Rail Park, Farm for the City open in Philly after much anticipation

On Thursday, June 14, the first phase of the Rail Park opened. Once home to the Reading Railroad viaduct, the quarter-mile green space transforms what was formerly an overgrown stretch of abandoned railway into a public park for all.

Good news: Two brand-new outdoor spaces debut to the public this week.

The first is the highly anticipated Phase 1 of the Reading Viaduct Rail Park, an area of abandoned railway in the Spring Arts District previously fenced off to the public and overgrown with weeds. Once frequented primarily by urban explorers ambitious enough to jump the fence (or search for holes), the renovated quarter-mile park now welcomes all with 360-degree views of the city.

The second space is Farm for the City, an interactive working farm that brings a much-welcomed touch of color to the dense concrete Thomas Paine Plaza across from City Hall.

Here’s a quick rundown of what you should know before visiting each.

>> READ MORE: How you can help Philly reimagine our civic spaces | Opinion

Reading Viaduct Rail Park, Phase 1

Opening date

Thursday, June 14

Hours

7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

What it is

Philly’s own (currently much smaller) version of the NYC High Line, the Rail Park is designed to repurpose a three-mile stretch of abandoned railway inclusive of the former home of the Reading Railroad viaduct. The viaduct was built in the 1890s to carry passengers and freight to Center City, but after ceasing operations in 1984, it was left to deteriorate. In 2003, a grassroots neighborhood coalition began advocating to transform the surrounding area into a public park. More than $10 million later (raised by the Center City District in collaboration with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and Friends of the Rail Park), Phase 1 is now open to the public.

Camera icon GRACE DICKINSON / STAFF
Two local artists produced “Dawn Chorus,” a site-specific work of public art inspired by the history of the railroad as well as the patterns of immigration to Philadelphia from other countries.

The quarter-mile stretch begins at Broad and Noble Streets across from the former Inquirer and Daily News building and features elevated, 360-degree views of the city. You’ll find more gravel than greenery currently within view, but with more than 1,000 plants and 11 types of young trees scattered throughout the park, the space is bound to feel lush in time. Don’t expect to see any fancy rosebuds, however. The landscaping was designed to fit with the industrial surroundings and is composed primarily of native grasses, shrubs, and a few small flowering plants.

Why you should check it out

The space, unused and overgrown for decades, now serves the neighborhood as a much-needed, serene green space and gathering place just steps from the bustle of Broad Street. While there are no official plans or projections on when (or if) the remainder of the park will be complete, the full three-mile stretch would span as far as Chinatown to Brewerytown, and is destined to generate new investment in the surrounding area.

What to do there

Take in cityscape views, relax in one of five massive swings, picnic with a special someone, or simply enjoy the greenery, perhaps with a book in hand, in the central Philadelphia location. Also don’t miss Dawn Chorus, a work of art by Philadelphia-based Brent Wahl and Laynie Browne composed of a telephone pole adorned with sculpted birds. The piece was inspired by the history of the railroad, as well as patterns of immigration to Philadelphia from other countries. There is also talk of bringing an ice cream cart or other small food truck to serve up seasonal eats right outside the park entrance.

How to get there

The access point to Phase 1 of the Rail Park is at 13th and Noble Streets. Noble Street is a small street between Spring Garden and Callowhill Streets. The park then stretches to Callowhill between 11th and 12th Streets. If taking public transportation, ride SEPTA’s Broad Street Line to the Spring Garden Station. Then, walk south until you hit Noble Street (less than a block) and take a left. The park entrance will be on your right.

Rail Park Phase 1, 13th and Noble Streets, free, therailpark.org

Farm for the City

Opening date

Friday, June 15 (closes Sept. 29)

Hours

Monday to Friday: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

What it is

Farm for the City is designed to serve as an interactive working farm in the heart of Philadelphia. Transforming a more than 4,000-square-foot section of Thomas Paine Plaza, the urban garden is a project of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society with support from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. The initiative not only revolutionizes a space once sitting as a concrete desert, but it also serves to highlight the role played by community gardens citywide in strengthening neighborhoods and addressing food insecurity.

Why you should check it out

Farm for the City is anticipated to produce roughly 1,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables to be donated to Broad Street Ministry’s Hospitality Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that serves the homeless. While two primary farmers will be responsible for managing food production, plenty of opportunities exist to get your own hands dirty.

Camera icon Rob Cardillo Photography
Farm for the City transforms a more than 4,000-square-foot concrete section of Thomas Paine Plaza into an interactive working farm.

What to do there

Open daily, the public is invited to drop by anytime during hours of operation to explore the African eggplant, fennel, carrot, and other vegetable plants, as well as to chat with the onsite farmers. A roster of regularly occurring events will also unfold, including garden demos and workshops falling under the themes of soil, seed, plant, and harvest. From panels on food waste to deep-dive discussions on soil nutrients to game nights with the Food Trust, all programming is free. A full calendar of events can be found online at phsonline.org/events.

How to get there

Farm for the City takes over the Thomas Paine Plaza of the Municipal Services Building, catercorner from the Dilworth Park side of City Hall. The GPS address is 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard. If traveling by public transit, simply hop SEPTA’s Broad Street Line to the City Hall station. Once you arrive, walk to the northwest corner of City Hall. Across the street, you’ll see a plaza with a 30-foot-tall sculpture of stacked bronze figures (“Government of the People” by artist Jacques Lipchitz) shooting up in the air. This is where Farm for the City resides.

Farm for the City, 1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd, free, phsonline.org/programs

Camera icon RENDERING COURTESY Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
Farm for the City transforms a more than 4,000-square-foot concrete section of Thomas Paine Plaza into an interactive working farm.