Fresh ideas about design
Arguably the most popular spot in Philadelphia this summer is the Spruce Street Harbor Park. Located along the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing, the SSHP boasts a surprisingly diverse number of activities and spaces for the public to enjoy. Having visited the site before, I am truly amazed to see the transformative power of a well-designed space that brings so many people together in what is an otherwise underutilized park. Pop-up parks like the Spruce Street Harbor Park challenge us to reconsider existing spaces within the city and explore their placemaking potential.
A large part of SSHP’s success is due in part to the designer’s ability to map the existing cultural landscape and transform those elements into prominent features of the design. Led by landscape architect David Fierabran, principal of Groundswell in nearby Hopewell, NJ, the designers installed a boardwalk along the existing quay of the Delaware River. The boardwalk was then lined with shops, arcade games, and other activities that draw directly from the boardwalk experience of Atlantic City, a popular vacation spot for many Philadelphians. In addition to the boardwalk, there are artificial beaches, gardens, sling-back style chairs and hammocks strung from trees, all of which further evoke summer memories for all who visit and enjoy the park.
Water is an overwhelming part of this site, between the existing underutilized fountain to the rambling over-run river’s edge. Like pop-up parks, water is temporal in nature and changes throughout the seasons. In the summer, people are drawn to it to cool off, play in it, or enjoy the color and light rippling off of its moving surface. The design challenge is then, how do you amplify the site’s main landscape feature and make it more accessible? The design team cleverly solved this problem by utilizing three full-size barges arranged in a U-shaped pattern that allow people to access the space directly over the river and establish a lush new landscape. Meanwhile, the barges establish a direct link to industrial activities that once took place along the water’s edge.
It is great to have an amazing idea for what do within an existing space, but it’s even better to be able to finance and build that idea in a sustainable way. The SSHP was estimated to cost $500K to implement with a majority of funding coming through the “Creative Placemaking” fund from the national organization Artplace. The remainder of the funding came from private donations, most of which were aimed at engaging the public’s interest in the Delaware Waterfront and hopefully leading to private and public development. This pop-up park is a catalyst for future designers wishing to create vibrant placemaking opportunities at a relatively low cost to the city, and it inspires others to consider how existing spaces could be made better by design.
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