Philadelphia to turn disused overhead railway into much-needed parkland

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The Philadelphia Rail Park would span 50 city blocks and connect several neighborhoods(Credit: Studio Bryan Hanes)

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Philadelphia is hoping to follow in the footsteps of New York and Chicago by converting its defunct overhead railway into public parkland. At 3 mi (4.8 km), the Philadelphia Rail Park would be longer than both the High Line and the 606, and would provide much-needed green space for the area.

Philadelphia has been variously described as having a "severe lack of open, public, green space" (Studio Bryan Hanes) and being "seriously under-parked" (Richard Roark, partner at OLIN Landscape Architecture and Urban Design). Such a project would, therefore, arguably mean more to Philadelphia than to New York or Chicago.

The Rail Park is said to traverse 50 city blocks and connect several neighborhoods, which would help to knit the city together. There is also a cultural linking element to the project, as the route passes close by arts and cultural city institutions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum, the Barnes Foundation and the Community College of Philadelphia. It also crosses the city's "Avenue of the Arts," Broad Street.

The Rail Park would be created on the Reading Viaduct and City Branch of the former Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. The planned first phase of the project is a quarter-mile stretch up to the Reading Viaduct, which was used to transport people and freight into and out of Philadelphia for almost a century prior to it closing in the 1980s.

Stakeholders are said to have expressed a desire to maintain "material authenticity, local integrity and visual simplicity" in the designs, with the existing structure and much of the existing steelwork planned to remain. Similar materials will be introduced for work carried out on the platforms, benches and guardrails.

The Rail Park is envisioned as being heavily planted with native vegetation. The first phase section with feature woody shrubs and trees and will have a path moving between the planted and seating areas. The site is punctuated by four large wooden platforms that will be used as spaces for lounging and gathering.

Phase 1 of the Philadelphia Rail Park is expected to break ground in 2016.

The video below provides an introduction to the Philadelphia Rail Park Project.

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