The Philadelphia metro area ranks among the most economically segregated in the country. Compared to less populous areas like, say, Orlando, Portland or San Jose, according to a new report, “Segregated City,” the rich and poor in and surrounding the City of Brotherly Love hardly mix. That’s saying a lot considering the trend over the past few decades, even after the Civil Rights Movement, has been to increasingly sort ourselves by income, education and job. Now, a new $11 million project is testing whether the re-design of five Philadelphia public parks and libraries can help beat back segregation and help rich and poor (and racially diverse*) residents connect with each other. The five parks targeted for re-design, along with their new purpose, according to CityLab:
- The Discovery Center in East Fairmount Park plans to offer a wildlife habitat where school children can visit and engage with nature.
- Reading Viaduct Rail Park, kind of like Philadelphia’s version of New York’s High Line, is a former industrial rail line being repurposed into a green, public space, with walking paths, landscaping, lighting, and seating.
- Bartram’s Mile Trail Project is a plan to convert a stretch of industrial wasteland along the lower Schuylkill River into a park connected to “the Circuit“—a 750-mile pedestrian and bike trail.
- The renovation and expansion of the Lovett Memorial Library and Park aim to help it better meet the needs of children.
- Centennial Commons is a plan to turn an underutilized section of West Fairmount Park into a playground for the surrounding community.
So, Philadelphia metro residents familiar with these park spaces and surrounding neighborhoods: can this project work? During the 20th century, residential segregation was aided and hardened by the placement of our highways and other roadwork. In the 21st century, can craftily re-designed public spaces in any city help slow the country’s trend towards more not less segregation?
[*Note: Racial segregation tracks with economic segregation of course but, how, differs by group and their share of population in a metro. In general, and compared to other races, low, middle and upper-income whites tend to interact with each other more, regardless of wealth. See the February report for more.]