The Oval+ officially returns to Eakins Oval on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Thursday, July 20, with a bit of both the expected and unexpected.
Like the past four years of the Oval, a bright and colorful mural adorns the large parking lot, and there are plenty of activities for kids. The beer garden, for the older crowd, is back, too.
But at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Jamie Gauthier, the acting executive director of Fairmount Park Conservancy, argued that this year’s Oval+ is “our favorite example yet of activation of a public space.”
That’s because this year, the conservancy, along with the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department, made it a goal to make the Oval+ return to its original plan to re-envision what the Benjamin Franklin Parkway could be. Indeed, the question “What’s your Parkway?” is everywhere at the Oval+, painted onto the asphalt of Eakins Oval and plastered across the bold and tall installations.
The Parkway, which is about to celebrate its 100th year, is undoubtedly iconic. But it’s long been experienced as place for tourists, or something that should only be admired from afar. That’s why Fairmount Park Conservancy approached PORT Urbanism to help design an Oval this year that would not only activate the Parkway like in years past, but also encourage residents to question what the Parkway means to them and could be in the future.
“We wanted to push the envelope and go back to the original idea of the More Park, Less Way plan,” said Kathryn Lovett, Parks and Recreation executive director, of the 2013 study from Penn Praxis that included an action plan to increase the “urban vibrancy” of the Parkway.
“Obviously, the Parkway is beautiful,” said Gauthier. “But great public spaces are used and experienced. That’s why this year is our favorite, because it uses art, engagement, and data to inform us what the Parkway could be overtime.”
The biggest change to this year’s Oval+ includes soaring poster installations that highlight a wealth of information about the Parkway and Philadelphia in general. The faces of Philly natives from Questlove to Marian Anderson are plastered on the mesh prints, as are hidden gems of Fairmount Park. One poster, for example, sheds light on 255-foot-tall observation towers that used to dot the park’s landscape.
Similar installations can be found at the nearby and new Shakespeare Park, as well as Aviator Park, both located on the Parkway.
These installations are best appreciated at night, when their vibrant colors shine in the dark, illuminating the Parkway.
The Oval+ is open from July 20 through August 20, Wednesdays through Sundays. The full events schedule can be found at the Oval+’s website.