Philadelphia 2035 Supports Development of Reading Viaduct Park

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 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.

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.

Celebrating Science in Philadelphia

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.


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.  []

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.


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

Slaughter on the Street: Philly Raptor Makes it to YouTube

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.

Bad Weather That You Won’t See

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 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.

First 100 Feet for Green


One of Philadelphia’s greatest assets is it’s Delaware River waterfront. It is a real shame that the city does not seem to know how to use it. The Penn’s Landing amphitheater and festival area were steps in the right direction but they come across as rather half-hearted, neglected, and now out-dated. During Mayor Street’s administration there were plans for a retail mall, an outlet-type mall no less, which fell through — luckily. The festival area was even closed for several years and the cultural celebrations which took place there each summer were re-located to a pier further north then to a huge, ugly parking lot at Broad and Washington.

That nightmare seems to be over and Penn’s Landing is now being used again by Philadelphians for summer fun. Even the fountains have been filled with water – such extravagance! But, seriously, Philadelphia should be ashamed that it has squandered this potentially awesome space.

Now it seems something sensible has happened which could lead to environmentally responsible and asthetically appealing development. Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Jeff Shields reports that the Philadelphia City Council passed a bill to require 100-foot setback from the river for green space. Developers, of course, are ticked off and claim it will hinder development. Well, what has passed for development/plans for development over the last 20 years has sucked. Now, any future plans must respect the uniqueness of the waterfront and its value in the civic life of the city. This is one little ground rule, but an essential beginning, in responsible, world-class civic space development for the city of Philadelphia.

Sprouting everywhere like mushrooms – Trash Compactors

Rittenhouse Square Trash Muncher
Rittenhouse Square Trash Muncher

Last July I blogged about a small test the city of Philadelphia was running with 3 solar-powered trash compactors ( Solar-powered Trashcan Test ). Cool idea, I thought, but I did not hear anything else about them. Then over the last three weeks I’ve started seeing them everywhere. Even better — they are now paired up with recycling bins. Clearly, I missed this article on May 1 on Hot idea: Solar-powered trash crushers. There will be 500 of these “Big Bellies”, as they are called, distributed around Center City. 210 will be paired with recycling bins (see picture above).

This is great news for a city that has long been plagued by litter. I’ve come to realize that most (okay, many) Philadelphians will use a waste basket. In truth, the 700 wire baskets with plastic liners that are being replaced were really a  main part of the litter problem. Those baskets were often overflowing, and since they had no tops the wind would often pluck light stuff out of them and spread it down the streets. Sometimes a strong gust would completely lift the liner out of the mesh basket and dump everything out. Yet now, nothing will escape the ‘big bellies’ once they have a hold of it, and compactors offer a lot of advantages for a cash-strapped city hoping to clean up its act:

The compactors require fewer collections, which saves the city on fuel for sanitation vehicles and frees up workers for other tasks, officials said.

They also hold up to 200 gallons of trash, compared with the 55-gallon capacity of a regular wire trash basket.

Because of that capacity they require five weekly collections, compared with the 19 for a regular trash basket. That means only eight workers will be assigned to collect litter baskets, compared with the current 33, said Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson. (

The presence of the recycle bins in high traffic areas, like Rittenhouse Square, will also serve to remind and encourage folks to do just that — recycle. It is easier to do when it is made so convenient.

Former Mayor (and current PA Governor) Ed Rendell made huge strides in rejuvenating Philadelphia. I moved to the city the year before he was elected and I saw the progress first-hand. Now, current Mayor Michael Nutter seems ready to take it to the next level.

See also:
Philly Brings on the Big Bellies
Philadelphia Begins Rollout…
Solar Trash Compactor Firm BigBelly Raises $3.2 M

The Franklin Institute’s Red Tail

(Photo copyrighted by Derek Ram 2007, GNU Free Documentation Lic., posted to Wikipedia)

Two red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) set up housekeeping on the side of Philadelphia’s science museum – The Franklin Institute. Staff members have installed a web cam so that anyone can follow the pair’s efforts to raise their three, very recently hatched, chicks. There is no artificial lighting so you’ll need to watch during daylight hours (Eastern Daylight Time).

Also recently hatched are three bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) chicks in Sidney, British Columbia. This nest can be seen on the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, a site for streaming wildlife cams.

Depression in a Café

Suppenküche Chicago (1931)
Suppenküche Chicago (1931)

Financial depression, that is. I’m sitting at LaVa on 21st and South St. reading an issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel from Sept. 29, 2008. The picture above is of a Great Depression food line. On the window are the words ‘free soup’. The white banner above the door says in part: ‘Free Coffee & Doughnuts For The Unemployed.’ The caption reads: Suppenküche in Chicago (1931): Geschichte wiederholt sich nicht. And it is true, history does not repeat itself, esp. if we pay attention. So many things are dramatically different — the interconnectedness of the world, the uniqueness of having the first African-American president, the experience of looking at pictures like this which warn and motivate. Some things do remain — the emotions that arise in the face of an highly uncertain future.

(This post was made from G1 phone using wpToGo free software)

Contemplating Loss of Green Friends

Although it is overcast today the weather is very pleasant. There is the slightest breath of a breeze and the temperature is a comfortable 64F (17.8C). What a great day to be having coffee on the deck!

The cats are out too. Fleck is doing that funny chattering thing that cats do when they see pigeons. Kai, the hyper-alert one, is scanning everything around him like a radar scope. Since the deck is 10ft high and has no stairs to the garden, it is essentially a giant outdoor play pen for them and they love it. I’m enjoying it quite a bit myself, but as I look at the garden below and imagine how it will be greening up soon, I notice that our largest hemlock is not well.

The graceful thirty foot tall tree, one of an original four, is dying. The hemlock at the back wall died last year. This one nearer the deck will die this year–next year at the latest. Its normal dark green needles have been yellowing and thinning out since last fall. I knew it was likely to happen, although I vainly hoped that our garden in Center City Philadelphia was isolated enough that the woolly adelgids would not find it. Clearly, there is no where for hemlocks to hide from this insect. It has been killing them everywhere and will probably wipe them out much like the chestnut blight wiped out mature American chestnuts from 1904 to 1940.

Worse than contemplating the loss of our garden trees is the thought of the changes this introduced pest is causing to the forests near Asheville, NC where I grew up. A recent article in Science Daily reports that the dying is progressing faster there than previously thought. I saw signs of it myself last September when I visited the area.

We will replace the dead hemlocks in our garden with something else. I wonder what will take the place of the ones in the coves of the southern Appalachians. Something will, as oaks replaced chestnuts, and spring will still come, but saying good-bye to the hemlocks is still not an easy thing to do.