Pop-up parks add to Philly summer fun

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Originally published by Courier-Post

Pop-up parks add to Philly summer fun

If you are walking around Philadelphia this summer, you’re bound to stumble upon at least one urban oasis, and probably two or three, as an increasing number of empty lots and underused spaces around the city have been transformed into pop-up parks.

“Our vision was really just seeing a blighted lot and thinking about how we could make it beautiful,” said Julianne Shrader Ortega, the chief of programs for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

PHS began the pop-up garden trend in 2011 as a way to connect the public to their programs and events. The PHS gardens allow city-dwellers a chance to relax outdoors and socialize over food and drink, but the spaces also act as venues for workshops in organic gardening, rainwater collection and flower arranging, organized by PHS and partner organizations.

“I think it’s terrific,” said David Streim, as he had an after-work drink with colleagues Angie Francis and Trishna Nath at the PHS South Street pop-up. “I don’t know why it’s happened only in the last few years, but I’m glad it did and the city has been receptive.”

PHS began the pop-ups in 2011 with a location at a lot on 20th and Market, which has since been developed. This year is the first they have maintained two locations at once, on 15th and South and 9th and Wharton. The attendance has grown every year. “When we added in food and beverage, our numbers went up to 28,000,” Ortega said.


Spruce Street Harbor Park also began as a blighted area, an old sculpture park that no longer had sculptures. Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which manages six miles of waterfront area, worked to make it into a destination to “bring people to the waterfront and prime the waterfront for development,” said communication manager Emma Fried-Cassorla, . “It’s a way to get Philadelphia in touch with the river.”

Now in its second year, the Spruce Street pop-up opened earlier in the summer, added more of the popular hammocks and increased the food selections and number of bathrooms, in line with the requests they received after last year. They also added a roller skating rink a few blocks north of the park.


“With minimal investment, they turned this into something where people can have fun,” said Akbar Hasan, a Philadelphia resident who was visiting Spruce Street Harbor Park for the second time with Sonia Jackson of Lansdale, Pennsylvania. “This is the best experience we’ve had in our life,” Hasan said.

“Speak for yourself,” Jackson replied.

Though they disagreed on the magnitude of the role pop-up parks played in their lives, they agreed the park was a relaxing, enjoyable spot, and a valuable addition to Philadelphia’s other parks, both the city parks and the seasonal pop-ups.

In addition to the many pop-up parks, University City District brought parklets to the city. Parklets, a concept that originated in San Francisco, use a parking space or two to create pedestrian seating outside of businesses. UCD also maintains pedestrian plazas and public spaces, such as The Porch on Market Street, which are opened year-round. The parklets are seasonal, open from April to December.

“We’re trying to improve the quality of life,” said Nate Hommel, the capital projects manager for UCD. The parklets have been met with little pushback, even in a city tight on parking spaces. “People seem to understand the benefits, and don’t harp on the fact they lost the parking space,” Hommel said.

The Oval is a much bigger pop-up and has had a tremendous turnout, with 30,000 visitors the first season, in 2013, and 100,000 last year. Situated in the Eakins Oval Traffic Circle, at the base of the Philadelphia Art Museum, it is a prime spot for locals and tourists.

Now in its third season, The Oval is made possible by several corporate sponsors, and offers numerous daily activities from yoga to movie nights, all planned around themes.

On Friday, the park will hold a “Christmas in July” night, complete with Santa and a synthetic ice rink. “We are predicting snow that night,” said Kathryn Ott Lovell, executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, which runs The Oval along with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.

The centerpiece of The Oval is a 10,000-square-foot mural, an abstract take on kaleidoscopes. While The Oval, like many other pop-up parks, has a beer garden, it also draws visitors with its programming, food trucks, giant games of chess, checkers and Legos, and cornhole.


“It brings people together in different ways,” Lovell said of the games, which strangers can team up to play. “It’s a great sort of melting pot of people.”

Every park looks different, from the magical lights of Spruce Street to the country garden atmosphere of South Street, but all spaces feel like a special outdoor escape from the city.

Francis, who was having a beer with her colleagues at the South Street garden, said she has a backyard at home but, “It’s more fun to go to a backyard where you don’t have to maintain all the beautiful flowers.”

While the co-workers regularly meets for happy hour closer to their office in Center City, “we’ve never come down to South Street for happy hour before today, and it’s because of this place,” Francis said.

Shannon Eblen: [email protected] or (856) 486-2475


Pop-up parks


Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Open through early October. For locations, hours and events, call (215) 988-8800 or visit: phsonline.org/greening/phs-pop-up-gardens

The Oval

Open through Sunday, Aug, 23. For information, hours and events, call (215) 422-4169 or visit www.theovalphl.org/

Spruce Street Harbor Park

Open through September. For more information, hours and events, call (215) 922-2FUN or visit www.delawareriverwaterfront.com/places/spruce-street-harbor-park

University City District Parklets

For locations and information, call (215) 243-0555 or visitwww.universitycity.org/parklets