For those of us who got used to seeing the chain-link fences and construction equipment surrounding City Hall and wondered how long it would be before we could actually walk through the west entrance again, with the opening of Dilworth Park we now can.
Dilworth Park is the latest incarnation of one of Philadelphia’s oldest public spaces, Center Square. That name is not commonly used today, but refers to one of the five original squares on the Philadelphia city plan laid out by William Penn back in 1683, the other four being Rittenhouse Square, Washington Square, Logan Circle (it’s square in shape, though) and Franklin Square. Center Square originally housed a pumping station and a park, and now its footprint is entirely covered by city hall.
The park itself, though, sits on the former site of Dilworth Plaza, which only came into being in the 1960s with the radical replanning of most of Center City. Since its controversial closing in 2012 which kicked out an Occupy Wall Street encampment, it has been a hole in the ground in front of City Hall, until just this Sept. 4.
This revitalization will be a boon for Center City and a game changer for the core of municipal buildings. It activates space through the inclusion of a cafe and entrances to the transit concourse, and will be a world-class public space at the heart of our city. The centerpiece is an interactive fountain and a public art display which lights up according to the movement of SEPTA subway trains and trolleys underneath the park.
Dilworth Park was funded entirely through the Center City District, a non-government organization much like the University City District, which pays for civic improvements, organizes events like Restaurant Week and Sips, and pays for services like street sweeping. (Fun fact: there is no municipal street sweeping in Philadelphia except on a very few major roads.) Dilworth Park proves that through private business improvement districts great things can be accomplished without unreliable government money, subject to the whims of Harrisburg lawmakers.
Drexel University is not a member of the Center City District, but we do have a member on the University City District board of directors. Though UCD has done a lot through public safety, street improvements like trees and waste bins and of course street sweeping, might it be time to do something more?
In fact, UCD has done a lot: The Porch at 30th Street Station, the revitalization and activation of Clark Park, and parklets (parks which occupy parallel parking spaces) throughout University City. On the drawing board? Revitalizing the 40th Street trolley station with a cafe and green space, and reimagining the 37th Street walkway between Market and Chestnut streets. UCD has spearheaded the redevelopment of University City, though with a lot of help from entities like Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania.
We at Drexel like to complain a lot about a lack of green space and mediocre public spaces, but the fact is that Drexel has contributed to a lot of them. They’re just not on campus or advertised as Drexel projects.