Race St Pier Park

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.

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