As it nears its second century as Philadelphia's signature boulevard, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway certainly won't bring anything like the disruption it meant at the dawn of the 20th century, when 1,300 buildings tumbled to make way for this Champs-Élysées on the Schuylkill. But the Parkway - which over the last decade or so has been improved through a determined, if understated, effort to make it greener and more pedestrian-friendly - is sure to play an even bigger role in the life of the city in the years to come.
In fact, there's no need to imagine ways in which Philadelphia will be enlivened by changes around the Parkway - because it's happening already.
The enhancements of recent years include a makeover of Logan Circle, which enabled pedestrians to reach its Swann Memorial Fountain without fearing for their lives; the creation of Sister Cities Park, which turned its corner of the Parkway into a go-to place for families; the restoration of the Rodin Museum; a pop-up park and beer garden at Eakins Oval; the addition of the Barnes Foundation museum, a cultural draw fit to take its place alongside the Art Museum and other Parkway institutions; amenities such as Café Cret; and, finally, the launch of City Hall's glittering Dilworth Park.
The hand of the Central Philadelphia Development Corp., which works in tandem with the Center City District, can be seen in much of this, along with a coalition of leaders of Parkway institutions, including the Free Library and the museums, and city parks and recreation.
Even with these improvements, as well as planned apartment, condominium, and hotel projects that will make the area home to many more Philadelphians and visitors, it's smart to think ahead. That's just what the Central Philadelphia Development Corp. encouraged with a recent panel discussion, held at the Union League, on what's next for the Parkway.
For the Art Museum, a master plan by architect Frank Gehry will mean an expansion - largely invisible from the Parkway - that will enhance the city's grande dame of culture as a destination. Similarly, an upgrade of public spaces by the Free Library - even if well short of earlier visions of a massive expansion - will raise that institution's profile and build on its substantial contributions to literacy and a competitive workforce in the city.
As a destination for all types of visitors, of course, the Parkway faces an immediate challenge in coping with homeless encampments and outdoor feeding efforts that, while well-intentioned, should be moved indoors. In such more suitable settings, overseen by public and private social-service agencies, Philadelphia's homeless would stand a better chance of getting the help they need to leave the streets behind for good.