WHAT IS THE READING VIADUCT?
The Reading Viaduct Project is dedicated to the preservation and remediation of The Reading Viaduct as a public open green space; to the creation of a unique elevated linear park to be used by residents of and visitors to the Greater Philadelphia area.
The Viaduct, which carried trains into Center City for almost 100 years, is an elevated train track that transects diverse and rapidly redeveloping neighborhoods just north of the traditional boundary of Center City. Although seen by some as a blight, a redeveloped Viaduct will act as a magnet for residential and commercial development in the surrounding neighborhoods. Adaptive reuse of the Viaduct, in conjunction with ongoing investment and renovation in the surrounding neighborhoods, will both preserve and rejuvenate the former industrial heart of the City, while generating additional economic development and tax revenue for the City and Commonwealth.
Built in the 1890s, the Viaduct is a combination of embankment sections, bridged by steel structures and arched masonry bridges, that runs 10 blocks through the Callowhill and Chinatown North neighborhoods, from Vine Street to Fairmount Avenue. Reading Railroad commuter trains used the 4.7-acre, mile-long Viaduct to access the Reading Headhouse Terminal at 12th and Market Street (currently the Grand Hall of the Pennsylvania Convention Center). Service on the Viaduct was discontinued in 1984, when the Center City commuter tunnel was opened. Today the Viaduct’s four elevated tracks have been overtaken by grasses and trees. It’s two branches offer spectacular views of immediate neighborhoods and the Philadelphia skyline. In 2003, local residents formed The Reading Viaduct Project for the purpose of advocating for the transformation of the Viaduct into an elevated linear park, in conjunction with the ongoing redevelopment of the surrounding neighborhoods.
The Viaduct, with its 2 branches, is literally a bridge connecting several diverse communities. Beginning at Vine Street, between 11th and 12th, the Viaduct flows north from Chinatown to Callowhill Street where it branches to the west and northeast. The late 19th and early 20th Century industrial buildings that dot the landscape of this neighborhood (former automobile, bicycle, shoe, glass and balloon factories, to name a few), have attracted new investment, commercial development, and ever increasing numbers of new residents to the post-industrial landscape. The northeast leg continues to 915 Spring Garden Street (the former Reading Company Building, which has been successfully redeveloped into fully-occupied artists’ studios), and into the West Poplar and Brandywine East neighborhoods, reaching toward rapidly redeveloping Northern Liberties. This leg ends at the 800 block of Fairmount Avenue. The western leg begins at Callowhill Street, sloping down to street level at 13th and Noble, and leads directly to North Broad Street. Here, the Viaduct would add an exciting amenity to the rebirth of the northern section of the Avenue of the Arts.
As a reclaimed public space, the Reading Viaduct will successfully bring together economically and culturally diverse communities, generate economic development, and provide a catalyst for the redevelopment of this section of North Philadelphia. Similar projects in Paris, France (the Promenade Planteé) and in New York City (the Chelsea High Line) have contributed to the rebirth of surrounding neighborhoods and initiated economic development booms. In New York, for example, redevelopment of the High Line has generated an immense amount of public interest, sparking proposals for over 10 high-rise residential buildings along its path. As in Paris and New York, a new recreational amenity in this section of Philadelphia will result in additional economic investment and development.
In 2003, the City of Philadelphia obtained a grant to fund a study of alternatives for the development of the Viaduct. The study analyzed the cost to demolish the Viaduct compared to the cost of reclaiming the Viaduct for use as a linear park. Conducted by Urban Engineers, the study concluded that the estimated cost to demolish the Viaduct was almost 10 times greater than the cost to address existing environmental concerns and redevelop the structure into a park. Development as a park and recreational pathway, including landscaping, benches, access ramps and staircases, was estimated to cost $5.1 million, whereas demolition of the structure was estimated to cost between $35.5 million and $51.2 million.
The Reading Viaduct Project is seeking the support of State and local officials and government agencies for its vision of a redeveloped Viaduct. We are also actively exploring partnerships with private developers who share in our vision of the adaptive reuse of the Viaduct as a catalyst for continued residential and commercial development of the surrounding neighborhoods.
**Reading Viaduct Project (RVP) is in no way connected with the Reading Company, owners of the Viaduct.