Upping The Ante At Hawthorne Park

 

Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

After having just returned from Barcelona, a forward-looking city that still exudes confidence even amidst severe economic crisis, I was having trouble traipsing down Washington Avenue. The weeds were too high and the litter was too thick; though the street was repaved only a few years ago, the pavement and sidewalks were deteriorated. Everything about the place was sloppy, slapdash, and ugly.

In the swelling heat I was feeling sour.

Done shopping for tile, which is what had brought us there, we were back on the all but completely faded bike lane, heading east, when I spotted the new bike signage. Center City that way; the Delaware River straight; and Hawthorne Park over there. Hawthorne Park, of course: it had officially opened while we were away. We had even run a short article on it when it opened, a follow-up to Angela Taurino’s excellent piece on the meanings of the park to a neighborhood putting itself back together. But how had a small neighborhood park made it onto the sign as a destination?

Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

I was riding with Harmon Zuckerman, an old Philadelphian, and a city planner, who most recently was in charge of the master plan for the Lake Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. As we were riding, Harmon was telling me about the urban walkability index–objectively subjective, he called it–when we followed the signs to Hawthorne Park at 12th and Catherine.

Immediately I understood why Fairmount Park officials had put the little park on the bike sign, and it wasn’t just to up Philadelphia’s “Walk Score.” Despite problems and delays in construction, this is the most thoughtfully designed, exquisitely executed new public space in the city, playful and progressive and yet solid (as the great granite slabs that define the spaces declare), dynamic, and smart. The park, which is completely enclosed by buildings, has the feel of an interior courtyard and so feels like a safe place for kids to play freely. Yet because of the general openness of the landscape and the network of paths, it’s a courtyard that extends out in every direction–embracing the city and raising it up all at once.

Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

The brilliant herringbone pattern brick path chosen by Lager Raabe Skafte Landscape Architects that runs southeast appears to shimmer in the late day sun; indeed they positioned the path to give visual depth to and dialogue with the massive Moorish revival Frank Palumbo Public School (formerly the Bartlett School and designed by Philly school architect Irwin T. Catharine) on the corner.

Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

The designers smartly used depth and changes in elevation to create many parks out of one small place; in doing so they separate uses–the large lawn for running around from passive benches for reading, tables for having coffee, sculptor Warren Holzman’s “Object for Expression” for both reflecting on the park’s history related to an appearance by Martin Luther King and for climbing and playing and simple lounge chairs for watching the clouds go by. Harmon and I were testing the Gehry-esque, bright orange lounge chairs when he wondered if they had been designed by a star designer. The label on the back read “Landscapeforms.”

“It should be ‘LandscapePerforms’,” he said, “I like that better,” and indeed in this case it was entirely true.

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 also senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine.



No Comments


Trackbacks

  1. Philadelphia 2035 - Page 44 - City-Data Forum
  2. Hawthorne King | Hidden City Philadelphia
  3. When Rising Sun Caught Fire | Hidden City Philadelphia
Recent Posts
Bid Process Reveals Uncertain Future For Delaware Power Station

Bid Process Reveals Uncertain Future For Delaware Power Station

October 30, 2014  |  Developing Challenges, News

Bids for purchase and redevelopment of the Delaware Power Station are due Monday at 5PM. What will they tell us about the monumental building's future? Ryan Briggs talks to some experts and considers the future of this part of the Delaware waterfront > more

The Case For Logan Square

The Case For Logan Square

October 30, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Why the current thinking about the Parkway’s transformation needs to be more ambitious, development anxiety in Powelton Village, Brickstone’s latest acquistions in Midtown, and Councilwoman gets her district office > more

Saying Goodbye To Stokes House

Saying Goodbye To Stokes House

October 29, 2014  |  News

The end is near for the Stokes house of Holme Circle. Despite efforts by a local civic association to save the 19th century stone farmhouse at 2976 Welsh Road, it will be razed any day now for new residential development. Hidden City co-editor Michael Bixler took a trip out to Holmesburg to bid the building a fond farewell > more

Getting A Pedestrian-Driven Main Street Right In Center City

Getting A Pedestrian-Driven Main Street Right In Center City

October 29, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Chestnut Walk as a new kind of Center City street, the multiplying effects of pop-up gardens, Penn to break ground on South Bank, and angry parents unleash on Walter Palmer > more

City For Families? Millennial Parents Say So

City For Families? Millennial Parents Say So

October 28, 2014  |  Vantage

If schools are a key to retaining families, what is Philadelphia to do? Quite a lot, says David Feldman, who takes us inside the parent and community-led movement to invest in ten public elementary schools > more

Philadelphia To Have Bus Shelters Replaced, Expanded

Philadelphia To Have Bus Shelters Replaced, Expanded

October 28, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Titan inks $52 million advertising deal with City, officials irked at Council’s unwillingness to sell PGW, a look back at Devil’s Pocket, and the resolve of one North Philly church to resist Temple U's encroachment > more