January 26, 2023
Plans to transform Philadelphia's most Instagrammable unofficial park recently got a boost from the federal government to the tune of $2 million.
Graffiti Pier, a 6-acre stretch along the Delaware River in Port Richmond, has long been a haven for street artists, who have covered the former coal loading dock with tags, messages and portraits of Bart Simpson. It's never been an actual park — it's privately owned by Conrail — but back in 2019, the nonprofit Delaware River Waterfront Corp. announced plans to acquire the land from Conrail and make it an actual public space.
Thanks to the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in late December, that project will be getting a chunk of change earmarked for Circuit Trails, the 800-mile network of public pathways across the wider Philadelphia area and South Jersey. The overall Circuit Trails funding will help connect trail segments in Montgomery and Bucks counties, as well as develop parks just off the paths, including Graffiti Pier Park.
According to a rep for the DRWC, the allotted $2 million for Graffiti Pier will support first-phase construction costs. A specific breakdown has not yet been determined. The project is still in the planning stage, so crews won't roll in until an ongoing spring 2023 update to the conceptual plan is complete.
That plan, first released in 2020, calls for massive shoreline, pathway and lighting upgrades that will still "keep the grit" at Graffiti Pier alive. In addition to preserving existing artwork, the DRWC aims to provide more canvasses in the form of concrete benches, movable metal tables and stools and wooden picnic tables that are "meant to be graffitied."
Trails in the upland areas will be strengthened with decomposed granite to improve accessibility, and a new access ramp to the top of the South Trestle will allow more visitors access to cityscape views. Solar-powered light poles will illuminate the trailway, with additional light installations brightening the art walls and upland forest, solving a longstanding safety concern for artists and locals.
But perhaps some of the most ambitious changes are ones visitors may not even notice. To better protect the area against climate change, the DRWC plans to install plants and trees along the shoreline that can better weather rising tides and construct wetlands that will absorb stormwater. That stormwater will also be managed through permeable paving, planters and basins, all "green" infrastructure changes designed to limit pollutants and maintain the space's current appearance as closely as possible.
Certain "high marsh vegetation," like pickerel weed, will also provide a visual buffer from the many urban development projects surrounding Graffiti Pier.
The DRWC has hosted multiple sessions with neighbors and artists to solicit feedback, but they all took place in 2019 and 2020, with the latter sessions hosted via Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic. Common requests from these meetings that the plan still has not addressed include bike parking, which the DRWC says will be considered in the updated concept plan.
DWRC reps would not say whether the park was still on track to open in 2024, but since it has not yet officially acquired the land from Conrail, delays appear likely. The nonprofit is still actively soliciting community feedback on its social media and through a brief survey available on its website.
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