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Web Exclusive Article from Civil Engineering Magazine at www.ASCE.org

Philadelphia Turns Unused Rail Spur into Multifunctional Park

By Laurie A. Shuster

Carried by retaining walls and bridges and more than 100 years old, the spur is finding new life as badly needed green space in an industrial area that is undergoing urban renewal.

December 6, 2016—Philadelphia is understood to be a city of collegial but distinct neighborhoods. And as has occurred in many cities, sometimes those neighborhoods have been cut off from one another over the years by large infrastructure projects that served useful purposes but had unintended consequences. So it was with the Reading Viaduct, an elevated railroad line constructed in the 1890s to carry first coal and then passengers through the heart of downtown, known as Center City. With the rise of interstate highways—in particular, the construction in the 1980s of the elevated Vine Street Expressway, which carries Interstate 676 through the heart of the city perpendicular to the rail line—the viaduct became truncated and fell into disuse, now serving only as a divisive eyesore.

The new, ¼ mi park restores and maintains much of the existing steel and introduces materials of a similar industrial scale and character for the platforms, benches, and guardrails.

But a project begun on Halloween this year is rejuvenating the structure and giving local residents badly needed outdoor gathering space. In the first phase of what the community hopes will one day be a much larger project, a ¼ mi spur of the former rail line is being preserved and redeveloped into an elevated park complete with seating that resembles front porch stoops and swings reminiscent of neighborhood backyards. The section arcs counterclockwise from Callowhill Street, which runs roughly in an east-west direction, and crosses 12 th and 13 th streets, which run roughly north-south.

In 2010 a nonprofit group called Friends of the Rail Park, which is committed to the beneficial reuse not only of this spur but also of the entire 1 mi main line of the Reading Viaduct, partnered with the Center City District, a private-sector organization founded in 1990 to enhance downtown Philadelphia and that recently redeveloped a drab concrete plaza into lively Dilworth Park. Together they obtained funding and engaged Studio Bryan Hanes, a landscape architecture firm, and Urban Engineers, Inc., a planning, design, and construction services firm, both of Philadelphia, to transform the spur a park similar to New York City's High Line but with a distinctly Philadelphian, industrial flair. "Our office is in the neighborhood, overlooking the viaduct, actually, and we have a reputation for working closely with communities," said Bryan Hanes, LEED AP, the founding principal of the landscape architecture firm, who responded in writing to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. "The elevated portion of the rail park connects—or really, divides—three neighborhoods: Callowhill, Chinatown North, and West Poplar. The demographics for each are very different, and there are very different needs and desires from each of the communities. We were tasked with understanding and responding with a design that addressed, to the best of its ability, those needs and desires."

Since the area features old industrial structures that are being redeveloped as residential and retail space, many residents wanted essentially a yard.

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