The Road Less Stupid: Cross Your Fingers For Ben Franklin Parkway 2.0

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When Jacques Gréber designed the Ben Franklin Parkway in 1917 — which, as seen above, was even then the result of a decade-plus of urban planning and revitalization — the idea was that the Parkway would emulate the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Ever since, the Parkway has often been billed by wealthy, out-of-touch people who like to say things like this, as “a slice of Paris in Philadelphia.” Which is to say, it is a road like a road they have in Paris that doesn’t have anything Paris has other than the Rodin Museum, which Paris also has, but really, this is not like anything in Paris because, for fuck’s sake, PHILADELPHIA IS NOT LIKE PARIS AND NOT EVEN ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SAYING IT WILL MAKE IT SO.

And so what the Parkway really is, to the people who actually use it day in and day out, is not a slice Paris but rather, a giant slice of pain-in-the-ass. It feels weird to walk on it. All of the real estate, even and especially the new Barnes, hides from the road. And good luck to you if you happen to need a pack of smokes or a bottle of water or a place to grab a bite there.

But know this: Many are working on your behalf to finally fix this — to make the Parkway more alive, more walkable, and more useful. After four community meetings and a lot of egghead effort from Parks and Recreation, PennPraxis, and the Penn Project on Civic Engagement, the city is closer than it has ever been to having what PlanPhilly calls “initial guiding principles for projects which can be actionable in the next few years and projects that help to improve/enhance connections to neighborhoods.” And on Monday, February 4th, Parks and Rec will stage a big reveal at the Academy of Natural Sciences at an event called “More Park, Less Way: An Action Plan to Increase Urban Vibrancy on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.” Details are scant right now, but we’re betting that this will be a major initiative that will bring big changes — hopefully, not least among them, a final admission that the Ben Franklin Parkway is a road in Philadelphia that — sacre bleu! — leads to other places in Philadelphia.

  • thegreengrass

    Maybe the Champs Elysee in 1917 was nice, but today it blows. It’s a wide as shit multilane highway for the most part with difficult and annoying intersections. Which I guess isn’t unlike the parkway. If we could un-Paris the shit out of it, that’d be great.

  • thesestreets

    Yeah, the Champs-Elysee isn’t that great. It’s fun to walk down as a tourist, but I imagine it doesn’t intersect with the daily lives of Parisians too much, but it’s still better than the Parkway. The Champs-Elysee has stuff on it. Stores, apartments, parks, movie theaters, restaurants. The Parkway has almost nothing; a baseball diamond, a huge parking lot that gets pride-of-place in front of the Art Museum (if that isn’t a statement on the priorities of the city I don’t know what is), and the awful, anti-urban Parktowne Place, which does more to rob the Parkway of vibrancy than almost anything else.

    I mean, look at the original plans for the place: it’s pretty magnificent. We lost a lot when we let 676 burrow it’s way underneath it and Parktowne Place take up almost the entire southern side. Changing the nature of the Parkway is going to take some serious rezoning – in other words, building some stuff that isn’t just museums!

  • http://TheWorldExists.com/ BradyDale

    1) Totally agree with Philebrity that Philadelphia is not Paris in any way, shape or form.

    2) Totally agree with thesestreets that the Champs-Elysees is kind of dumb anyway. Cool for tourists. Otherwise, not so much.

    3) Totally agree with Philebrity that it isn’t useful space.

    4) Jane Jacobs is turning over in her grave at all the museums we’ve put up along it. It isn’t a neighborhood: it is an art ghetto. Just like deep South Philadelphia is a sports ghetto. It’s dumb to put a bunch of same uses together.

    5) We have a lot of eggheads who come up with great plans in our academic and non-profit institutions, only for those good ideas to be flushed in the collective toilet of City Hall, which is a Council of Small Minded and a Delusionally Self-Important Mayor flanked by Career Protecting Bureaucrats who have made fear of innovation into a small cult, so good luck with any of that stuff panning out, eggheads.

    The streets of Philadelphia may well be the best place for good idea to die.