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Sandra Shea: Help write the Parkway's next chapter

ON A HOT June day nine years ago, I met up with an architect and an historian at LOVE Park and we spent the next few hours slowly making our way up Ben Franklin Parkway on foot.

ON A HOT June day nine years ago, I met up with an architect and an historian at LOVE Park and we spent the next few hours slowly making our way up Ben Franklin Parkway on foot.

By the time we got to the Art Museum I had not only a sunburn, but also a new appreciation for just how much work this grand boulevard needed. While imposing institutions lined both sides, the spaces in between were, for the most part, unplanned and inhospitable. With no places for people to convene, expanses of dead space, no food offerings but a Subway sandwich shop, and constant car traffic that made crossing the street an obstacle course, the Ben Franklin Parkway fell far short of greatness.

Nine years later, on a freezing day, I met the same architect, Harris Steinberg, at Milk and Honey, a glass-walled cafe at the recently opened Sister Cities park across from the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul. We sat sipping designer coffee from a small table with a soothing view of the wintery streets outside - a prospect that was unimaginable during my first visit.

Milk and Honey is one of many changes that have altered the Parkway in the last nine years. The demolition of the dreary Youth Study Center and the opening of the Barnes Foundation are biggest and most obvious, but equally significant are the smaller changes and improvements that have brought more people and more vitality to the Parkway.

Originally designed as a gateway out of the city and into Fairmount Park before cars turned it into an urban raceway, Ben Franklin Parkway has had many champions in the last few years who have poured time and money into improvements. The Pew Charitable Trust, the Lenfest Foundation, the state, and Center City District chief Paul Levy have made thoughtful streetscape improvements, including traffic- soothing, plantings, and the new Sister Cities Park, and a more complex profile of the Parkway has begun to emerge. But it's not done yet, and Monday night, you have a chance to weigh in on the next chapter.

Philadelphia Parks and Rec boss Michael DiBerardinis hired Penn Praxis' Harris Steinberg (that same architect I walked with nine years ago) to create an action plan for the Parkway. After a series of public and community meetings, DiBerardinis has identified a few goals for moving the Parkway into the 21st century. His approach is best summed up by their main idea: More Park, Less Way.

One big shift in how the Parkway's potential is being considered takes into account the fact that 70,000 people live within a 10-minute walk to the Parkway. That makes the Parkway much more than a grand and formal boulevard of civic institituions that can attract tourists, but the "backyard" for many of the city's residents . . . just as other parks within the Fairmount Park system serve as city dwellers' access to the outdoors. (It also makes DiBerardinis an obvious leader for the Parkway's next chapter.)

Those residents, as well as those from around the city, will certainly want to be on hand Monday at 6 p.m. when DiBerardinis will introduce the action plan and ask for input.

The event is at the Academy of Natural Sciences on Logan Circle. Registration begins at 5:30 p.m. Please RSVP to:

praxis@design.upenn.edu

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