March brings Philadelphia those occasional gloriously sunny days that let winter survivors know it's safe to leave their bunkers because spring is coming. It's a good time to learn that a long-dreamed-of park atop the dormant Reading Railroad viaduct may be on track for construction this summer. A newly announced strategic investment by the William Penn and Knight Foundations, complementing public and other funding, will help make the park happen.
Four other parks will also benefit from the $11 million the foundations plan to spend. The targeted projects are all almost ready to break ground and can be finished in less than two years.
The most intriguing is the transformation of the dilapidated rail spur that cuts through the city's Loft District. Neighborhood pioneers have long seen past the weeds and garbage to an elevated park with extraordinary views of the former industrial area and beyond. Their imagination caught the attention of the Center City District, City Hall, and the foundations. In an area where old warehouses and factories are being increasingly reused as homes, a park will give residents a place to stretch out and come together. With additional funding, the park could go well beyond the quarter-mile being redeveloped.
A woefully underserved part of Southwest Philadelphia would also benefit from a portion of the donation going to a mile-long trail along the west bank of the Schuylkill, from Bartram's Garden north to about 48th Street. It will give residents better river access and eventually link to the Schuylkill Banks trail on the east side, giving residents a foot or bicycle path to Center City.
The foundation partnership, called "Re-Imaging the Civic Commons," has the laudable mission of helping residents enjoy parks and adding green space to neighborhoods, like Southwest Philadelphia, that are short on parkland and the benefits it brings.
Even in areas near parks, the partnership is looking for ways to get residents to use them more. It's spending $1 million on a wilderness-skills program to deepen city youths' appreciation of nature in Fairmount Park near Strawberry Mansion.
On the west side of Fairmount Park, the partnership is investing in the development of a novel playground with a climbing wall and a spray park that can be used as an ice-skating course in winter. Known as Centennial Commons, it is to be built on a huge lawn near the Please Touch Museum and Parkside Avenue.