Monday, June 15, 2009

Avenue des Champs-Elysées vs. Benjamin Franklin Parkway, part 2.

(continued from previous post, part 1 below)

Interestingly, both the Ben Franklin Parkway and the Avenue des Champs-Elysées are just about one mile in length. Yet Paris and Philadelphia are very different cities, and the two avenues are inevitably quite affected by their different urban contexts. Take these two satellite views from Google Maps for comparison.

The Parkway has only two blocks on its southeast end in densely populated Center City before hitting Logan Circle. For the remainder of its length, it's bordered by the very quiet Callowhill, Spring Garden, and Fairmount neighborhoods. Its surrounding green spaces are abundant but generally not so well used.

What's immediately striking in the satellite view of the Champs-Elysées is how much more dense and built up its surrounding districts are. Consequently, the avenue sits on top of the city's busiest Metro line, and is also directly accessible via six others. It's status as one of the world's most famous avenues and retail meccas doesn't come as much surprise.

The general consensus seems to be that aside from special occasions, the Parkway is not up to its potential and does not get enough users or foot traffic. The avenue has remained quiet as ever while the sidewalks of Center City and its surrounding neighborhoods have thrived with new activity. It ultimately comes down to the fact that the Parkway's adjoining areas simply don't have the required density or mix of uses to support a truly vibrant avenue. As valuable as they are, museums and other cultural institutions simply can't draw the same kinds of crowds as a good mix of residences, offices, and shops.

By no means is this to fault Philadelphia's planners. The Parkway, opened in 1926, is only 83 years old, and as the French like to say, Paris wasn't built in a day. The Champs-Elysées has existed in some form as far back as the 1670s, when it was carved out of its surrounding marshes, and it was not until the 19th century that the Avenue began to take on its elegance. In the grand scheme of things, the Parkway is still an early work in progress, and when the day comes, its fortunes will surely rise alongside those of the city.

Fortunately, re-thinking the Parkway has become one of the Center City District's top planning priorities in recent years, and millions of dollars have been put into installing new lighting and banners, as well as renovations for Logan Circle and its pocket parks. As far as long-term goals, they have also been consistent advocates for denser development and improved transit options, both very essential goals. While those could be far off, especially in this economy, we can be greatful that there is at least one planning organization out there actively working towards solutions.

Planning for Growth: Benjamin Franklin Parkway
[Center City District]


jny said...

what an optimistic outlook on the potential of the parkway! un très bon 'post'!

Corey Templeton said...

Nice post and nice blog in general!

- Itsconanobrien on skyscraperpage forums

W said...

It's a shame we tore down so much of Brewerytown to build the Parkway or it might be surrounded by a more dense urban fabric. Great blog, and your optimism is refreshing.