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March 05, 2021

Philly seeking input on reimagined design, function of Benjamin Franklin Parkway

City officials aim to select a 'world class public realm plan'

Public Spaces Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Parkway Redesign Philly Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia will seek proposals to redesign the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as a more pedestrian-friendly boulevard to improve its appeal, safety, function and access.

The city of Philadelphia and a group of community partners are seeking proposals for an overhaul of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, one of the city's most recognizable thoroughfares and a common entry point for recreational activity and tourist attractions.

The Parks & Recreation Department and the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure & Sustainability on Friday put out a request for proposals to reimagine the design and function of the parkway.

"The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is Philadelphia's grand boulevard, an incredible cultural epicenter that has the opportunity to become a vibrant, bustling public space for all Philadelphians," Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell said. "The way we choose the team best suited to carry out this work will be as bold and spectacular as the Parkway itself. We are inviting Philadelphia residents to join us in dreaming big about how we engage with this incredible mile-long corridor of parks, public art, and cultural institutions."

The boundaries of the public realm design project are 20th Street at the southeast end to the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum at the northwest end and between by Winter Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, city officials said.

Before the final design is selected there will be a process to get public feedback, along with the released of schematics of proposed changes, a timeline for the project and the estimated costs.

Construction of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway began in 1917 after more than a decade of planning spearheaded by retail pioneer John Wanamaker. The boulevard, originally named the Fairmount Parkway, is considered among the first examples of urban renewal in the United States.

It was designed by French landscape architect Jacques Gréber to emulate the Champs-Élysées in Paris, running from City Hall and around Logan Circle until reaching the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In 2013, Philadephia launched a "More Park, Less Way" action plan to undertake improvements to pedestrian safety and traffic flow, as well as make public spaces more accessible. Projects in recent years have included the creation of the Winter Street Greenway, the construction of Maja Park, upgrades to Von Colln Park and a series of summer pop-up activities at Eakins Oval.

"Today's Parkway is more welcoming to foot traffic than any time in recent memory," said Mike Carroll, the city's deputy managing director for transportation. "The opportunity to provide improved pedestrian connections through Eakins Oval to the Art Museum steps is exciting, and an indication of how far we have come in laying the foundation for a public thoroughfare that is as livable as it is iconic, and as welcoming as it is grand."

In 2018, the city held a street party on the Parkway to celebrate its 100th birthday, with extended hours and activities offered by the cultural pillars along the stretch. 

Last summer and fall, the parkway was the site of a protracted homeless encampment protest that ended with the city and the Philadelphia Housing Authority striking an agreement to provide more affordable housing and support programs.

The project to renovate the Parkway will be supported with funding from the William Penn Foundation in partnership with the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University and the Parkway Council.

The deadline for request for proposal submissions will be April 16.