How the Rail Park's planners are building an inclusive community space - Generocity Philly

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Feb. 9, 2018 12:15 pm

How the Rail Park’s planners are building an inclusive community space

Phase 1 of the Callowhill project will be completed in the next month, and more public engagement is on the way: "Our interest is in creating a park for all Philadelphians."

The Rail Park.

(Courtesy photo)

Phase 1 of the Rail Park, the long-anticipated, city-controlled park that will stretch across 10 Philadelphia neighborhoods, is almost complete.

The full proposed site — think of its as Philly’s answer to the New York City High Line — is three miles long, starting at 9th Street and Fairmount Avenue heading south to 11th and Vine streets, then turning northwest just above Callowhill Street and ending at 31st Street and Girard Avenue.

Phase 1, a quarter mile from Broad and Noble streets to 11th and Callowhill streets, is currently under construction but slated to be finished in the next month, with an official opening in the spring. The space will eventually be greened and beautified, with room for public gatherings and “civic-scale swings.”

Michael Garden, vice chair of Friends of the Rail Park (FOTRP), the group responsible for raising funds for maintenance of and programming at the site, calls this phase a “proof of concept.”

(Courtesy photo)

It’s taken seven years to get here with the help of many organizational partners — the City of Philadelphia and Center City District, which was responsible for raising capital funds for construction, but also SEPTA, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Asian Arts Initiative and Conrail.

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Traditionally, parks are designed top-down by urban planners, but “we are interested in creating a bottom-up park,” Garden said, with community members engaged throughout. If it’s going to attract folks from all over Philadelphia, “we need to know: What does it need to look like, and what would you need to do when you got there?”

To make that happen, FOTRP has been hosting events such as walking tours and Mural Arts pop-ups to attract people from around the city. Eventually, it will also host public planning meetings to ask for design feedback directly from the park’s neighbors.

FOTRP also tapped creative agency Little Giant Creative (the people behind The Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship) to advertise the impending Phase 1 completion via Party in the Park, a concert and fundraiser to be held at Voyeur on March 8. Proceeds will help turn the Conrail-owned Reading Railroad dining car currently perched on the east side of North Broad and Noble streets into a visitor’s center and programming site.

Little Giant’s Rachel Greenberg anticipates the concert won’t draw a typical crowd for a Rail Park event — which is exactly the point.

“Little Giant Creative’s mission is to represent the underrepresented, to a reach a more inclusive audience in everything we do,” she said. “What the event really hopes to do is bring awareness to a different audience” — in other words, not just funders and the Philly design community, but musicians, arts and culture nonprofits, entrepreneurs.

Garden agreed: “Our interest is in creating a park for all Philadelphians.”

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