30th Street Station gets a makeover

The University City District is hoping to make The Porch, an open-air seating area, 'Philadelphia's next great public space'

· July 18, 2012, 8:34 pm

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30th Street Station is no longer just for catching a train home for Thanksgiving.

Since its debut last fall, The Porch — an open-air seating area outside 30th Street Station — has been launching free performances, Wednesday farmers’ markets, yoga classes and most recently a beer garden and mini golf course.

“The Porch is a significant gateway for Philadelphia and the region,” University City District Planning and Economic Development director Prema Katari Gupta wrote in an email. “It’s where many people — myself included — made or make their first impressions of Philadelphia.”

With its central location between University City and Center City and approximately 1,800 people traversing its sidewalk on weekdays, The Porch has the potential to be “Philadelphia’s next great public space,” Gupta said. She feels the site, with both a skyline and river view, “should be among the most picturesque places in Philadelphia.”

The space used to be bare sidewalk before UCD — inspired by urban green spaces such as Herald and Greeley Square Parks in midtown Manhattan — revamped it with plants, colorful tables, umbrellas, seats and recliners. The Porch’s grand opening took place in November 2011.

Anne Sylvia and Heather Green, two employees who work across the street from the Porch, are fond of the renovation.

“Before they came out here and did this, there wasn’t really anything out here,” Sylvia said.
She described The Porch as a “mini vacation,” since she could recline in the sun during her lunch breaks.

Despite the wide variety of events The Porch hosts, Green said she does not expect Philadelphia residents to visit The Porch and only sees it as a small attraction for people nearby.

“It’s not all that,” Sylvia added. She said even if she lived in the city, she probably would not travel far to visit The Porch because she believes it is still low-key.

To improve The Porch, Sylvia said that a fountain and outdoor concession stands would attract more people.

“They have so many concessions inside [Amtrak] like food and drink, but when the weather is nice like this, they should actually have a food and concession stand right here on The Porch,” she said. “Then you don’t have to go inside and bring your food out here.”

UCD intends to make significant improvements in the future, but food kiosks currently do not take top priority. Gupta said UCD’s next step would be to install temporary and permanent displays of artwork. The William Penn Foundation also awarded UCD with a grant of $500,000 on July 16 to support its redesign and cultural programming partnerships.

Looking ahead, UCD hopes their “methodology for creating The Porch would be replicated elsewhere,” Gupta said. “Rather than beginning with large irreversible capital expenses, we quickly assembled resources to civilize the space with tables, chairs, umbrellas, and high quality paintings.”

With feedback and close monitoring, Gupta said UCD is taking “experimental steps until The Porch becomes a park of the quality of Race Street Pier or Sister Cities Park.”

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