Taking Fishtown to the River

Re­vital­iz­a­tion may be com­ing to Columbia Av­en­ue in Fishtown as part of plans for gen­er­al im­prove­ments along the Delaware river­front. Top: artist’s ren­der­ing of the pro­posed design, bot­tom: Columbia Av­en­ue now. DRWC / STAR PHOTO

The Delaware River Wa­ter­front Cor­por­a­tion’s nearly two-year pro­ject will beau­ti­fy Penn Treaty Park and the “con­nect­or streets” ped­es­tri­ans will use.

Fishtown’s re­la­tion­ship to its wa­ter­front has long been chal­len­ging, and the in­dus­tri­al area along Delaware Av­en­ue near Penn Treaty Park is a par­tic­u­larly tough ex­ample.

Penn Treaty Park is the per­fect park, yield­ing beau­ti­ful views of the Delaware River, and it was the his­tor­ic loc­a­tion of Wil­li­am Penn’s famed 1683 treaty with Nat­ive Amer­ic­an In­di­ans. Yet, it is cut off from the neigh­bor­hood by I-95 and the high volume of traffic on Delaware Av­en­ue.

Now, the “Take Me to The River,” pro­ject, spear­headed by the Delaware River Wa­ter­front Cor­por­a­tion (DWRC), ini­ti­ated over two years ago and draw­ing on com­munity in­put, is get­ting closer to its goal of beau­ti­fy­ing the area.

In Fishtown, the pro­ject fo­cuses on not just Penn Treaty Park, but on three “con­nect­or streets” that ped­es­tri­an traffic uses to get to the park – Marl­bor­ough and Shack­amax­on streets, and what is con­sidered the “primary” con­nect­or, Columbia Av­en­ue.

Last week, the fi­nal design pro­pos­al by artist Don­ald Lipski for Columbia Av­en­ue was un­veiled at a pub­lic meet­ing of the Delaware River Wa­ter­front Cor­por­a­tion, held at the Penn Treaty Mu­seum at 900 Columbia Ave.

Lipski’s pro­pos­al, for lamp­posts light­ing the way on Columbia Av­en­ue to Penn Treaty Park, is meant to make the area more wel­com­ing and in­vit­ing to ped­es­tri­ans.

“Go­ing to the river down Columbia, a charm­ing Fishtown street, is about as dis­cour­aging a pro­spect as can be ima­gined — first you must pass un­der the threat­en­ing, graf­fiti-ed dark­ness be­neath the high­way; then a derel­ict stretch of chain-linked, un­used space; then ne­go­ti­ate the traffic cross­ing Delaware,” Lipski said via e-mail. “I am so proud to be play­ing a small part in tam­ing this stretch, mak­ing it an amen­ity rather than a chal­lenge.”

In the design, two lamp posts west of I-95 have a tur­key and wolf stand­ing on top of them, and to the east, five lamp­posts atop cast bronze turtles will light up what is planned to be a new park. These an­im­als rep­res­en­ted the Nat­ive Amer­ic­an tribes that formerly resided there.

Along with a planned re­design of the I-95 un­der­pass loc­ated there, in­clud­ing in­creased light­ing and stricter graf­fiti cleanup, the designs hope­fully will lead to a clean­er, more wel­com­ing Columbia Av­en­ue.

“I think the work done to con­nect Fishtown to the park had been a long time com­ing,” said Friends of Penn Treaty Park pres­id­ent A.J. Thom­son. “Friends [of Penn Treaty Park] are draw­ing thou­sands of people for our events and hun­dreds use the park each day.  The con­nect­or will en­hance vis­ib­il­ity and bring more people to this wa­ter­front treas­ure.”

On Columbia Av­en­ue, pass­ersby said the pro­ject soun­ded great.

“If you want to put one of these bronze sculp­tures in my yard, go ahead, be­cause I think they’re awe­some,” said Norm, a Columbia Av­en­ue res­id­ent, who at­ten­ded the un­veil­ing of the design.

The Pennsylvania De­part­ment of Trans­port­a­tion (PennDOT) is already en­gaged in re­design­ing I-95 at Columbia Av­en­ue, mov­ing the loc­a­tions of the ramps, in­clud­ing re­design­ing and adding new lights to the un­der­pass. There are also plans to re-land­scape the park by the high­way.

“I’m just in awe of the changes I see all over,” said Laurie, an­oth­er Columbia Av­en­ue res­id­ent. “When we look at how the city has changed, we feel like our city has blos­somed … Now they’re go­ing to give us a sculp­ture? It’s beau­ti­ful.”

Oth­er loc­als were more skep­tic­al of the pro­ject, cit­ing pol­lu­tion by late night park-go­ers in the area.

“They all come back from the park at night and throw out their beer cans in the street,” said Columbia Av­en­ue res­id­ent Bruce, who even sug­ges­ted that the bronze turtles might be stolen by thieves.

But DWRC plan­ner Kar­en Thompson thinks that this re­design will lead to a clean­er, safer Columbia Av­en­ue.

“With in­creased light­ing, more eyes on the street and in­creased ped­es­tri­an traffic, hope­fully there won’t be as much graf­fiti there in the first place,” she said.

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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