The Race Street Pier Park and the Schuylkill River Trail are solid examples of the kind of new parks Philadelphia can and should have more of.  The proposed Reading Viaduct Park could be another, even more significant addition to the city.

On June 7, 2011 the completion of Philadelphia 2035, the city’s first comprehensive development plan in 50 years, was celebrated at Moore College of Art & Design with a speech by Mayor Michael Nutter. This road map for growth in Philadelphia must still be approved by City Council.

Architect critic Inga Saffron points out the differences between the city’s previous plan from 1960 and the Philadelphia 2035 proposal in Changing Skyline: A Small-scale Vision of Philadelphia’s Future. She seems disappointed that the new vision for the city is not more awesomely ambitious while at the same time recognizing that the current economic environment is drastically different from that in 1960.

For my part, I prefer smaller but better development. After all Penn’s Landing was part of that 1960 plan and it proved to be a monumental under-achiever. What I would like to see are more parks like the Schuylkill River Trail and Race Street Pier Park — many more — and a well-designed Reading Viaduct Park could be to Philadelphia what the High Line Park has been to New York City.

Luckily, as Saffron confirms, Philadelphia 2035 endorses the concept of turning the abandoned Reading Viaduct into an elevated city park. Such reclamation of neglected urban space has proved to be a big boon for New York City, where the second phase of the High Line Park has just opened. A movement is also underway in Chicago to convert 3 miles of the old Bloomingdale rail line into a linear park.

Google maps image of abandoned Reading Railroad viaduct in Center City

Reading Railroad's abandoned viaduct has prospects for becoming a new city park.

Several Facebook pages share news and drum up support for building a park on the abandoned viaduct in Center City: Reading Viaduct Project, Reading Viaduct Park-Philly’s Park In The Sky, VIADUCTgreene for example.

Searching with the keywords: reading, viaduct, and philadelphia  on Flickr.com I turned up about 360 photos that testify to long years of neglect and decay in the heart of Philadelphia. Seen another way though, those same photos offer perspectives on a space that could play a great role in the further development of this city as one of the most highly livable and vibrant cities in North America.

RaceStPierPark0875


RaceStPierPark0899
Originally uploaded by Michlt


The first sprout of new growth on the Delaware waterfront has appeared, and just like any sprout, it is slender and stretches out from the land with enthusiasm. My friend and I headed to Old City this morning to check out the brand new Race St. Pier Park. It reaches out from Delaware Ave. like a long, thin sprout of a new plant. This is an early installation of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation’s Master Plan for the Philadelphia’s eastern edge. The formal plan will not be unveiled until June. This park is a a teaser, but the plan will call for similar public space projects every half mile along the river.

The Race Street Pier Park officially opened on May 12, 2011. During a pre-opening gala the night before Mayor Nutter called it “spectacular!” I would not be so dramatic, but I do agree, it’s a very cool space.

We got there in the morning and slowly walked the length of it taking pictures. One of the most immediate and dramatic effects of the park’s design is how its long, converging lines match the vanishing perspective of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge which arches high overhead. The Pier Park lies just south of and almost underneath the monumental sweep of the bridge, but the 37 large swamp chestnut oak trees (Quercus bicolor) on the park’s upper boardwalk and the rich green lawn on its lower level offered a living contrast to the blue metal of the bridge and slate-colored water of the river. It’s a very comfortable space in an otherwise industrial setting.

Inga Saffron, architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, praised the “cozy new park” as a change in fortune for the city’s development efforts along the Delaware after “40-plus years of failure at Penn’s Landing”. The Race St. Pier Park was designed by landscape architect James Corner and his firm James Corner Field Operations, designers of the now famous High Line Park in Manhattan.

According to the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.’s own description of the park, mobile operator Clear is providing free 4G WiMax the entire length of the pier. That is an added but unnecessary incentive to spend time in Philadelphia’s freshest public space. I know that I’ll head over there now whenever I’m in Old City.

Doppler radar image originally posted by Badbirdz--Reloaded.com. Click image for animation.

What does spring migration look like? Until now I could only imagine it. I’ve often wondered where I could find up-to-date tracking information on bird migrations. Building a strategic network of bird alerts to subscribe to and read each day would be one method, of course. Recently though, I discovered not one but two birding blogs that present Doppler radar tracking of migrating flocks: Badbirdz–Reloaded, based in Florida, and Woodcreeper, which covers New Jersey. Their posts from the last few days — Feeling the Zugunruhe! [migration restlessness] and Migrants Just Making it into New Jersey offer animated Doppler radar images of birds on the move. Fascinating!

According to Badbirdz–Reloaded, both sites were inspired by Noel Wamer, a birder from Northeast Florida with a passion for tracking bird migrations using radar. Noel was apparently quite a personality, as a Woodcreeper tribute post to him from March 2007 attests.

If Noel taught these bloggers how to use radar to track birds then he has done a great service to everyone. Both sites extend that knowledge with pages for explaining how this is done. Badbirdz–Reloaded.com has a Birds and Radar Primer with several important links, including a New Jersey Audubon article How NEXRAD Sees the Atmosphere. Woodcreeper.com provides a Radar & Migration FAQ with a link to Radar Ornithology: Introduction  of the Clemson University Radar Ornithology Lab.

Although it seems to be a firmly established field, radar ornithology represents a whole new aspect of birding for me. It is exciting to discover a brand new aspect of hobby that you’ve been enjoying for some time. There is so much to read and learn. I better hurry though. The birds are coming and now I can see them.

What would be your favorite choice for a field/type of work other than the field of work you are currently in?

Answer here

There is a new event happening April 15 – 28 here in Philadelphia that aims to be an annual event. The first Philadelphia Science Festival will spotlight the long and esteemed history of science in the city and highlight the important role of science in Philadelphia’s current academic, economic, and cultural life.

ONE BIG CITY. TWO GREAT WEEKS. 120 FREE EVENTS.

For two weeks Philadelphia’s schools, universities, cultural institutions, and research centers will come together as a single, united voice to put science in the spotlight. Scientists and engineers throughout the city will present fun, interactive programs for Philadelphians of all ages.

The Philadelphia region has long been a birthplace of innovation and continues to be an incubator of countless breakthroughs across a variety of disciplines. Yet many are unaware of the fascinating scientific activity happening all around us. The Philadelphia Science Festival aims to remedy this by engaging all Philadelphians in the science that makes this city great. A unique collaboration among organizations of varying sizes and missions, this truly citywide event is fueled by the best scientific and educational resources this city has to offer.  [http://www.philasciencefestival.org/]

I’m sure there will be great activities for kids, but I’m hoping there will also be informative and thought-provoking events for adults as well. Philadelphia has an exceptional tradition in the sciences: from Ben Franklin’s experiments with electricity to ENIAC, from sponsored natural history research at the Academy of Natural Sciences to medical breakthroughs at the cities prestigious teaching and research hospitals.

While you are contemplating what events to attend, vote on a name for the official festival brew — a special Belgian-style ale crafted by the Yards Brewing Co.!

Name the Philadelphia Science Festival Beer!

To celebrate the Philadelphia Science Festival, Yards is brewing a special Belgian Strong Ale. Its first tapping will be at the Science Festival tap party on Friday, April 15. It will also be available at café events throughout the city, throughout the Festival.

CLICK HERE TO CAST YOUR VOTE

My suggestion was: Bartram’s Botanic Ale .  If that shows up in the list please vote it up!

This is a great idea for a festival and especially for a city like Philadelphia!

Releases from Philadelphia Science Festival Press Room

First Philadelphia Science Festival “experiments” with broad range of events this April. – March 9, 2011

Dow Helps Launch Philadelphia Science Festival in April through Presenting Sponsorship. – March 3, 2011

Philadelphia Science Festival Celebrates City’s Rich History of Invention, Innovation. – February 15, 2011

Philadelphia Science Festival will turn schoolyards, theaters – even a Major League ballpark – into hands-on laboratories for learning. – January 19, 2011

Philadelphia’s Museums, Cultural Institutions, Universities and Corporations Join Forces For Unprecedented Citywide Science Festival – September 27, 2010

Andean Condor, Ecuador's National Bird (Wikipedia Creative Commons photo)(Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Emilio de Prado)

The newest issue of the American Citizen Services newsletter out of the American Embassy in Quito, Ecuador is available. The lead article was a bit of a surprise. It highlights Ambassador Heather Hodges personal hobby — birding.

Ecuador is, of course, one of the best birding locations in the world with about 1,600 different species recorded there. I can personally vouch for the beauty of the mountains and the friendliness of all the people I met when I spent a week birding there.

Many people know and truly appreciate that birding is an excellent way to learn about a place, its landscape, infrastructure, ecology, and its people. Ambassador Hodges combines both work and pleasure when she goes birding and that is clearly her intent.

The Ambassador’s birding knowledge and her growing
interest in biodiversity and wildlife conservation have
made her welcome in Ecuador’s active environment and conservation circles. In late 2010, she brought together federal and municipal government officials, non-governmental organizations and private foundations to jointly work to secure land for a new national wildlife reserve that will help protect watersheds and rare bird species, including Ecuador’s national bird, the Andean Condor

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Green Jay, Laguna Atascosa NWR, TX

In January, my partner and I were on a birding vacation traveling between South Padre Island and McAllen/Bensen State Park, Tx. The first three days we enjoyed the beautiful, warm type of days we had planned on. After that, a dramatic cold front rolled in with temperatures in the low 40’s F (4.5 C) and winds gusting 20-30 mph (32-48 kph).

Nevertheless, the birding was good and we added a respectable number and selection of birds to our life lists — including, but not limited to:

    black-vented oriole (at the trailer park near Benson SP)
    neotropical parula (Estero Llano Grande SP)
    white-tailed kite & white-tailed hawk (Laguna Atascosa NWP)
    crimson-collared grosbeak (Pharr, Tx)
    vermillion flycatcher (McAllen, Tx)
    greater peewee (McAllen, Tx)
    common pauraque (in broad daylight and only 3 feet away! Estero Llano Grande SP)

and several others including, for me a long-sought southwest native, the roadrunner! (Don’t laugh, I’ve looked for these in Arizona, Nevada, and California to no avail. At Laguna Atascosa we watched a pair of them for ten minutes).

It was not the sunny, winter get-away that we had hoped for but it was very rewarding. I’ve posted some pictures in my Facebook photo album.

The attack took place in broad daylight and on the side of the street — on top of a car, in fact. And although the bystanders did not call 911, they did use their phones to take pictures! Even more amazing, the killer posed for them while standing over his victim. This happened on 8th St. between Chestnut and Market in Philadelphia. The killer was a red-tailed hawk. The victim, a pigeon. Luckily one of the spectators had a video camera and posted a really clear clip of the hawk standing over his lunch and acting unperturbed by all of the close-up attention.

This is an amazing scene but seeing raptors in Center City Philadelphia has become almost commonplace. Their are two kinds I’ve seen myself: red-tail hawks, Cooper’s hawk (in my own back yard and in Rittenhouse Square). There are also peregrine falcons – which sometimes even attack the hawks (see clip below).

Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Inga Saffron reports on the raptor situation in Philadelphia (good article): City’s New Pastime: Talon Shows.

Other videos:

Young hawk rescued after falcon attack
Hawk in a tree (with colorful commentary)
Rodent bites the dust in Rittenhouse Square
Pigeon loses its head – literally
Another lunch break in Rittenhouse Square

I think this is great, the raptors help keep the rodent and pigeon populations in check; however, dog walkers are advised to keep their Yorkies and Chihuahuas on very short leashes.

Spring is coming. Today the temperature in Philadelphia could rise to 70º F, the warmest day since last October. The sky now is blanketed in a cover of soft white clouds. There is a warm front rolling over us.

The clouds are nothing like the towering thunderheads typical of summer, though — not that I want to rush the change of seasons, but I like thunderstorms.

At their most intense thunderstorms are awe-inspiring, but even a modest storm is fascinating to watch. When I think of an ‘electrical storm’ I envision lots of lightening and the accompanying crack and rumble of thunder.

Although such weather can be very damaging locally, it is nothing compared to the invisible (unless you live at the poles) storm forecasted in a Space.com article titled: Catastrophe Looming: The Risk of Rising Solar Storm Activity. The havoc that a huge solar storm with accompanying coronal mass ejection could have might entail over $2 trillion and 10 years of recovery efforts.

Why dwell on such an apocalyptic scenario on such a pleasant pre-spring morning? Well — I read the article on a 3G-enabled iPad currently attached to a wifi network and a bluetooth keyboard. There is a Nexus One Android phone in my pocket, and I’ve already checked my email, Twitter, and Facebook accounts more than once today. Plus, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been following the news reports from the network-assisted uprisings in the Middle East with a lot of interest.

One big belch from the sun and all of those things I’ve come to associate with a Friday morning in a local (but globally connected) coffee shop would end — wiped out by very bad, invisible weather.

The point is not to fret over something that no one has control over and that may not happen in my life time (although it is quite possible that it will). The point is to appreciate the inter-connectedness that has been woven into our electrified modern lives — while we still have it.

Just a quick heads up to anyone with an interest in birdwatching or citizen science projects in general. Tomorrow is the start of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Anyone can make a contribution to this joint project sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithological, and Bird Studies of Canada.

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