Planning Committee Eyes Big New Dreams South of Chester Ave.

Even as the dust settles and the new grass grows on the newly renovated North Park or “Park A”, long-range planners are beginning to study improvements to the Middle and South Parks (“B” and “C”) between Chester and Woodland Avenues.

The Friends of Clark Park Planning Committee (PlanCom) resumed regular meetings in January 2011. Since so much work is just being completed in the North Park, its chief mission now is to explore the design ideas that can reshape the other parts of the park.The ClarkParkMasterPlanApril2001-smaller calls for several large changes in these areas. It envisaged a small plaza at the tip of the park on Woodland, which serves as a gateway to the burgeoning University of the Sciences campus. The tatty Kingsessing parking lot is also seen as an ideal site for a larger plaza, with seating and ornamental features. The grounds in between the two would-be plazas are also ripe for new plantings and bench layouts.

USP has a long-term lease from the City on all the land south of the parking lot, so any development here must be done with an eye toward that University’s needs as well as its means. Many other questions must be addressed; for instance, what impact would the loss of parking spaces have on the neighborhood?

The Master Plan also identified a perennial mass craving: to see grass grow in the Bowl. Occasional quick fixes have failed and have shown that major engineering will be needed to pull this off. The Bowl is a former natural wetland turned artificial pond, with complex underground construction features which both grapple with, and create, drainage problems.

Furthermore, the Bowl is heavily used by many kinds of people, some of them on a daily, year-round basis. Dog owners, ball players and festival goers are prominent among such users. It is heavily pounded by relentless foot traffic and cannot be planted or maintained as an ordinary lawn would be. But turf can be maintained on playing fields, given the right resources.

As we have just seen in the North Park, rehabbing an old park is just as onerous, technical, and lengthy as rehabbing an old building is. So construction here could knock users out of this section of the park for a couple of seasons.

The Master Plan estimated a price-tag of around $175,000 to complete this project. But we can begin to study it for much less. We need to know more—including whether the community wishes to accomplish this particular project.

The North Park renovation will present new planning challenges of its own. There are always a few “design surprises” after a major rehab is completed, which must be dealt with. PlanCom is focusing extra hard on the deployment of the many new movable tables and chairs in the new Central Plaza – a radical idea, at least in West Philadelphia. But it’s an affordable test, and it can also teach us about the best way to lay down future, more permanent design elements here. Should there be built-in tables and benches, planters, a water feature, a bulletin board or poster kiosk, a sculpture? Or something we haven’t considered yet?

PlanCom welcomes participation by all community members, regardless of whether they are members of FoCP. It meets on a loose monthly basis on a weekday evening in a USP building; its next meeting will be 7 p.m. Monday, June 6. Contact FoCP Director and PlanCom chairman Darryl Stovall if you would like to play a role in this work and attend this meeting. His email address is, and his telephone number is (215) 909-3621.

Please get involved in this important challenge! Help rebuild the park at the center of your community. Or, feel free to post a reply to this message at the “Leave a Comment” link, below.

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