Philadelphia Forever: Centennial District Ideas Exchange
Marvel was recently invited to and became a finalist for a commission to develop a Centennial District Subdistrict Plan for the City of Philadelphia. The shortlisted phase, described as the Ideas Exchange, tasked the final three teams to create a vision for an area of West Fairmount Park of approximately 540 acres that celebrates the community in which it sits, the City itself, and the anchor institutions and organizations that call the Centennial District their home.
We were honored to work alongside some of Philly’s and the region’s most brilliant and enthusiastic professionals that we want to celebrate with this post; photographer Sahar Coston-Hardy, branding and design experts Pixel Parlor, the engineers of Meliora Design, the innovative horticulturalists of Phyto Studio, BJH Advisors, and eDesign Dynamics.
The Marvel Team’s vision reflects the community insight gathered throughout the Idea Exchange’s table discussions and aims to create socially connected public space and a lush, natural realm that invites neighbors, residents, and visitors to explore a constellation of cultural assets that make it both a destination and part of everyday life for the surrounding neighborhoods. Our proposal, named Philadelphia Forever, speaks to the rich history of Philadelphia and its parks, while being forward-looking, celebrating what Philadelphia is today, its people, culture, and its land, while embracing its role as a place that unapologetically looks into the future and sets an example.
Presently, the Centennial District is succeeding in terms of attractions, with the Please Touch Museum, Mann Center, and Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center, but there is major work to be done in terms of integration and connection to the anchor institutions. The success of this project relies on the vision and execution of a plan that invites sustained use and a sense of cultural resonance with neighbors in Parkside, Mantua, and Wynnfield.
Our plan celebrates and invites the community to participate in the planning process. Together with Sahar Coston-Hardy and Pixel Parlor, community engagement can feature a photography-based strategy, encouraging community members to document the park in ways they use and enjoy it. This visual storytelling and engagement strategy broadens the reach to community members that may not otherwise be interested in participating in a planning project. Through the process designers can learn from the stakeholders and community members, creating an arts project together that helps define and establish the consensus of the needs and hopes for the district.
Pathways help create new opportunities for visitors, increasing accessibility and safety. To improve the park experience for visitors and residents, our plan is to expand the physical path network by a factor of five. Pathways encourage exploration, providing new experiences and avenues for exploration. The bones for the Centennial District are already set, yet the park experience will continue to grow with a plan that rethinks the park’s corridors, emphasizing the natural features of West Fairmount Park.
Activating the Edge
Activating the edges of the park will help create a welcoming and safe environment for users to enter and enjoy the park. This will attract a diverse range of users from adjacent neighborhoods, contributing to the vibrancy of the district and helping built a more equitable Philly Forever Park. Activating the edge is about creating a concentration of active and recreational open spaces that are easily accessible and near to the people that use it, that can serve as attractors to the larger district, and that delineates recreational areas for everyone in the city to use. Activating the edge helps focus on local communities, inviting a strong foundation of day-to-day usage at the periphery, while allowing for deeper engagement throughout the park’s core.
A Central Boulevard
To facilitate a more vibrant park experience, we proposed transforming the Avenue of the Republic into a boulevard of mixed uses and hierarchies that encourage safe pedestrian passage and includes a highly visible and accessible trolley line that connects the city to park. The Avenue of the Republic, Belmont Avenue, and others, like the successful initiative of temporary closures of MLK Jr. Drive in Philadelphia, will encourage foot traffic and a series of multipurpose events at different scales, from farmers markets to other large festivals.
Honoring the history of the park—particularly its emphasis on horticultural exhibitions, Phyto Studio proposed identifying key areas where a series of color-themed annual flower mixes can be directly-seeded into the site. Their design would bring a burst of spectacular color to the park, creating a much-needed resource for pollinators and seed-eating birds. A mix of low-maintenance perennials and hearty gravel-based perennial plants along high traffic nodes would bring color and beauty to highly visited areas.
While the Marvel Team was not ultimately selected to move ahead with the development of the Subdistrict Plan, we remain confident that the concepts developed throughout the Centennial Park Ideas Exchange will find their ways into the plan for the park and succeed in the creation of an accessible, diverse, community-driven, large public park oasis for the City of Philadelphia.