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Philadelphia leaders offer plan for parks along the Parkway

There is a 65-acre park in the heart of Center City, but many Philadelphians barely notice it. That's because the swaths of green space along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway offer few attractions to lure people across the multiple lanes of high-speed traffic.

There is a 65-acre park in the heart of Center City, but many Philadelphians barely notice it.

That's because the swaths of green space along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway offer few attractions to lure people across the multiple lanes of high-speed traffic.

At the Academy of Natural Sciences on Monday night, political and civic leaders laid out their plan for revamping Philadelphia's grand boulevard into a system of small parks that is more tightly connected to the city and that offer cafes, entertainment, opportunities to exercise, and other amenities. (And by amenities, yes, they mean toilets.)

Titled "More Park, Less Way," the plan by PennPraxis, the applied-research arm of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Design, seeks to build on $20 million in transportation and other improvements on the Parkway, including the addition of the Barnes Foundation and the renovation of Sister Cities Park.

The plan focuses initially on four green spaces: Eakins Oval; Iroquois Park, in front of the Philadelphian condos; Von Colln Field; and the area in front of Park Towne Place apartments.

The crowd at the academy applauded when Harris Steinberg of PennPraxis said one of the first steps would be getting rid of the cars on Eakins Oval and adding traffic-calming features to making getting there less terrifying.

"There are a lot of people taking their lives into their hands trying to get to Eakins Oval, and, of course, once you get there, it's not really someplace you want to be," Steinberg said.

Michael DiBerardinis, head of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said Mayor Nutter wants to eliminate parking at Eakins Oval as soon as Memorial Day. Eventually, the oval would host performances by dance groups, movies, and other entertainment.

It would also be close to a proposed connection between bike lanes on Spring Garden Street and the recreational path on the Schuylkill.

The proposal is still in its early stages, but Nutter wants it completed by the time he leaves office in 2015. He has pledged to commit money from the capital budget to fund design and other aspects of the plan but has not said how much.

Suggestions include adding a puppet theater at Iroquois Park, named for the giant red-orange sculpture there; volleyball and bocce courts at Park Towne Place; and plenty of spots to grab a coffee or a beer or just sit down at a shaded table and relax. Von Colln would retain its playing fields but could offer yoga classes and possibly a splash park.

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