City turn­ing rail­road ru­ins into el­e­vated Rail Park

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Kris­ten De Groot

PHILADEL­PHIA >> Af­ter more than 10 years of plan­ning, Philadel­phia is tak­ing the first steps in trans­form­ing an aban­doned, over­grown rail line that cuts through the heart of the city into a lush and lively pub­lic park.

Of­fi­cials broke ground last month on the first phase of the Rail Park, the City of Broth­erly Love’s an­swer to New York City’s High Line.

The first sec­tion starts in the gritty, post-in­dus­trial neigh­bor­hood called Cal­lowhill, where a quar­ter-mile ruin of the for­mer Read­ing Viaduct will be­come a walk­a­ble, el­e­vated oa­sis.

“It’s go­ing to com­pletely change this area, if it ac­tu­ally hap­pens,” said Alex Ge­orge, 33, who rents an apart­ment one street away. He said the park has been talked about for so long, it’s de­vel­oped the air of myth.

“The lo­cals around here see it as a le­gend, some­thing put in our faces as a way to raise rents,” he said.

This time, it’s real. Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf an­nounced a $3.5 mil­lion grant for the viaduct sec­tion of the Rail Park in Septem­ber, al­low­ing con­struc­tion to be­gin be­fore the end of the year. Other fund­ing for the $10.3 mil­lion project comes from the city, foun­da­tions and do­na­tions.

Plans call for the Rail Park to even­tu­ally span 3 miles, travers­ing the cen­ter of Philadel­phia via for­mer Read­ing Rail­road tun­nels, rail cuts be­low street level and el­e­vated plat­forms. The park would be steps from ma­jor cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions like the Philadel­phia Museum of Art and pass through the Com­mu­nity Col­lege of Philadel­phia’s cam­pus in a seamless link of 10 dis­tinct neigh­bor­hoods. But only the quar­ter­mile stretch of the viaduct has fund­ing so far.

New York City’s High Line — a 22-block el­e­vated park — has helped trans­form neigh­bor­hoods on Man­hat­tan’s West Side. Lux­ury con­dos, gal­leries, restau­rants and bou­tiques have all but pushed out the in­dus­trial grime around the old freight route.

Pro­po­nents of Philadel­phia’s plan en­vi­sion a sim­i­lar — if less glitzy — ef­fect.

“The High Line is a Mercedes-Benz of a park, and we don’t have peo­ple here with that deep of pock­ets,” said Paul Levy, of the Cen­ter City District, a busi­ness im­prove­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion man­ag­ing the first phase. The first two sec­tions of the High Line cost about $150 mil­lion; the third sec­tion costs about $35 mil­lion.

Bustling Chi­na­town is a few blocks south of the viaduct, and some com­mu­nity lead­ers say they feel left out of the plan­ning process.

The Philadel­phia Chi­na­town De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion had pre­vi­ously called for tear­ing down the viaduct to make way for af­ford­able hous­ing, said Sarah Ye­ung, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s direc­tor of plan­ning. Chi­na­town des­per­ately needs pub­lic space, she said, but res­i­dents also need af­ford­able hous­ing op­tions, some­thing that will be harder to come by if the park suc­ceeds and rents rise.

“It’s im­por­tant that the city and Cen­ter City District re­al­ize it’s not just a park — it has a wide-rang­ing im­pact on the lo­cal com­mu­nity here,” she said.

Levy said his group sup­ports the cre­ation of af­ford­able hous­ing sur­round­ing the park.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

This ren­der­ing pro­vided by Stu­dio Bryan Hanes de­picts park vis­i­tors us­ing a land­scaped el­e­vated walk­way planned as the re­place­ment for aban­doned rail­road tracks in down­town Philadel­phia.

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