The Grays Ferry Crescent is the Best Philly Public Park Nobody Knows About

How a trio of tech-savvy community groups is working to raise awareness of an unsung jewel in an overlooked corner of the city.

Last week, I asked a friend of mine, someone relatively in-the-know when it comes to the city, if he wanted to go one of the slew of free events starting tomorrow (Sept. 18) and running through Sept. 28 at Grays Ferry Crescent.

“What’s that?” he said.

Exactly.

When the city broke ground on and/or opened a half-dozen public parks in 2011, Race Street Pier got all the limelight, partly because it was a long-awaited response to citizen cries for waterfront access aside from the backyard of SugarHouse. The Market Street portion of the Schuylkill Banks Project is a familiar sight mostly because so many people see it every day.

But Race Street Pier was just one of a bundle of stimulus-funded parks landscaped in that timespan. Another one, the Grays Ferry Crescent, which opened in the summer of 2011 and added a skatepark to some fanfare this summer, occupies a bend of land on the Schuylkill in Grays Ferry close to the Grays Ferry Avenue bridge. It will play stage to a package of events and activities organized by the Hacktory, Public Workshop and Second Muse to let everyone know that not only does this park does indeed exist, but that it’s pretty great, too.

“The park is hidden and kind of boxed off even from the rest of the neighborhood,” says Alex Gilliam, director of Public Workshop. “And it’s still not connected to the rest of the Schuylkill Banks projects. I think it’s a beautiful spot and through what we’re doing, we’re bringing visibility to how beautiful and wonderful it is.”

Gilliam and his team conceived of Camp Crescent, a kind of interactive history lesson that spans the weekend. The activity spans the weekend, that is. The history will begin when European settlers began trade rivalries along the river, continuing through the construction of the Schuylkill Arsenal in 1801—which functioned as a supply depot for the U.S. military for 150 years—shifting to an industrial quarter that eventually became something of an industrial hellscape, and all the way up to the present.

Event-goers will reconstruct that history semi-literally, out of cardboard, at a rate of a six hours per century. By the end of Sunday, they’ll be at the 21st Century. Instead of reconstructing Bartram’s Gardens, they’ll build birdhouses, and they’ll try to construct a bridge to cross the river, because, you know, of all the bridges.

The Hacktory, for its part, has organized an event that begins in modernity. For Light Up the Crescent, a pair of bike parades (Sept. 18 and 27) will begin in Rittenhouse with cyclists and their wheels decorated in illuminated electroluminescent wire and make their way to the park. Once there, the Hacktory has built a swam of electronic fireflies that respond to surrounding light, which people can play with using flashlights or their cell phones. In the intervening days, people can build their own fireflies (see photos and video below) and learn about photuris pennsylvanica, the most common firefly in the region, its diminishing numbers in the face of global warming, and the various citizen science projects surrounding it.

The events are funded by the William Penn Foundation and are free and open to all. To see a full schedule of events, visit the Hacktory and Public Workshop.

Andrew Thompson is a freelance writer and a contributor to The Philly Post. Reach him at andrewscottthompson@gmail.com or on Twitter at @asthompson.

Below: Video and photos of the Hacktory’s electronic fireflies.

Firefly Prototyping from The Hacktory on Vimeo.

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