“On the south side of the Parkway, there’s nothing there. Nothing.” That was just one observation made at Monday night’s community meeting to create an “action plan” for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Held in Francisville, this first of four meetings — run by the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Penn Project for Civic Engagement and PennPraxis — posed the question: Now that the infrastructure has been upgraded (bike lanes, wider sidewalks, new benches), how can connections to surrounding neighborhoods be created so people see it as a destination and not a barrier?
The caveat? As PennPraxis’ Harris Steinberg noted during his introduction, “This is about quick hits,” things that can be done in the next three years — in other words, while Mayor Michael Nutter is still in office. Before the 50 or so community members broke into four groups, Steinberg offered examples: playgrounds, art installations, elegantly designed toilets, moveable chairs.
All four groups had some version of this complaint: The institutions along the Parkway are “insular,” “not extending themselves” beyond their walls. As the Penn Project’s Harris Sokoloff summed it up, “One of the things we heard was the desire for institutions to have more of a programmatic presence on the Parkway.”
Good ideas all, but none addresses the foremost problem voiced by nearly everyone: It’s awful to be a pedestrian on the Parkway. What about, say, closing sections to traffic? New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did it on Broadway near Times Square, announcing the plan in February 2009 and enacting it three months later, to much praise. There’s a quick hit for you.