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ANALYSIS: Along Schuylkill, improving quality of life means delivering on the details

Much has been said about major infrastructural changes recently undertaken around the Schuylkill River, University City, and surrounding environs.  Recent projects such as the new Grays Ferry Crescent Park, the Porch at 30th Street, continued trail connections along the Schuylkill Banks, and the Walnut Street Bridge Enhancement have made dramatic improvements, in very big ways, towards better physically and emotionally connecting Center City to its westerly neighbors.  The Atlantic Cities has taken notice, recently praising the Philly for its efforts at the Porch, taking space previously promised to automobiles and turning it over to pedestrians. 

With major projects funded, the City is now hammering out the details along the river to improve aesthetics and overall quality of life.  A recent example comes to us from the Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC) and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, who plan to landscape the west side embankment of the Schuylkill River along I-76 between Chestnut and Market Streets.

Improving quality of life is the name of the game for this development.  “The traffic on I-76 produces an audible and visual intrusion on Schuylkill Banks. This is especially true in the area of Market Street. The hope is that this would alleviate some of the noise and partially hide the traffic,” explains Lane Fike, Director of Capital Programs with SRDC.  “The area from Market to Chestnut has a concrete slab that offers an opportunity to install planters and screening.”

The group’s plan goes beyond screenings and plantings though, and includes sustainability and beautification measures such as green roofs and green wall features, planters with native trees, shrubs and meadow grasses and walls for climbing vines.  SRDC hopes these improvements will create a more pleasant vista and experience from the Schuylkill Banks across the river while creating a new habitat for migratory birds and other urban wildlife.     

While not as glamorous as the recent major moves, and likely not worthy of the Atlantic Cities’ attention, this smaller ticket item, and others like it, stand to have a big impact for the people who actually use the river corridor on a daily basis: residents.     

On a broader scale, small moves like this mean a lot, especially when you take a step back and look at how public spaces represent the city they reside in.  Finessing the details not only shows a desire to improve quality of life, but implementing excellence to the last detail shows the value system of a city, something Philadelphians should be proud that our civic leaders are rightfully expressing along the Schuylkill River.

A start date for the project has yet to be determined, but state funding is already lined up and Pennoni Associates is already developing schemes and putting together designs to meet expectations.  Once underway, construction should take about 3 months to complete. 

According to Fike, expect similar, smaller scaled improvements along the river in months and years to come.  “If the project proves to be successful, other areas along I-76 could be considered for treatment. However, because of varied existing conditions, treatments other than planters and screening may have to be investigated.” 

Source: Lane Fike, Schuylkill River Developmet Corporation
Writer: Greg Meckstroth
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