Sports have long been the main act at Columbus Square Park in South Philadelphia. Two busy athletic fields take up over two-thirds of this city block bounded by Wharton, 12th, Reed, and 13th Streets. Columbus Square Park is used by adult and youth sports leagues from around the city.
At the edges, however, a growing community of neighborhood park users has been changing the definition of outdoor recreation. They see the outdoors as a great place for picnics and theater performances. They tend an award-winning rose garden. They persuaded the Philadelphia Water Department to build stormwater planters and a rain garden. And they love dogs—big and small. They want a park that is not “all about sports” and the ability “to walk through the park, rather than around it.”
Says, Ilene Wilder, president of the Columbus Square Park Advisory Council says,“This was a community that was saying, 'We like our park. We like our green.'” The park’s local audience needed to present a unified vision for a greener, more diversified park. Just as importantly, they needed to work with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation on the park’s future. They turned to the Collaborative for a conceptual design to outline improvements.
A community task force was a key part of the design process. Leah Rominger, the landscape architectural designer who led the Collaborative’s volunteer team, says, “This is a very involved and passionate community. I was impressed by how many people came out and shared their opinions… We had so many different people and so many residents who used the park… each group had its own vision for the park.”
Representatives of the neighborhood together with public agencies established several priorities. “The biggest turning point was agreeing to reduce the size of the fields,” she notes, “Another major turning point was our joint decision to remove the ‘roundhouse’(a underutilized storage building in the 12th and Reed corner of the park) to open up the entrance to the park—something that will give the community the flow and circulation they wanted.”
The resulting conceptual design reduces the athletic fields by 25% and demolishes the roundhouse structure, freeing up space for a new public entrance at 12th and Reed Streets. The plan also transforms the periphery of the park with a new pathway system, an expanded dog park, and gathering places like the new community “lawn” along Reed Street and a “patio” along 13th Street.
Ilene Wilder says, “Our project turned out to be truly collaborative,” providing a way for the community and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to have a dialogue about the park and plan for its future. “This was not an easy process… the team did a phenomenal job—showing great professionalism and management,” she notes.
Park advocates are now working closely with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to set priorities for implementing the proposed park improvements.
VOLUNTEERS Leah Rominger | Mathew Davis | Gabrielle Badawy | Shruti Malelo | Duffield Associates, Susan Schriner, P.E. | DB-3D, Daniel Brown | Bittenbender Construction, Joseph Bray | International Consultants, Inc., Michael Funk
VALUE OF SERVICES $35,058
HOURS DONATED 334
OPINION OF PROBABLE COST The project has five components (rec center area, dog park area, patio, athletic fields, and lawn) totaling $2.8 million.