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A New User Friendly Green Plaza

19 Jul 2023 11:55 AM | Anonymous

A funny thing happened in Center City after World War II. Streets engineers were trying desperately to find a way for the city to accommodate all the new cars that were on the road, driving in from the suburbs every morning. They even had the thought to rip up Rittenhouse Square and install a massive underground garage below the park and then plant some trees that were never going to get very big and call it an improvement. CCRA was founded to stop that idea, and it succeeded. (The engineers carried out the same idea a little later in Love Park, which was a new park and lacked a residential constituency.)

Meanwhile, architects were terrified by the volume and carelessness of the commuter traffic, and they started looking for ways to protect their buildings and the pedestrians who were walking to and from them. So they built castles and outlying fortifications to prevent errant motorists from mowing down people on the sidewalk. 

Those who remember what the west side of City Hall looked like before the new park went in will know what that looked like - granite, granite everywhere, nor any a place to sit.

When the architect Vincent Kling designed the Municipal Services Building, he was strongly influenced by these two conflicting impulses. On the north side, he built an access lane with a porte-cochere so visitors could hop out in the rain and not get wet. It's not clear who he expected to park the cars. And on all sides, he built fortress walls. 

People have been talking for a few years about fixing Tom Paine Plaza, the concrete desert hiding behind the parapet walls that surround his tower. And now we have an actual plan to civilize this space - replacing stairs with ramps, planting trees, and generally demilitarizing the zone. This is a good idea, and we should cheer the designers on.

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