A mini documentary from PBS looks into the potential of turning abandoned spaces into a public park.
PBS Digital Studios recently uploaded a second episode to its Unusual Spaces series. The one features the abandoned railway that exists below Philadelphia and explored the potential of turning the elevated portion of the railway into a usable public space.
The mini documentary featured the late Paul VanMeter, who is a landscape gardener by trade and one of the founders of the non-profit organization now known as Friends of the Rail Park. In the video, VanMeter takes viewers on a tour of the abandoned railway, which is about three miles of old cement structures, debris, and gardens full of weed. VanMeter also talks about the plans that can turn the city’s “post-industrial spaces” into something like a partially-submerged, partially-elevated public park. If transformed into a usable public space, the old railway can become a 3-mile linear park that is useful to gardeners, pedestrians, and cyclists.
Plans to transform the elevated rail track, known as the Reading Duct, into an elevated park have been over ten years in the making, but this year it seems that it won’t be long before the first phase of the project can get started. The first phase covers what is commonly known as the “SEPTA spur” and entails turning that area into a park that features amazing views of the Center City. The city has pledged $1.8 million over two years from its capital budget, and the state has included $3.5 million in its Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program for the project. The amounts are not guaranteed and the project will still need private funding, but the support will help kickstart the project.
The organization Friends of the Rail Park takes inspiration from the success of the High Line in New York to resurrect these types of spaces into something that the city can benefit from and be proud of as well. VanMeter passed away earlier this year, but the organization that he helped create continues to work towards utilizing these unused, abandoned spaces into useful places that can help rejuvenate parts of the city.