The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is one of Philadelphia’s most critical arteries. The mile-long stretch of road, lined with flags from 90 countries from around the world, connects some of the most visible civic and cultural centers of the city.
But despite nearly $20 million worth of investments over the past decade, the Parkway remains little more than a pleasant-looking conduit used to get from point A to point B.
However, the city has begun work to change this. The Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation, along with two arms of the University of Pennsylvania, have begun work to transform the Parkway and turn into a regional attraction, rather than just another one of the city’s corridors. In charge are PennPraxis, the research arm of UPenn’s School of Design, and the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, a program at the university’s School of Education.
The first step, though, is hearing from actual Philadelphians.
Over the next two weeks, four community meetings will be held in and around the Fairmount section of Philadelphia — including one at Next American City’s Storefront for Urban Innovation in Brewerytown — to gain input from residents about what they’d like to see the thoroughfare become.
Harris Steinberg, founding executive director of PennPraxis, said that residents will be asked what they currently use the Parkway for, possible amenities that they would like to see added, and finally what they view are some potential barriers to their suggestions becoming a reality.
According to Steinberg, the focus of these projects will not be to create a new series of large-scale, long-term commercial developments. Instead, “[PennPraxis] is aiming for ‘quick hits’ to make the pedestrian experience along the Parkway more user-friendly.”
Steinberg said a potential model for the Parkway is Franklin Square, a public park across the city that, in the last five years or so, has been transformed from a barren urban wasteland into a thriving public space, replete with small-scale commercial amenities like a miniature golf course and carousel.
While Steinberg said the entire process is still in its infancy, the civic engagement meetings are a critical part of the Parkway’s redevelopment.
“The civic values that are put forth at these public meetings form the foundational principles for the recommendation we make at the end of the calendar year,” Steinberg said.
All meetings will run from 6pm to 8pm. The first is scheduled for Monday, July 23 at the Francisville Recreation Center at 1737 Francis St. The final meeting will be on Tuesday, July 31 at Next American City’s offices at 2816 West Girard Avenue.
For questions, contact Penn Project for Civic Engagement at 215-898-1112. To RSVP, email Praxis@design.upenn.edu.