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
Op-ed: Balance Lost Buildings With Those Saved In 2018

Op-ed: Balance Lost Buildings With Those Saved In 2018

January 15, 2019  |  Soapbox

Paul Steinke of the Preservation Alliance offers a counterpoint to our Lost Buildings of 2018 list with this opinion piece > more

Jefferson Makes Room For Modernism With New Preservation Program

Jefferson Makes Room For Modernism With New Preservation Program

January 4, 2019  |  News

Jefferson University brings Modernist architecture to the forefront with their new historic preservation program and center for studies. Michael Bixler has the news > more

House Museum In North Philly Plans Monument For Former Slave

House Museum In North Philly Plans Monument For Former Slave

January 3, 2019  |  Vantage

Stenton, the former plantation house in Logan, prepares to honor Dinah with their new project, Inequality in Bronze. Keshler Thibert has the details > more

Lost Buildings of 2018

Lost Buildings of 2018

December 27, 2018  |  News

Philadelphia's preservation crisis reached a critical high in 2018 with a record-breaking number of demolition permits approved by the City. Here we highlight some of the biggest loses to our built environment in our annual end-of-year list > more

Having A Good One This Holiday Season In Philadelphia

Having A Good One This Holiday Season In Philadelphia

December 21, 2018  |  Last Light

Seasons Greetings from Hidden City! Michael Bixler dives deep into the archives and brings back a bounty of Philly holiday cheer > more

Best Architecture, Urban Design, & Public Art Of 2018

Best Architecture, Urban Design, & Public Art Of 2018

December 20, 2018  |  Vantage

It was a banner year for architecture, art, adaptive reuse, and design. JoAnn Greco shines a light on Philly's best projects of 2018 > more