Awesome Development News: Reimagining The Civic Commons To Establish Philadelphia As A Laboratory For Urban Civic Space Development

(Rendering courtesy Studio Bryan Hanes)
Five public spaces, including Centennial Commons (its rendering shown here), have been assembled under the banner of the Reimagining The Civic Commons, a new initiative led by the Fairmount Park Conservancy. (Rendering courtesy Studio Bryan Hanes)

When William Penn imagined the city of Philadelphia, he recorded a vision for a “greene countrie towne,” a metropolis dotted with lawns, trees and parks alongside its buildings, streets and sidewalks.

In the 21st century, Reimagining the Civic Commons, a groundbreaking new initiative that brings private and public civic organizations together, takes a giant stride towards a modern interpretation of that same vision: to make Philadelphia one of the greenest cities in the entire country.

The innovative program, led by the Fairmount Park Conservancy, moves five Philadelphia civic spaces towards completion in the interest of creating public spaces throughout the city where people from all walks of life can gather.

Through a pioneering collaborative approach, Fairmount Park Conservancy will marshal a public-private philanthropic partnership that convenes five Philadelphia civic development projects under a single funding umbrella.

With an $11 million investment from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and William Penn Foundation, Reimagining the Civic Commons unites several efforts into a single initiative to capitalize on the existing public assets — including $8 million in funding from the City of Philadelphia — and advance these important projects towards completion.

A multi-year initiative, Reimagining the Civic Commons has been set up by its organizers as a “test kitchen” of public place development, wherein the non-profit organizations receiving foundation funding collaborate rather than compete. If successful, this model could be rolled out in other cities nationwide.


A group of five civic projects will get a much-needed boost from this initiative.

Beyond providing the capital for these five projects, the Reimagining the Civic Commons collective has plans to also work on programming, resource sharing, impact reporting and more.

We think William Penn would approve.

1. Reading Viaduct Rail Park

Perhaps the most publicly known of the group, the Reading Viaduct Rail Park, Philadelphia’s answer to the High Line, will see an investment of $1 million towards the completion of the Phase 1 portion of the Center City District-run project that will green a quarter-mile section of the unused rail line from Broad Street southeast across 13th and 12th Streets to Callowhill Street.

Reading Viaduct
Center City District and the Friends of the Rail Park will work together to develop the now-defunct Reading Railroad elevated tracks into a sky-high park. (Rendering courtesy Studio Bryan Hanes)

2. Centennial Commons

The largest of the projects will renovate the Parkside Avenue edge of West Fairmount Park. The Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Centennial Commons will add amenities and improve access to this section of the park, used by residents of East Parkside as well as the thousands of visitors to the Please Touch Museum and the Philadelphia Zoo.

Centennial Commons
Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation will collaborate to realize Centennial Commons, a new playspace in West Fairmount Park. (Rendering courtesy Studio Bryan Hanes)

For more on Reimagining the Civic Commons, see below.

3. Bartram’s Mile

Along the lower Schuylkill River, the Bartram’s Mile trail project, spearheaded by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and Schuylkill River Development Corporation, will develop the industrial land between Grays Ferry Avenue and 58th Street into an urban park and trail, eventually connecting to the recently expanded Schuylkill River Trail and its latest section, the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk.

The Schuylkill River Development Corporation and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation are the organizational team behind the development of Bartram’s Mile trail project. (Rendering courtesy Andropogon)

4. The Discovery Center

In East Fairmount Park, Audubon and Outward Bound will collaborate on The Discovery Center, an environmental education hub at the East Fairmount Park Reservoir, next to the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.

Discovery Center
Audubon Pennsylvania and Outward Bound Philadelphia are the groups behind the educational collaboration that will be The Discovery Center. (Rendering courtesy DIGSAU/D.I.R.T. and LRSLA)

5. Lovett Memorial Library and Park

The Free Library of Philadelphia and Mt. Airy USA team up on the Lovett Memorial Library and Park, a renovation and expansion of the existing library.

(Design and rendering courtesy Jim Keller)
The Free Library of Philadelphia and Mt. Airy USA team up to develop a library. (Design and rendering courtesy Jim Keller)

For more on Reimagining the Civic Commons and its multifaceted programs, check right here and stay tuned right here to Uwishunu, too, for more coverage on these important projects as news develops.

Reimagining the Civic Commons

When: Ongoing


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