FRIENDS OF THE RAIL PARK FOR DESIGNPHILADELPHIA 201

Originally posted on August 31, 2014 as part of the DesignPhiladelphia 2014 Festival series on the Philadelphia Center for Architecture's blog. Reposted with permission from DesignPhiladelphia. 

Repurposed as a linear park and recreation path through several neighborhoods and threading through some of the City’s most celebrated arts and cultural destinations, the proposed Rail Park has promise to shape the way we experience Philadelphia. This proposed three-mile corridor of former rail has already created some unforgettable experiences for those who have discovered it. 

One of the most compelling aspects of this place is that each person connects to it in their own way and forms a unique experience of it. It's largely that sense of discovery and ownership of experience that makes people feel so connected to this project. That said, we asked some friends of the Friends to submit Instagram posts and short narratives capturing how they feel about the Rail Park—the way they have experienced it and/or how they envision it as a signature public park—and their inspiring responses are below.

Bradley Maule [@mauleofamerica], Co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and founder ofPhilly Skyline fittingly elevates our perspective on the Viaduct, sharing this shot taken from the roof of the Goldtex building at 12th and Pearl Streets. The thin curved section to the left is about a third of Phase 1 of the Rail Park, slated for construction within the next year.

The first time I walked the Reading Viaduct, a late winter day, everything was perfectly overcast. The brown of the Viaduct blended into the gray of the sky, the skyline hidden behind weeds and under clouds and the abandoned, graffiti-covered Goldtex factory looming above. The second time, nearly ten years later, Goldtex had windows and a new sheen, and from a swing someone installed on the former railroad's catenary, I could easily see the Viaduct's parkland future, the skyline glimmering against the sunny sky just beyond. 

Emma Fried-Cassorla [@phillylovenotes] created Philly Love Notes to give voice to anyone who wants the world to know why they love Philly, “to remind the city, and us, that it is loved.” Emma shares some love for the Rail Park along with a stunner of a shot of the Center City skyline framed by the silhouette of one of the Viaduct’s iconic catenary line supports at dusk. AW. We love you too, Philly Love Notes.

The Rail Park project represents why I love Philly. It's about a group of committed citizens taking action to physically change the cityscape in a way that both benefits the entire city and is timeless in its design. The other weekend I looked down at the future park from a friend's apartment, and could see just how transformative it would be for the entire neighborhood and fell in love with the city a little more.

Urban explorer and prolific Instagrammer Melissa Joy [@phillystomp] shares her experience discovering the vast Pennsylvania Avenue Tunnel, offering a great idea for how the tunnel could be programmed as a public space. We agree completely, Melissa!

I was walking with a friend from exploring another abandoned property in Fairmount, when he suggested we walk the more scenic route: the "abandoned" railroad tracks. As we're walking, we see a tunnel ahead in the distance. We had NO idea that we would stumble into something so profound. We walked in and veered to the left, and my immediate reaction is to take my camera out and start snapping away, because no one is going to believe that this place exists if I don't catalogue it immediately. I have been back many times since that time a couple of years ago, and each time I feel more and more connected to it. I'm no music tech, but I think the acoustics would make it an incredible venue for small concerts for up-and-coming Philly artists. It's a short walk/ride/transit stop away from center city, making its location prime.

As a talented photographer who has been urban exploring since before that was even a thing, Tracy Levesque’s [@ruinpornInstagram feed will take you to forgotten places you’d probably never see otherwise—objects left behind telling stories of the last moments a room was in use; architectural treasures whose abandonment and decay will break your heart; mysterious and imposing industrial mechanicals; nature taking over wherever possible.

I first explored the Viaduct over 14 years ago, before I was systematic and careful about exploring. It was at night and I was so struck by this secret, elevated, abandoned path that went right through Chinatown. I remember loving the views of Center City and the creepy abandoned station at Spring Garden. Fast forward a decade + and now I have explored the length of the underground and elevated portions of the railway a number of times. I love how folks are trying to turn the site into a park DIY style with homemade swings. I am a huge fan of adaptive reuse and the High Line in NYC so I am beyond thrilled by the prospect of Philly turning the Viaduct into the Rail Park. 

Tory Savery, Principal of Savery Design [@saverydesign], has extended her interior design practice into Philadelphia's world of fine arts, renovating a ground floor space of 319 N 11th Street [home to Vox Populi, Practice Gallery, and other galleries and studios] as an elegant new gallery and showroom with a framed view of the Reading Viaduct just across the street. The space opens Friday September 5th with "New Sight," a group show juried by painter and Friends of the Rail Park board member Sarah McEneaney and photographer Zoe Strauss. A portion of the proceeds from the New Sight show will benefit Friends of the Rail Park. Click here for more details. 

Window on the World - my daily view. Outside comes in.

Rachel Hara [@rachel.hara], Social Media Manager at Visit Philadelphia, is a Rail Park regular, here sharing a shot of the City Branch north of the Pennsylvania Avenue Tunnel, where Fairmount Park is directly adjacent to the left. Check out her Instagram feed for some great shots across the 3-mile route throughout the seasons.  

Captivating skyline views and subterranean corridors flash across my mind any time I'm asked about the Viaduct and City Branch. No matter the season, this space in Philadelphia is mesmerizing and worth sharing with all of the city.

Conrad Benner [@streetsdept], voice of the Streets Dept blog, identifies the Reading Viaduct as one of the top 15 spots to Instagram in Philly. Conrad’s posts are certainly testament to that, including this throwback to the days when the tracks were still in place on the Viaduct.  

I've been visiting (and photographing) Rail Park for years. It's a different experience each time I visit, depending on the season and time of day, and somehow always more inspiring/beautiful. Rail Park is such an advantage to Philly. A truly breathtaking space, right in the middle of a few of Philly's most vibrant/thriving neighborhoods. Most cities would kill to have a space like this! And the fact that so many people already visit the space, and have for some time, is sign enough that it would be an incredibly successful public park, in my opinion. I hope to one day visit without slipping through a fence first.

Who wants a City Branch salad? Laura Stedenfeld [@cnverge], Urban Designer atLAND COLLECTIVE, indulged in the bounty of wild spring edibles on a Rail Park tour in April.   

My first experience of the City Branch was through a foraging tour with horticulturalist David Siller organized by Fair Food Philly and Friends of the Rail Park. As a landscape architect, discovering the productive aspect of a ruderal landscape was such a joy. Being surrounded by tiny, verdant life among this ruin of the past highlights the best aspects of a historic place like Philadelphia--a livable city full of nostalgia and possibility. I don't know a soul who doesn't appreciate this sense of discovery, and City Branch constantly grants it to us.

Writer and blogger Zach Patten [@zpattendramatically frames one of the defining experiential characteristics of the Rail Park: the Philadelphia skyline juxtaposed with a lush and wild landscape.   

As people continue moving back to the city, it becomes increasingly important to redevelop our existing resources whenever possible, otherwise we risk losing the elements that make Philadelphia what it is today. Personally, I can't wait to experience the birth of the Rail Park and the new life it will breathe into the area. Philadelphia is making great strides when it comes to marrying nature with architecture, but the Rail Park has all the potential to deliver a space this city has never seen before.

Instagrammer and City Branch adventurer Joe Rohloff [@joe_roh] has captured perfectly the spiritual quality of the 3,000 foot long tunnel underneath Pennsylvania Avenue.

As you navigate the quaint and quiet Rail Park tunnel, evenly spaced beams of weather & light guide from above...reminding you of the busy city you've left behind. The tunnel leads you on a journey so far away, yet so close to home. This space creates an experience like no other in our city. I'm excited, and hope to see more people discover it.

Sara Hirschler [@lovemamaearth], Marketing and Membership Manager at Fairmount Park Conservancy and grassroots park advocate, snaps a shot reminding us how well the Rail Park brings out the youthful spirit.  

Visiting the Rail Park for the first time caused an immediate awakening of my inner-child. The excited, adventurous person inside was revealed. As I experienced the mesmerizing wilderness around me, I was overcome with gratitude and filled with great hope for its future.


Cover photo by Katrina Virbitsky; blog post by Leah Murphy / Original article available here: http://philadelphiacfa.org/blog/friends-rail-park-designphiladelphia-2014#sthash.vYKEO9VK.dpuf.