With New Penn’s Landing Plan, A Central Park

June 12, 2017 | by Nathaniel Popkin


Penn’s Landing, INHP in context. | Image: DRWC

Someday, it seems all but certain now, the Broad Street Subway will be extended to the Navy Yard (only a century ago shipbuilding workers demanded it); the rail yard at 30th Street Station will be developed (proposed in the 1950s); next train and bus information will be available to SEPTA riders (as it is for most transit riders around the world); the Phillies will win three games in a row (well…)

No, I meant it: persistence is catching up to vision in 2017 Philadelphia. Long-imagined and seemingly impossible projects are underway, from the construction of the Viaduct Rail Park to the restoration of the Metropolitan Opera House. And now, Penn’s Landing.

On Friday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and Janet Haas, the board chair of the William Penn Foundation, along with officials of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, announced that all but $10 million in funding had been committed for a $225 million plan to reconnect the central waterfront at Penn’s Landing to the street grid of Old City and Society Hill. While the plan falls short of the dream of removing I-95 from the center of Philadelphia, it effectively gives the city an eight-block-long central linear park that will extend from 6th Street to the Delaware River. And it explicitly sets aside the block between Chestnut and Market Streets along the waterfront for a high density neighborhood the new Penn’s Landing park will need to be successful. Advocates of the project estimate, conservatively, an additional $1.6 billion in tax revenue from the private real estate development that should follow the $225 million public investment.

Construction seems likely to begin in 2020.

The project will include an extension of the South Street pedestrian bridge over Columbus Boulevard; a two-mile long protected bicycle path; and reconstruction of the Delaware River tidal basin and marina at Spruce Street, now the home of the popular Spruce Street Harbor Park.

Penn’s Landing at night. | Image: DRWC

But the heart of the plan is a four-acre cap over I-95 and Columbus Boulevard between Walnut and Chestnut Streets that will include gardens, a cafe, a spray park/ice skating rink, and the Irish famine and Scottish immigration memorial sculptures and total replacement of the eight-acre, stone terrace Penn’s Landing with a wide waterfront lawn. Hargreaves Associates, a landscape architecture firm, which completed similar projects in Louisville, Chattanooga, and San Diego, has furnished the deceptively simple design.

The cap over I-95 and Columbus Boulevard is the key connector between the city and the riverfront. Much has been said over the years about the necessity of this single intervention that will, at least in this one critical spot, stitch the city back to its origin and its historic life-blood, the Delaware River. But I’m equally hopeful that the new park will invigorate and realign (in the urban imagination at least) the experience of Independence National Historical Park. Beyond the long-ago closed path through the arches of Independence Hall, the INHP has never quite fit into the daily rhythms of Philadelphians. Because of that, most of the small gardens and pastoral lawns are empty despite a substantial increase in tourists to the park’s major historical sites and the landscape in key areas is poorly maintained (the jewel of American heritage is obscured by tall weeds).

The new Penn’s Landing may correct even this Philadelphia white elephant, but particularly if planners and INHP officials collaborate. With improved crossings at 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd Streets, the everyday Philadelphians might discover the delight of a central park, much of which has been sitting there awaiting them for more than fifty years.

Penn’s Landing. | Images: DRWC


About the Author

Nathaniel Popkin Hidden City Daily co-founder Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is To Reach the Spring: From Complicity to Consciousness in the Age of Eco-Crisis.


  1. Davis says:

    A very hopeful sign, Mr Popkin.

    1. En B says:

      Does this mean we’ll lose SSHP? Think plan is a huge improvement but it seems too sterile.

      1. Kas says:

        Hard to know for sure but based on the renderings I don’t think so… if you look at the very first large aerial view you can see the Hilton hotel and the marina still there just south of the hotel. The renderings in the slideshow look like the Penn’s Landing area so summer SSHP seems mostly untouched but the Winterfest area as we know it would go away (ice rink remains). Would be awesome if they keep the cabins/firepits longterm once the new design is built, though!

  2. MickR says:

    Wow this is great. A “central park” – yes, I was just thinking this myself the other day when going up to Belmont for the Parks on Tap – this is so far away I wish we had a big piece of nature in CC. Getting the feel as close to the natural areas of Grant Park (CHI) would be ideal for my tastes; I love that parks grassy, cool meanderings. Why is nothing shown on the quayside though? Looks really dull just having a bulkhead like that. No docks, boats, piers, nothing? I see the protected cove area, but the main bulkhead looks really plain and lonely. Also, for arch/design visualization nerds out there, I like the simple and informative renderings.

  3. Tim says:

    I think your point about including a residential area is key. The thing about Central Park, is, it’s central. If this thing just hangs out on the edge of the city as a park without residential and some commercial aspect to it, it’ll be a ghost land.

  4. bob crapster says:

    sure that makes sense to spend $225 million for a relatively small park, built over a freeway, when we have raw sewage dumping into the Delaware and Schuylkill every time it rains, because of our antiquated sewer system.

    and hey yes let’s spend $20 million of taxpayer funds to help Dranoff build a 47-story condo building on the empty lots across from the Kimmel Center (301-13 s broad st), which currently include a closed-off public right-of-way and a giant hole in the ground.

    way better location for a park, and a whole lot cheaper.

    how much of hat $225 million will be labor? 75%? 85%?

    1. PhillyFart says:

      Hey Bob, don’t you think the residents, and associated taxes of those residents, real estate sales/leases, property taxes of a 47 story building will quickly nullify the initial investment of $20m? It certainly will generate a lot more revenue for the city than a park 3 blocks from our City hall, which in and of itself is a hard-surface park, directly across the street from JFK plaza, which will be mostly green space when it’s completed.

      And I think most people would completely disagree that Penn’s Landing isn’t a good place for a park. It currently draws large numbers of people, IN SPITE of the fact that it is a concrete skeleton with sparse water-front access.

      You’re right about our sewer system needing updating away from mixed service, but those funds come out of different pockets.

      1. bob crapster says:

        Oh sure, we can’t do it. We can’t build a catchment system. Even though Atlanta, Chicago and DC have all done so.

        Have fun watching turds float by from your new park.

  5. Slick says:

    Great. Cap and park-ify the Vine St Expressway too and you’ve really made some moves.

  6. JB says:

    Baby steps, friends. This is amazing news for Philadelphia and only logical that a city embrace its waterfront. Look at the 3 months per year that Spruce Street Harbor Park exists: it’s pulsating with activity and life and excitement. This new highway-cap-cum-park will be just as wonderful.

    As for it being a “central” park, it will still be a bit of a trek for some Philadelphians to access, but a quick hop on the Market-Frankford Line will help. MY personal vision for a truly CENTRAL Philadelphia park would be to eliminate all traffic from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and make it one giant pedestrian promenade from City Hall to the Art Museum. Pie-in-the-sky, maybe, but hey, who would have thought we’d see people lounging by the Delaware River?

  7. MJ says:

    I’ve seen this rendering before, and the one thing that stands out is the lack of the Independence Seaport Museum. Does anyone know if the overall plan has details on the museum’s future? I see what looks like the U.S.S Olympia docked next to the current site of the museum, but that’s about it.

  8. BD says:

    Always love to see any thought process which takes back the waterfront. As both a Philly native and an avid seaman, connection to the water is my mainstay. I’d love to see more allowance for on water activities which can activate life ‘on the edge’. It doesn’t always have to be a marina, and tons of slips – but it also shouldn’t be ‘no docking allowed’ on a shear ‘steel bulkhead seawall with steel cap and handrail’.
    Additionally, whether residential sites or not… focus sites within the park are key, and space allows more than just ‘monuments’. A nice terrace restaurant, some retail kiosks, a small lively ‘event’ bar/lounge, can really make a ‘park’ a space for all comers.
    …and, but some cameras and keep the lighting down. Let’s see if we can look at the stars once in a great while.

  9. Stephen Lex says:

    Maybe they can build the Tun Tavern on it’s orginal spot to honor the beginning of the Marine Corp.

    1. En B says:

      It was open once to public forever ago. Fascinating

  10. charles says:

    Is any one else concerned that they are basically selling off part of Penns landing to hotels and apartment buildings and then capping 95 to get the space lost back?

    I am already ashamed of the French Fry stands that popped a while ago.
    Other citys have nice parks and they don’t resort to turning everything into a shopping plaza.

    1. Rob says:

      People like food stands. Spruce Harbor is basically a boardwalk without a beach (but with water view). And it’s more popular than any other Philly park. We should build another one on the Schuylkill.

  11. Also Davis says:

    Nothing great really gets planned in Philadelphia, and this doesn’t look all that great. It still has all those brutalist multiple levels that make Penn’s Landing so hard to negotiate now. And exactly why does it have to have private luxury real estate in the middle of it? What happened to issuing bonds for public works? Who will keep dogs off of this lawn? Why isn’t it all sand, for instance? Why doesn’t it have an actual amphitheater with natural acoustics? So little imagination went into this, its just a pathetic sop to real-estate developers and the public. NO.

    1. PhillyFart says:

      Who will keep dogs off this lawn? Nobody, it’s a public park.

      Why isn’t it sand, for instance? Why WOULD it be sand?

      1. anaid says:

        Sounds like it was written by a cat with access to a computer. “No dogs!” “sand in the park” — “Moar mice” got cut off before sent when the owner came home and he had to close the laptop.

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