Friday, September 4, 2009

Then and Now: Looking north on 2nd Street from Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia


Like many of Philadelphia's oldest neighborhoods, Northern Liberties had its own neighborhood market shed occupying the median of two blocks of N. 2nd Street between Fairmount Avenue and Poplar Street. The market stalls were demolished in the 1930s, coinciding with the general decline of neighborhood markets and the emergence of grocery stores and supermarkets. Headhouse Square in Society Hill is the last preserved example of Philadelphia's early street median markets, whose vestiges can also be found on Bainbridge Street and South 11th Street.

The N. 2nd St. market house's interior

2nd Street is still Northern Liberties' main commercial strip, though the stretch where the market once stood doesn't quite match the vitality of parts of the street above and below it. At the moment, it's an odd mix of row homes and shops sprinkled with plenty of abandoned lots and light industrial buildings. The Northern Liberties Neighbors Association has identified the development of a more cohesive and vibrant 2nd Street as a major long-term goal and has studied several reconfigurations of the street in its 2005 Neighborhood Plan, as it seems to have a lot of potential that not currently being lived up to. I imagine that at some point they will begin to put more concrete plans into motion.

My own impulsive and not very developed vision would be for park space occupying the exact spot where the old market shed once stood, like a much smaller Boulevard Jules-Ferry in Paris, pictured above. 2nd Street is definitely wide enough here to support a small median park, it's really a question of political will and evaluating the exact economic benefits any such project would bring.

Northern Liberties Neighborhood Plan [Northern Liberties Neighbors Association]

Market Interior photo: "Public Works-9534-0." 1914. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 2 Sep. 2009.

Original photo: "Public Works-9539-0." 1914. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 2 Sep. 2009.

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