Walking on Water

I am a member of IEDC (International Economic Development Council).   IEDC has started to recognize placemaking as a way to help revitalize communities and to advance the economic development of an area.

In a recent issue of ED | NOW, there was an article entitled “Making Small or Unusual Spaces into Great Public Places”.   I re-posted a project, Every Day a Picnic: Pop-up Parks, detailed in the article, discussing pop-up parks at vacant lots in Philadelphia, PA.

Here is another project happening in Philly, which takes advantage of a natural resource – water –  from that same article.

What a clever way to create a great place for the community to gather and take advantage of their natural assets.   Do you think this would work in your community?

By Lawrence Houstoun, AICP

For quite some time, the City of Philadelphia had sought a way to extend the popular Schuylkill Banks Trail, an urban pedestrian and bike trail which hugs the banks of Schuylkill River. However, a clustering of the historic Pennsylvania Railroad and Baltimore and Ohio lines held the right-of-way at a strategic section on the east bank. The railroads prevented connection of the trail to the South Street Bridge which links East and West Philadelphia.

The solution? Take pedestrians into the river.

The Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk extends 2,000 feet of walkway 20 feet above the river and 50 feet off shore from the river’s south bank, circumventing the railroad tracks and taking pedestrians above and in the midst of the river itself. The walkway is 15 feet wide with frequent access points and follows the river’s eastern shore, six to 12 feet above the water. At four points, the boardwalk is widened to 23 feet, where people can sit and take in the view. The structure is mounted on caissons drilled 40 feet down into bedrock. With ample room for pedestrians, cyclists, and fishers, the boardwalk has the river running on both sides of it and offers views of the city’s skyline and of long-distance trains.

The project was aided by advocacy efforts from the nonprofit Schuylkill River Development Corporation and the Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition. Federal stimulus money in the form of Transportation Improvements Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants helped fund the project, in addition to city and state support. The boardwalk was completed in 2014 at a cost of $18 million. The trail’s popularity has led to the planning of a second bridge at Grays Ferry near the southern end of the trail.

With tens of thousands of students and residents within walking distance of the trail, it was immediately popular simply for its proximity. Its unprecedented views and connectivity to other trails further cemented its success.

Photo Credits: Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk: Montgomery County Planning Commission, Philadelphia Concourse: Jason Paris, South Street, Philadelphia, Pop-Up Park: Lawrence Houstoun