In 1972, artist Gene Davis painted a parking lot in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with vibrant stripes for the art installation Franklin’s Footpath. Four decades later, Philadelphia is repainting the lot, not for art, but as an experiment in public space. A pop-up park carved from a parking lot inside Eakins Oval at the northwest terminus of Benjamin Franklin Parkway opened on July 17 as a temporary intervention to activate the disused space that will test the concepts outlined in the recent More Park Less Way action plan that lays out goals for improving the parkway.
Dick Swanson / Courtesy U.S. National Archives; Emily Barney / Flickr
“When we were asked [by the Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation and the Fairmount Park Conservancy] to design the pop-up park, we didn’t have much time and they didn’t have much money,” said Karen Skafte, principal at LRSLA Studio. “The charge was to come up with ideas on what could be done to activate the space on a shoestring budget.” The firm also worked on the temporary Porch at 30th Street Station that converted a parking area into programmed public space.
“The parking lot is a huge scar on the Oval,” said Skafte. “The only way to make a transformative change would be to hide it, and paint was an obvious choice.” At the Oval, LRSLA divided the lot into three segments—a beach, blanket, and boardwalk—and local nonprofit Mural Arts applied several layers of paint to create patterns for each area. The beach includes large sand pits, spray misters, and lifeguard chairs; the blanket is filled with chairs, tables with umbrellas, and a variety of games; and the boardwalk includes added seating and space for food trucks. Events in the Oval include concerts, movie nights, and a beer garden.
Courtesy The Oval / Facebook
Skafte said the team looked for existing and readily available materials, sourcing many of the park’s furnishings at local discount stores and online. “We spent a lot of time researching products in a nonstandard way,” Skafte said. “We found these buoys in the weeds at Parks and Rec’s salvage yard that we painted to look like beach balls.”
While the park is in place, feedback will be collected from visitors to gauge their opinions of the utility of the space. “It’s a first step in seeing if people will come to the Oval and enjoy it,” said Skafte. “It’s a good way of seeing if further renovations are reasonable.” One challenge not included in the temporary program, however, is pedestrian access, which was highlighted in the More Park Less Way plan. Skafte said if access and safety are major concerns, feedback should reflect that.
Infrastructure construction including power and water lines began in late June and painting began in early July. The park will close for Labor Day to accommodate a Jay-Z concert, Skafte said, but will later reopen in a limited way for several more weeks. In November, the park will be repainted and returned to a parking lot. If the project is successful, however, the Oval could see similar transformations in the future.