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.