Shovel Ready?

Photo: Peter Woodall

Martin Filler, writing on the New York Review blog, says that with the completion of phase 2, “the High Line feels wholly consistent and yet never repetitive throughout its entire mile-and-a-half length.” This has something to do, he says, with having both a holistic vision and the desire to variegate experience.

Proper sequencing is therefore critical, a point already being revealed in the fledgling Reading Viaduct project. In this age of shrunken finances, how to initiate (and implement) an ambitious vision? Taking the Race Street Pier as a cue, city officials want to think small first, raise excitement, and, in time, achieve broad transformation.

Don’t we often wish this city would seize the moment?

A phase one would begin design for a portion of the City Branch of the elevated railway–owned by SEPTA and therefore simpler to acquire–the sideways “r” that runs from Broad and Noble to Callowhill Street. Indications are that process is underway.

Photo: Peter Woodalll

The strategy makes perfect sense. As one project observer noted to me, this is the only part of the proposed 3 mile park to which the city has–or ever will have–certain access. And building a park in that section will have immediate impact on a the Callowhill neighborhood, a place on the cusp.

But starting here will have consequences. Primary of these is that by developing here first it precludes using this most accessible section for staging and construction equipment, and according to Paul VanMeter of Viaduct Greene, it will raise the overall cost of the project considerably. VanMeter would like to see an international design competition first, anyway, and a holistic vision emerge before investing in finished design for a particular section. And after that? “Construction-wise, I think I’d start at Broad Street and go West,” says VanMeter. “Build something splashy on the West side of Broad St at the Inquirer Building and behind the Rodin.”

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. Popkin's literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, and The Millions. He is writer-in-residence of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.



1 Comment


  1. also from the outstanding and inspiring Martin Filler piece…

    “David and Hammond’s High Line is above all an inspiring case study of how major city planning initiatives can be realized without either the authoritarian methods of Robert Moses—New York’s mid-twentieth-century public works czar, whose pursuit of vast infrastructure and urban clearance projects often ran roughshod over democratic procedures and working-class neighborhoods—or today’s characteristic commercially driven redevelopment schemes.”

    seems the Philadelphia of today has a Robert Moses of sorts:
    http://www.citypaper.net/news/2011-10-06-paul-levy-center-city-district-philadelphia.html

    it would be a shame to see ‘politics,’ unravel good and welcome momentum.

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