Rittenhouse Square Reconsidered: Part Four, Neglect & Disrepair at Philadelphia's Premiere Address


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So far we've looked at the way that exterior and interior spaces of Rittenhouse Square could be improved and modernized. Here we'll look at a more basic concern facing the Square: maintenance. Though the Friends of Rittenhouse Square engage in fundraising for capital improvements, it is clear that long-term issues needing significant capital investment are becoming more and more pressing with each year.

Below we'll look at just a fraction of these issues:

Poor conditions for a patched and battered pathway.
A hodgepodge of cement, fixes and fumbles.
Strong contrast between cheap vs. quality material.
Cracks galore in our premier square.
Not part of the original plan, this path should have never been built, especially not in asphalt.

Regardless of the capital improvements needed to maintain and improve hardscaping like sidewalks, benches and lighting, aspects of the original design of the square need to be readapted for more contemporary usage patterns. Paul Phillipe Cret, the architect last involved in the design of the square, could not have foreseen the way it would be used or overused today. Below are some examples of green space overusage.

Landscape architects please propose some new species.
Larger border to buffer traffic noise.
Lots of people, lots of dogs, lots of ways to improve the turf.

The Friends of Rittenhouse Square regularly face a battle ensuring grass in the park survives and thrives. Overuse and abuse from the public comes when people disregard barriers put up to allow newly reseeded grass to grow. It is in this fragile stage that grass should not be walked on or layed on, or played on... but people regularly disregard temporary barriers. Later in the season the Frisbee and football players come. I understand the intent of their use and I know there’s not a lot of green in the immediate area, but using the square as a sports field is not realistic. Given this overuse and the high maintenance cost of grass, there are a couple of design options available to us. The map below gives us a better example of usage in the green areas of the park and how we can better balance it. 

Usage patterns in Rittenhouse Square.

The black border symbolizes new, non-modular benches like those present on the Mall in Central Park to prevent interloping into the interior grass space. These benches would only be on one side of the circular sidewalk that encircles the center of Rittenhouse Square. They would allow for less trampling of the grass shown above, in the photo of the lady walking two Labradors. It also helps mitigate the planting of Liriope grass in large sections of the park, since this has been planted due to it’s strength and ability to be stepped on. These types of benches would also be installed around the inner core of the square to prevent people from climbing, sitting on and vandalizing the stone walls that encircle this core. Repair costs continue to grow for the Friends of Rittenhouse Square as graffiti is an ongoing concern.

Snowjazz, by ASTRAKEY www.centralpark.com

Again, this would only be on one side of the circular path and would prevent intrusion and allow for fuller planting in this inner core of the park. This next shot is the backside of the benches that form a barrier to the core.

Ways to limit the grass in the inner core of the park.

On the exterior side of the circular path, backless benches can open sightlines on to the grass in the “Highly Used” sections, as well as the areas shaded in light blue (more about those areas later). The arching white stripes in the purple sections symbolize new “pathlets” to nowhere. These would essentially be tastefully designed paved flat stone paths set directly level with the grass that would prevent people from playing on the open fields without disrupting sightlines in the original Paul Cret design. 

Last Updated: Friday, 21 February 2014 @ 20.42
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Written By: 
geoff's picture Geoff Kees Thompson Founder + Urban Planner Website: thisoldcity.com About the Author:

Other than time away from Philly studying his masters in Urban Planning in the Netherlands, Geoff has lived here since 2005. He founded This Old City to advocate for better public space as a means to economic development, improved public health, lower crime and a more environmentally sustainable future. He currently sits on the Executive Board of SOSNA and is the head volunteer gardener for Saint Mark's Church at 1625 Locust Street.


He is also Chair of The 5th Square PAC, an organization committed to voter education and the funding of progressive urbanist candidates for Philadelphia's future. 


Follow This Old City on Twitter @thisoldcity and Facebook or Geoff individually @geoffkees

Follow The 5th Square on Twitter @5thsq and Facebook