Is Philadelphia an urban outdoor oasis?
The New York Times thinks it is, and ranked the city No. 3 on its “52 Places to Go in 2015,” behind only by Milan, Italy, and Cuba.
Absolutely, says the Times. The sweep of the Schuylkill River, the skyline crowning it, and the Schuylkill “boardwalk” that literally beckons from the South Street Bridge to walk on water, have combined to transform Philadelphia into a must-see destination in the world. And PEC helped to bring about this transformation!
For as long as I can remember, PEC promoted greenway and trail planning in support of the Pennsylvania DCNR’s statewide efforts. I recall visiting county planners in Berks, Lehigh, Northampton, and other counties to collect visions for trails and greenways back in the ’90s. No place else signifies greater success in implementing those visions than Philadelphia and its neighbors, especially Chester and Montgomery counties.
Looking back, it’s no surprise that the common denominator of those three counties is the Schuylkill River Trail. The first long distance multi-use trail in this region (with a few irritating gaps) connects Center City to Valley Forge National Historical Park and far beyond. This achievement inspired lots of additional trails most notably the Perkiomen Trail (Montco) and the Chester Valley Trail (Chesco) among others. These trails, coupled with Philadelphia’s old warhorses, the Pennypack and Wissahickon Trails, inspired the city and the region to keep upping the ante.
With PEC’s leadership, terrific partners, and project sponsors, PEC staff wrote a TIGER grant (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery in 2009)–the very first round–and obtained $23 million for 10 trail construction projects located in Philadelphia and Camden, N.J. Following PEC’s motto “Conservation through Cooperation,” we did what we always do; we talked to our partners across a wide regional landscape, and we proposed that our bundle of trail projects was nationally significant and could compete for scarce national funds. We were right!
The Schuylkill Boardwalk opening this past October is the sort of signature infrastructure that just hammers home progress and transformation. But the boardwalk is just one more link in the Circuit, the network of interconnected trails that emerged after the TIGER grant money arrived. PEC has been a leader in the Circuit from Day One. It just makes sense. The entire purpose of the Circuit is get people out of their houses, out of their cars, and outside whether to commute to work or to enjoy a leisurely bike ride. Since we announced the Circuit just two years ago, 50 miles of trail have been built and another 50 miles have moved into the development pipeline.
Access to the out of doors accessible to Center City Philadelphia’s more than 180,000 residents and 290,000 workers is a nationally significant success story.
PEC believes all Pennsylvanians should value our rich and diverse natural resources. We promote and facilitate trail development because the vast majority of Pennsylvanians live in urban areas and need access. Transforming the Commonwealth’s largest city into an “urban outdoor oasis” is a huge undertaking, and we aren’t done yet. PEC is doing its part!