Rail viaduct makeover

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[Editor’s note: Oops. I thought I had posted this post a week ago, right after the event. Sorreee. Here it is.–Libby]

The Reading Viaduct is a now unused portion of track that brought trains into Reading Terminal. It’s a y-shaped, rusty nail in the streetscape that cuts from Chinatown to Fairmount, from 9th to 13th Street.(The large road cutting across the bottom of this map is Vine Street, and the tail of the y starts at Vine about 1/3 of the way from the left, going north until it splits.)

Behind the surge of proposals for remediating the Reading Viaduct is none other than our buddy, artist Sarah McEneaney, and her neighbor, furniture artist John Struble.

As activists in the Callowhill Neighborhood Association (Broad to 8th Street, Vine to Spring Garden), first they fought the baseball stadium, which was proposed for their turf, and now, they are worrying about zoning, greening and a variety of development issues, including the viaduct.

Coincidentally, both Drexel’s and Penn’s architecture and planning faculty decided to ask their students to work up ways to to remediate the viaduct. And, naturally, they talked to CNA. (Shown, the crowd at the opening.)

Some of the resulting plans are on display at Cafe Lift, just a few feet north of the viaduct branch that hovers over North 13th Street. The number of participants guaranteed a large crowd, plus the e-vite list looked extensive when I rsvp-ed.

Brian Phillips, an adjunct professor of architecture at Drexel, was interested in the problems the viaduct presented. The six Drexel students who were showing their plans at Cafe Lift were his class. He said their task for the 10-week term was “to reimagine the viaduct as a neighborhood asset.” One of the Drexel plans, by Kelly Dapra, imagined the viaduct as an above-ground pedestrian walkway that connected the second stories of the surrounding buildings–mostly affordable, modular artists lofts. That yellow structure is a skateboard ramp imagined on the viaduct, and the buildings on the right are modular.

It was a grad student at Penn who suggested the viaduct might make a good charette. The student, who had participated in the Penn’s Landing charette, approached Harris Steinberg, executive director of Penn Praxis, the clinical consulting arm of the School of Design, with the idea. Steinberg said he got the go-ahead, and arranged for a four-day charette (or planning blitz) for 11 or 12 teams of four or five students each. Four of the groups’ plans were on display at Cafe Lift, including “Campus of the City,” a proposal by Michelle Cheng et al. for an above-ground campus that linked together buildings that might include classrooms in them (shown).

Another interested party at the busy opening was urban planner Jody Holton, who turned out to be the daughter of some people I knew. She was part of a firm that is finishing up a city-sponsored plan for Chinatown. “We talked about the viaduct a lot,” she said, “not that we came up with a definite plan for the viaduct, but we did think about taking parts down for affordable housing and leaving parts up for recreation and green space.” (That’s Holton on the right with McEneaney and Struble.)

I wondered how these student plans were going to lead to concrete changes. McEneaney said this was a preliminary step. She was hoping that the railroad would pay for remediation, something, she said, that the city was behind. At some point she thought CNA would hold a national architecture competition. Nice beginning.

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