Re-Imagining Independence Part II

Our vision of what independence looks like

(Photo Left) Our vision of an expanded Independence Park experience joined by an elevated tram.

Illustration by Salvatore Patrone.

Let’s at least give Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky credit. At least he is trying to re-imagine Independence Park.  Sparked by his EdBoard’s call for new ideas to revitalize the park, Byko comes up with this:  “Across Market Street, on the lawn next to the Independence Visitor Center? That would be the fun-and-food area.

That’s where I would install a 10-story Ferris wheel utilizing a Colonial design. …Next to the Ferris wheel, I’d have a tot lot for youngsters, and next to that something that kids love — animals. The Philadelphia Zoo could stock a mini-barnyard with domestic animals of the Colonial era — sheep, goats, pigs, ponies, dogs, chickens, rabbits, ducks, turkeys, some of which could be petted.”

Ugh!  Not sure what makes an animal Colonial era or what a Colonial designed Ferris wheel looks like, but we are sure that is not the right direction to take Independence Park.  We don’t need to cheapen our historic tourism by throwing stuff onto the parkscape that kids can see anywhere, only now dressed up in Colonial garb.

Our vision for the park lies to the east of the park if only our city leaders harness their imaginations.

A cap over I-95 — four acres running between Walnut and Chestnut Streets — will soon be constructed. Right now the plan for the cap is a park with trees, paths, and maybe a fountain. While the plan looks very nice in sketches and achieves the goal of reconnecting the city with the waterfront, the cap can be so much more if we view it as the enormous opportunity it is.

With a little vision we can make this into an opportunity to revitalize Independence Park and tie it to a Colonial-era village and waterfront experience.  We could do the one thing that will mean more to the city’s economic well-being than any other single public works project: inspire visitors to spend one more day and night in town exploring our illustrious place in the American Revolution.

In order to maximize this opportunity, we should immediately call for the expansion of the cap northward to Market Street, thereby providing an eight-acre scape upon which to build out our vision.

Now, open your minds and take a walk with us through the future. 

Our journey starts at the Independence Visitors Center at 5th and Market Streets, where we board the Independence Skywalker — an aerial tram that will transport us high above Independence Park east over Market Street — dropping us down to the Colonial Village that now sits on the eight-acre cap over I-95.

Perhaps the most ambitious aspect of this vision, the Independence Skywalker executes state-of-the-art technology to physically connect Independence Mall to the Colonial Village and Seaport while providing breathtaking views of Independence Park and the Philadelphia waterfront. 

Getting off the Skywalker, we enter a colonial village where period costumed artisans and merchants serve up colonial food and entertainment; a neighborhood right out of 18th century Philadelphia with Colonial homes and shops reconstructed over their original sites.

Four taverns have been rebuilt for use as restaurants and two are also inns. Walk through a street with taverns, restaurants, and craftsmen’s workshops for period trades, including a printing shop, a shoemaker, blacksmith, a cooperage, a cabinetmaker, a gunsmith, a wigmaker, and a silversmith. There are merchants selling tourist souvenirs, books, reproduction toys, pewter-ware, and pottery.  Think Colonial Williamsburg over I-95.

Having spent the morning in the village and lunching at one of the village restaurants, we then walk east toward the Delaware River where the cap drops down to the Colonial Seaport.  We spend the afternoon wandering through the seaport, where two 18th century tall ships are docked.  Aboard these ships period-costumed re-enactors teach us about life at sea in the 18th century. 

On land, we can watch a large-scale living history performance in which dozens of costumed re-enactors stage a British impressment gang, while out on the water, we see the re-enactment of the Patriots torching a British longboat.  Along the water, beyond the ships and the staging area, lies a colonial era fish market with taverns and restaurants. 

When we are ready for dinner we can eat along the water, in the village or take the Skywalker back to Independence Park to dine in Center City.

Next week: How to make this vision a reality.

Re-Imagining Independence Part II

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