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New Benjamin Franklin Parkway Action Plan aims to improve pedestrian experience, connectivity

The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is one of Philadelphia’s most famous and beloved stretches of street.  And for good reason: aside from its name, which reminds us of one of Philly’s most admired citizens and America’s most important founders, the boulevard connects some of the most important arts and cultural institutions in the City.  
 
In an attempt to elevate its pedestrian experience and neighborhood amenities with its already high cultural offerings, the Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation, in conjunction with Penn Praxis and the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, is putting together an Action Plan to improve the Parkway's overall appeal.  
 
Between July 23-31, community meetings will be held to discuss improvements, programs, and projects that the public would like to see along the Parkway.  “Since we are just starting the planning process, we are very open to being informed by the process and by the public,” explained Patrick Morgan, Chief of Staff to Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mike DiBerardinis.  But with that said, Morgan notes than the Action Plan is being directed by a few guiding principles, placing emphasis on actionable items and projects that can be attained within the next few years.
 
And with Parks and Rec and Penn Praxis fueling this effort, expect real, tangible results to come from the process. “The great thing about this planning effort is that ideas that are generated out of it have a structure and core groups of leaders to help actually make them happen,” explains Morgan.    
 
According to Morgan, the Parks and Recreation Department has already been working on humanizing the pedestrian experience along the Parkway.  Improvements thus far have included better pedestrian crossings, new bike lanes, and new street trees.  Amenities, such as pop-up playspaces, new concessions, and bike rentals, have also recently been added.  And right smack-dab in the middle of the Parkway, Logan Square’s beautiful new Sister Cities Park offers a great model for what can be attained along the rest of the street. The Action Plan aims to compliment these successes, and take the Parkway’s pedestrian experience to new heights.  
 
The Action Plan will help bring definition to the Parkway’s main function, something that has been in a constant state of flux. Created in 1917, the Parkway is the City’s most prominent example of the City Beautiful Movement, an early 1900s urban planning idea that aimed to introduce open spaces, boulevards, and greenery into American cities, places seen as dingy, dirty, and crowded at the time.  The Parkway was originally modeled after the Champs d’Elysees but has instead become the center of some of Philly’s most important arts and cultural institutions.
 
This contrast explains why the Parkway has struggled to define itself.  Is it an open space first, an against-the-grain thoroughfare meant to get from Point A to B, a tourist mecca for art lovers, an active urban Parkway?  Pedestrian and connectivity improvements are a must in any urban environment; this is a given.  And its great the Action Plan aims to improve these features.  But what is the Parkway’s central function, and how flexible is it going to be to achieve that end?  This needs to be the first question answered during the Plan’s community outreach process so that any improvement or programmable amenity that is implemented goes towards an overarching purpose in defining the Parkway’s future.
 
To attend one of these meetings and make your opinions heard, RSVP to Praxis@design.upenn.edu.  All meetings run from 6:30-8:30, with registration beginning at 6:00.  The first meeting was already held on Monday, July 23 at the Francisville Recreation Center.  But don’t fret, three additional meeting will be held over the next week.  For questions on the locations, contact Penn Project for Civic Engagement at 215-898-1112.       

Source: Mike DiBerardinis, Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation
Writer: Greg Meckstroth
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