After already being pulled into her piece on friendship last month, Philadelphian and Paris Review contributor Jessica Chiu has done it again, this time talking about an idea near and dear to our hearts: The Reading Viaduct.
Chiu discusses the possible plans for the viaduct’s future as she takes a walking tour:
The Viaduct carries an inexplicable stretch of what looks like airborne prairie. Blonde and spiny Prairie Threeawn and the blushing tips of little blue stem grass give the landscape the pale, golden, look of Colorado in winter. A knee-high field of foxtail captures and concentrates sunlight in the translucent fuzz of tips. Tight, white, buds of snakeroot appear among woody bramble, an echo of the Cut we’ve just left. We are held up by steel and dirt fill, walk over ballast rock. Botanists tell me that the landscape on the elevated line is incredible because of the shifting mosaic of soil underfoot. A lawn of Prairie Threeawn stops short and a red cedar appears without good explanation. Vegetation could have come from anywhere, dropped by bird, carried by wind, upturned from whatever lies hidden in the soil bed.
We pass under hulking iron catenary bridges that once delivered electricity to trains. Waist-high girder bridges leftover from the rail line are bedded in rocks and trampled poa grass. We pass a building emblazoned with the words “Bicycle with the National Reputation,” leftover from Haverford Cycle Co., which once advertised in Boy’s Life. An old rail station caves in on itself, what used to be the railroad’s YMCA now shelters artists. Empress trees appear; as do catalpa trees, hanging with long, skinny, seeds called “Johnny Smokers.” Mauve-colored stems of pokeweed droop with berries. (Some history buffs believe that ink made from crushed berries was used to draft the Constitution.) Sumac drip flame colored leaves. Most of these plants, I am told, are usual suspects for first growth in industrial spaces. If left long enough, a forest could emerge, populated by stands of beech, oak, maples or poplars.”
Really, if you’ve never been there, she does an amazing job of conveying the insanely awesome nature of the whole thing, and the ridiculous amount of potential there. You can read the full essay here.