Come 2012, Sister Cities Plaza, located at 18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, will be a massive natural play place, with a children’s “discovery garden,” a toy boat pond and an impressive new fountain.
It’s all part of the city’s $20.9 million makeover of the Parkway, which has been under way for some time using funds through six funding sources, including more than $7 million each from the city and the state, and at least eight grants.
During a presentation held Tuesday, May 10, city officials, joined by former Gov. Ed Rendell, unveiled designs for a $4.6 million renovation project at the two acre Sister Cities Plaza.
The project should be complete by the beginning of 2012.
Paul Levy, president of the Center City District, led the presentation, discussing many of the new elements that will be built into the park.
In a project designed by Philadelphia-based companies Digsau and Studio Bryan Hanes, there will be an indoor-outdoor café and a children’s discovery garden, which will host presentations from the Academy of Natural Sciences and will contain rocks, plants and natural features that will encourage natural play as well as a pond for sailing toy boats.
In order to recognize the park’s designation as Sister Cities Plaza, in the center of the park there will be a new fountain with one large jet of water at the center and other jets situated around the center jet.
Levy said the jets will be arranged in such a way that the middle jet will represent Philadelphia, then around the center jet and placed proportionately to its respective distance from the city, there will be a water jet for each of Philly’s 10 sister cities.
“Because we are the center of the universe,” joked Levy.
The jets — one for Florence, Italy; Tel Aviv, Israel; Torun, Poland; Tianjin, China; Incheon, South Korea; Douala, Cameroon; Nizhny Novgorod, Russia; Kobe, Japan; Aix-en-Provence, France; and Abruzzo, Italy — will be sized specifically to shoot a jet of water representative of the size of each city’s population.
The smaller the city’s population, the smaller the fountain of water.
“When it’s finished, I think, the Ben Franklin Parkway will be the most impressive street in the world,” former Gov. Rendell told the gathered audience. “There will be nothing like the Parkway for its beauty…There will be nothing else like it in the world.”
Mayor Michael Nutter, who stood silently for much of the unveiling, taking in the warm, spring day, said not only did he approve of the plans for the park, but he simply enjoyed the time he spent being in the park that day.
“As much as I love parks, I don’t often get the opportunity to stand in one,” he said.
The project, Levy said, would be a complete overhaul for the park, which at some point in the 1800s had served as a graveyard.
At that time, he said the 2-acre park served as something of a “Potter’s Field,” a term for a burial ground of unknown people or those too poor to afford a burial.
While no human remains were found during an archeological study of the park — done in preparation for this new renovation — Levy said there were a few artifacts uncovered and there will be information about these items posted, he believed, in the children’s discovery garden.
“We found every bottle you can think of from the 1800s,” said Levy. “We are going to tell the history of this site.”
While the project at Sister Cities Plaza is the most recent to be undertaken, will be a number of projects to be completed through the $20.9 million Ben Franklin Parkway renovation.
Along with this, there will be a major renovation of the block around the Rodin Museum on the Parkway.
This is scheduled for completion in July.
Also, at areas along the Parkway, lanes are being shifted to allow widening of the center islands, in order to make walking the Parkway easier for pedestrians.
Between the 2100 and 2200 blocks of the Parkway, there will be a new bike lane added and new trees planted as well.