The opening of Philadelphia’s long-awaited Rail Park means more than just a public green space.
To many, it means residential development, it means commercial growth, and—possibly most importantly—it means a heightened sense of community in Philly’s Center City.
At least that’s the takeaway city officials stressed Thursday morning during the opening of the park‘s first phase. It’s a quarter-mile stretch of public space that runs from Callowhill between 12th and 11th, to the intersection of North Broad and Noble streets, following the path of the abandoned Reading Viaduct rail line. When the remaining phases are completed, it will be a three-mile park that stretches up past the Parkway, to Girard and 31st streets.
“This park it will connect people, it will connect communities, it will connect—ultimately when it extends the entire three miles which is the great vision for this Rail Park—it will connect our whole city,” Philly Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott-Lovell said at the ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday.
That connection is just one of the things officials believe the park will bring to Philly. Another is growth.
Callowhill, which was once a blighted area of the city, has already seen a major development boom in recent years. Several buildings between 8th and Broad are being renovated and turned into workspaces and luxury apartments, while others are being constructed from scratch to bring residential and retail space to the area.
The Rail Park may bring even more of that to the Callowhill neighborhood, according to Mayor Jim Kenney.
“It will serve as a stimulus for residential and commercial development,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Thursday, adding that development includes more affordable housing.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Dennis Davin, who also spoke Thursday, agreed.
“Community redevelopment projects like this...They attract businesses and spur further community development as well,” Davin said.
“Businesses will want to come here. Maybe big businesses, maybe really big businesses,“ Davin continued, making a reference to Philly’s place on the Amazon short list of cities for its second headquarters. “There‘s one that begins with an ‘A’,” he added, to laughs from the crowd.
Whether it brings more of the boom or not, the Rail Park will at least provide a space for picnics, family gatherings, and just an area to relax and walk.
The elevated park, designed by Studio Bryan Hanes, has walking paths, landscaping, swinging benches, and sublime city views. It runs along the old Reading Viaduct rail line, which was build in the 1890s, and several structural design elements along the park serve to pay homage to the historic and industrial beginnings of the structure. One notable aspect is a stylized map, which park-goers can use to see every building that was in the area during the railroad’s construction in the 1890s.
It’s been a long road for the park, which first started getting contributions for its construction in 2010. That kicked off years of trying to drum up funds for the $10.3 million project. Studio Bryan Hanes’ renderings for the project were approved in 2014, but it wasn’t until 2016—thanks to a state grant—that Friends of the Rail Park and the Center City District (CCD) were able to finally break ground on phase one of the park.
Since then, the opening has been pushed back several times—most recently to questions over a bridge’s structural integrity—but officials finally announced in May that they would soon be ready to open it to the public.
The future of the remaining phases of the Rail Park is still unknown.