Center City District and Urban Engineers are transforming Philadelphia’s abandoned Reading Railroad Viaduct into a unique elevated park.
Spurred by the success of Manhattan’s High Line Park, Center City District (CCD) aims to repurpose the Reading Railroad Viaduct in Philadelphia, which was last used in 1984, into a green, civic space. CCD began evaluating options for the viaduct in 2010, working in partnership with the community-based Reading Viaduct Project, the City’s Commerce Department, and the Department of Parks & Recreation. Although the viaduct’s steel structures, elevated filled areas, and arched masonry bridges have become blighted from years of neglect, they still offer spectacular views of the Philadelphia skyline, Center City, and surrounding neighborhoods.
CCD was drawn to the project in part because it has the potential to spur residential and light commercial development in the expanding communities of Center City and Chinatown. With 32% of the land in the area around the Viaduct still vacant and undeveloped, the opportunity exists to create a unique, mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood like none other in Center City.
Urban conducted a concept design study, in partnership with Studio| Bryan Hanes, community stakeholders, and the City’s Commerce Department and Department of Parks & Recreation. The study focused only on the SEPTA-owned spur. It began with a neighborhood meeting in the fall of 2011 to discuss community preferences and aspirations for the Viaduct. In January 2012, Urban and the design team presented multiple design options at a community meeting with residents, property owners, and area businesses. The community participants strongly favored making the park an informal, leafy green space with plenty of grass and flowering plants, and with room to walk and sit. They wanted the park to retain its industrial origins, while still meeting modern safety, code, and access requirements.
In early March 2012, Urban and the design team, incorporating the preferences cited by community participants, presented renderings of a new public park on the SEPTA spur. The design called for entrances to the Viaduct on North Broad Street at Noble Street, at 13th Street and Noble, and on Callowhill Street between 11th and 12th Streets. The response from the community was enthusiastic, resulting in the selection of a preferred schematic design alternative.
CCD’s vision and our design will turn a dilapidated quarter-mile portion of the Reading Viaduct into a vibrant green park with walking paths, landscaping, lighting, and seating and gathering spaces. SEPTA is leasing this portion of the Viaduct to the CCD for renovation purposes. Upon completion, the CCD will turn the completed project over to the City of Philadelphia, which will own the park and maintain it in a partnership between the Department of Parks & Recreation, the Friends of the Rail Park, and the CCD. The bridge structures will be maintained by the Streets Department. The portion of Noble Street between Broad and 13th Street is owned by the City of Philadelphia.
The new 25,000-square-foot linear park will provide a much-needed green amenity to the Callowhill neighborhood and support the expansion of both Chinatown and the thriving, mixed-use neighborhood on the expanding edge of Center City.