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Penn Park opens as a sustainable gateway between University and Center Cities

Last week, the University of Pennsylvania made an effort to bridge the gap between itself and Center City by opening a newly-constructed 24-acre park. Penn Park, which combines a former postal service parking lot with university property, is bounded by Walnut and South Sts. to the north and south, and rail tracks to the east and west.

One of Penn Park’s most notable qualities is the opportunities it provides for pedestrian connection to Center City. According to Anne Papageorge, Penn’s Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services, the park is "knit together" by three pedestrian bridges. One bridge connects the park with Walnut St. just past the Schuylkill River, while another bridge enables pedestrians going to or coming from downtown to access the park from the South St. bridge.

Another of Penn Park’s accomplishments is that it transformed a parking lot into something sustainable. Papageorge was proud to list some of the park’s environmentally friendly components, including "cisterns, energy efficient lighting, and native plants." What this means is that 548 local trees were planted in the park, all of which can be irrigated using recycled rainwater from cisterns. Also, energy-efficient lighting should save the park 300,000 watts of energy per hour. 

Penn Park is expected to become a pivotal part of Penn’s athletic system. The park is graced by three multipurpose NCAA-worthy fields, including one that seats 470 spectators, as well as 12 tennis courts, which can accommodate another 200 sports fans. Steve Bilsky, Director of Athletics at the university, believes the park is a leap forward for athletics. "Because it's a park, more and more people will visit the athletic facilities," says Bilsky. He adds that it will be a worthwhile, albeit contemporary, addition to the famed Palestra and Franklin Field.

The park cost $46.5 million, paid for by the university and donors, and created 233 local jobs. Penn celebrated the park’s opening last Thursday by offering everyone a free picnic with hotdogs and soda and setting off fireworks at dusk. Onlookers on the Walnut St. bridge were treated to an up-close showing of the fireworks, which were set off from a parking lot below. In keeping with the theme of connecting with Center City, the fireworks were also clearly visible from the Schuylkill River Trail.
Source: Anne Papageorge, University of Pennsylvania
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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