.
INHABITAT: Do you think the success of the High Line is making it easier to propose and build regenerative projects like yours?
Paul Levy: It is easier in that there is a viable model to point to, but harder in that the success in New York gives many unrealistic expectations about what we can achieve in Philadelphia.
INHABITAT: Tell us more about how building a new park was cheaper than demolishing the viaduct.
Paul Levy: The cost of demolition with all the required environmental remediation was estimated at $50 million. The cost of renovating the entire viaduct from Vine to Fairmont was priced well under $40 million. Phase 1 will bein the $6 to $8 million range.
INHABITAT: From the community surveys, what elements and strategies did the community want included in the project?
Paul Levy: The message from the community was “Keep It Simple” and respect the industrial character of the original viaduct.
INHABITAT: What’s your favorite feature of this new elevated park?
Paul Levy: The industrial swings.
INHABITAT: When do you hope work will start and when could it be completed?
Paul Levy: Work could start on Phase 1 in 2013 if all the funding can be put in place. It will take about one year to complete.
Images ©Studio | Bryan Hanes