Blunt Needle

The opening of Penn Park–the University of Pennsylvania’s new athletic complex, accessible to the general public–marks a new era in Philadelphia. Think of it as the first stitch in a long-anticipated seam joining Center City and University City. Having anxiously awaited the opening of the park, as a Penn student and now as an alumna, it seemed like construction workers were on a never-ending mission to move giant piles of dirt from one part of the demolished parking lot to another. Two years later, it was not without reason: Penn Park is a first-rate collegiate athletic complex that also offers visitors magnificent views of Center City.

But how exactly will this epic landscape be experienced by the “non-affiliated?”

Photo: Lauren Drapala.

Entering the park from the south is somewhat like stepping through the rabbit hole, traversing over three rail lines (Amtrak, CSX and SEPTA) in an axial, covered bridge with windows into the skyline of Center City. Crossing through the other side, Franklin Field now stands monumental over the new tennis, softball and soccer fields around its base. Despite the proximity of the rail lines and the Schuylkill expressway, the atmosphere is serene, brightened by the reflections of the gleaming skyline. While struck by the composition, I never stop moving. Indeed, the area is a flurry with teams practicing–Penn’s logo is branded at every turn–and I stick closely to the newly paved asphalt that clearly marks where I will turn next. There are not many options, either in asphalt or turf.

 

Photo: Lauren Drapala.

Penn makes no pretenses about what this park is about: an athletic complex for the university. While it would’ve been easier for the school to close the area as part of its private campus, President Gutmann wanted the park to be “an essential part of welcoming people not affiliated with the university into West Philadelphia.” But how, exactly? The areas of the park not specifically designated for athletics are expanses of turf, with little seating or landscaping to invite visitors to linger. Then again, that’s not really the point, is it? This is not a city park, and, in fact, Penn raised an impressive $46 million to build it without any assistance from the City of Philadelphia.

In this uncharted territory, it is hard to imagine how this park will integrate into the daily life of the city. In that sense, it is disappointing, raising questions about the manner of the University’s engagement with the city. It is a vibrant extension of the campus, perfectly situated in the city, and will be a heavily utilized athletic facility. Should we then merely conclude that where Penn goes, so goes the city? Or, as the University continues to push east, threading the seam, might we hope for a more nuanced needle?

Photo: Lauren Drapala.

About the author

Lauren Drapala works as an architectural conservator at the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust. Since moving to Philadelphia in 2008 to earn her Masters in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania, she has been mesmerized by the wealth of architectural resources throughout the city and its surrounding districts. Continuing the research she began in her graduate work, Lauren is currently authoring a book about the 20th century interiors and decorative screens of Robert Winthrop Chanler. Learn more about this project at http://robertwinthropchanler.tumblr.com/.



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Digging Up Vine Street In Search Of Old Skid Row

Digging Up Vine Street In Search Of Old Skid Row

April 26, 2017  |  Vantage

Public health scholar Steve Metraux exhumes the heart of Philadelphia's Skid Row, buried under the Vine Street Expressway by the hands of urban renewal. > more

Khmer Monastery In Kingsessing Enlightens The Schuylkill

Khmer Monastery In Kingsessing Enlightens The Schuylkill

April 24, 2017  |  Vantage

Dan Papa celebrates the Cambodian New Year with a look at the Wat Khmer Palelai Buddhist temple under construction in Southwest Philly > more

How Franklin’s Grave Became A Monument And Philadelphians Were Persuaded To Like It

How Franklin’s Grave Became A Monument And Philadelphians Were Persuaded To Like It

April 19, 2017  |  Vantage

Nearly 70 years after Benjamin Franklin’s death, public outcry demanding honor for the Founding Father transformed a battered, overgrown gravesite into a popular tourist destination. But the real story isn't at all what we've been told. Join Mark Dixon as he uncovers truth and public deception behind the hole in the wall at Benjamin Franklin's grave > more

A Powerhouse Of Footwork And Fitness On Delaware Ave

A Powerhouse Of Footwork And Fitness On Delaware Ave

April 18, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

On the outskirts of Fishtown, a dance club and rock climbing gym keep spirits high inside an old 19th century trolley car power station > more

Engineering & Architecture Ride The Rails At Athenaeum

Engineering & Architecture Ride The Rails At Athenaeum

April 15, 2017  |  Vantage

An exhibition at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia illuminates the history of railroad architecture through drawings, photographs, and more. Michael Bixler has the review > more

Ghost Station At Art Museum Rises From The Dead

Ghost Station At Art Museum Rises From The Dead

April 13, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. walks us through the origins of the mothballed "Art Museum Station," now being renovated at the PMA, and one man's visionary plan for mass transit in Philly that never came to be > more