Rail-to-park plan gaining speed
PHILADELPHIA, PA.; April 26, 2011 (WPVI) -- By 2015, Philadelphia wants to create 500 new acres of green space. One prime project could get them quite a long way to completing that goal and its in a place most have never heard of.
Right now, rust, weeds, and graffiti dominate the Reading Viaduct, a mile-long stretch of abandoned rail lines just north of Center City.
But a growing number of people have a different vision - to turn it into a park.
"We have room for bikers, we have room for strollers," Sarah McEneaney, an artist living in the Callowhill neighborhood, said.
The Viaduct runs above ground, between 11th and 12th streets, from Vine Street north to Fairmount Avenue.
A second section goes west to Broad Street.
For 90 years, it carried trains in and out of Reading Terminal.
The last train left in November 1984, when the Center City Commuter Tunnel opened
Although the viaduct has decayed a lot since then, a magic remains.
McEneaney says, "It has this way of knitting together neighborhoods, off of the street."
In 2003, McEneaney and John Struble, a furniture maker also living in the neighborhood, co-founded the Reading Viaduct project, to turn the dream into reality.
"You're able to walk blocks without encountering cars," she said. "There were peregrine falcons nesting up there a few years ago, so there's wildlife here."
After languishing for years, the dream of a "park in the sky" is catching on, following the success of similar projects, like the Promenade Plantee in Paris, France, and the High Line in New York City.
Similar projects, such as the Bloomingdale Line in Chicago and the Beltline in Atlanta are starting up.
Drew Becher, of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, worked on green space projects during his 12 years in Chicago government. He says green space is essential for a city's growth.
"They're just a huge value to all neighborhoods," he said.
Becher thinks a park on the viaduct could bring green space to neighborhoods that don't have any right now.
Sharon Pinkenson, of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, sees another benefit to the Viaduct project - new movie locations!
"It could be a gun shootout, it could be a romantic walk, it could be a coming-of-age story. I'm sure the filmmakers will fall in love with it. I can't wait to get the photgraphs into our Location Library" she said.
Independent filmmaker Jamie Moffett has already fallen in love with the Viaduct.
Moffett has produced a picture book and is working on a movie to promote the project.
He's also spearheading a Facebook campaign to show support.
He says, "If we can get 50,000 people by the end of the year to 'like' our Facebook campaign that we could then present that to the city, and say, listen, your city wants this to happen."
Making a park will take more than pulling up rusty tracks and planting grass.
Soil contaminated by a century of train traffic has to be dealt with.
And then there's the issue of money.
Tearing down the Viaduct could run $30-million or more. On the other hand, no one yet knows how much much building a park upon it could cost.
But the project is high on the Mayor's wish list, and Action News has learned the city will talk this week with Reading International, the entertainment company which now owns the property.
There could be a lot riding on that conversation.
special reports, brian taff
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