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University City District celebrates the opening of this pedestrian plaza. It's the first completed project in a neighborhood wide effort to clean up and beautify neglected plazas/corners around West Philadelphia. Credit: Ceaphas Stubbs , Ceaphas Stubbs

The once run-down traffic triangle at 42nd Street and Woodland Avenue is now a peaceful park among ongoing traffic.

The Woodland Avenue Pedestrian Plaza was unveiled yesterday by Mayor Michael Nutter as part of a joint initiative between University City District and the city’s Office of Transportation and Utilities to transform parts of city streets into small pedestrian seating areas and parks.

“We have taken an ugly, concrete, useless piece of infrastructure and created a welcoming green space for the community,” Philadelphia Deputy Mayor of Transportation and Utilities Rina Cutler said.

Ariel Ben-Amos, a senior planner and analyst for the Philadelphia Office of the Transportation and Utilities said, “It’s about investing meaning and identity into what already exists.”

Nutter — a 1979 Wharton graduate — and Cutler cut the ribbon to initiate the plaza into the community.

As part of the same initiative, UCD has also established three “parklets,” or small seating areas in place of a parking spot around the neighborhood. A new parklet just opened in front of the Ramen Bar at 4040 Locust St. The other two are located at 43rd Street between Baltimore and Larchwood avenues and 44th Street between Locust and Spruce streets.

“The University City District has been instrumental in making these [parklets] happen,” urban studies professor Amy Hillier said. Parklets “increase the number of people outside,” she said, “which probably creates a sense of safety and feeling that one is in a ‘cool’ neighborhood.”

Starting in 2009 with Nutter’s launch of the Greenworks Philadelphia project, multiple projects have been implemented towards making Philadelphia a greener and healthier city. Nutter expressed in his 2008 inaugural address that it was his goal to make Philadelphia the greenest city in America.

“We are investing as a city in pedestrian plazas and parklets in order to make the city safer for pedestrians and healthier by encouraging walking,” Ben-Amos said.

The parklets have also played a key role in commercial development, especially for small businesses.

“They are good for businesses because they provide outdoor restaurant seating, which is often lacking in small establishments,” Hillier said.

The opening of a parklet in front of Honest Tom’s Taco Shop, located on 44th Street between Spruce and Locust streets, has certainly led to an increase in the small shop’s business, owner Tom McCusker explained. The taco shop opened last December.

“Before, if 10 or 15 people showed up at once, they would see the crowd inside the restaurant and keep walking,” McCusker said. “Now, the parklet created a social space and made the block somewhere you could hang out.”

Students at Penn and other surrounding universities are also enjoying the benefits of the parklets and pedestrian plazas.

“[Parklets] encourage sustainable activity and pedestrian travel,” College junior Michael Josephs said. “It’s really awesome.”

“It really brightens up the community,” Carrie Siu, a senior at the University of the Sciences, said. “If they are trying to make Philadelphia the greenest city in America, this is definitely a good initiative to go after.”

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