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January 08, 2015

Friends of the Rail Park planting its presence at Flower Show

Friends of the Rail Park to showcase an exhibit sampling Rail Park; may co-sponsor a beer garden this summer.

Urban Planning The Rail Park
Philadelphia Rail Park Plate 3 Photography/Friends of the Rail Park

The potential site of Philadelphia's Rail Park, which has yet to break ground with its first phase.

Friends of the Rail Park, a nonprofit that advocates for the construction of a three-mile Philadelphia rail park that would partly convert the abandoned Viaduct space, told that it will be debuting an exhibition piece showcasing a sample of the park at the 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show in February.

"We've been in discussion with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for months about collaborating projects -- including the possibility of doing a beer garden next summer," said Michael Garden, a board member of Friends of the Rail Park. "They came to us and told us they'd like to give us an exhibition and provide some of the money needed to create it."

Garden said his organization has about $10,000 worth of funds to create the exhibit, which he clarified will be a "sample of the feeling of the Rail Park, and not an exact sample of the park itself." The goal, he said, is simple: There are 250,000 attendees at the Flower Show each year, many of whom are locals; with that kind of regional exposure, it'll make his job of advocating for and finding funding for (with the help of Paul Levy from the Center City District, that is) the actualization of the Rail Park.

"We're about halfway toward what we need," he said. "And we're currently waiting on the next grant that could tip us toward [breaking ground for Phase 1]."

Phase 1 of the quarter-mile, four-track-wide, Reading Viaduct-located park has already been designed, but will not break ground until more funds are available. Phase 1 spans from Broad and Noble streets to Callowhill Street between 11th and 12th streets. 

The Flower Show exhibit, he said, is being designed by Aaron Goldblatt, who is a board member of Friends of the Rail Park and an architect at Metcalfe Architecture & Design who specializes in doing interpretive exhibition and design. The booth is 12-by-24 feet, and will be, Garden said, "a simple design to get some of the feeling of what the elevated section of the Rail Park might be like." Signal gantries will display the Friends of the Rail Park logo, and the plants will consist of ones that are local and indigenous -- but also cost-effective.

"One of the challenges Highline Park [in New York] faced was the cost of maintaining it; many plants chosen for it were beautiful, but not easy to maintain," Garden said. ""We're looking to create a rail park that's a little more understated."

Among the plants: eastern red cedar, river birch and magnolia trees; baptisa, autumn fern and woodland phlox perennials; and red stem dogwood, highbush blueberry and fragrant viburnum shrubs.

The exhibit will also sport a digital media panel that displays historical images of the Viaduct site as well as designs of the Rail Park.

The exhibit will debut when the Pennsylvania Convention Center opens its doors for the 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show on March 2 at 8 a.m.