Illuminating PBS Documentary on the Reading Viaduct

Perhaps unintentionally, the film serves as a belated love note to the late Paul vanMeter.

reading viaduct pbs screen shot

A screen shot from PBS Digital Studios’ “Unusual Spaces No. 2”

Even those who oppose the idea of turning the abandoned Philadelphia Reading Railroad tracks into public space will have a hard time feeling cynical about this short film from PBS Digital, a series by Raymond A. Schillinger. Featured on Gizmodo yesterday, among other places, the four-minute documentary is told through the eyes of Paul vanMeter, the project’s most tenacious advocate, and the founder of ViaductGreene, who died shortly after this film was made. It’s safe to say that without vanMeter’s passion for the project, we would not be where we are today.

The film is probably the best primer for people looking to understand what and where the project is, both underground and aboveground, and what it looks like now. Even I, as someone steeped in this subject matter, feel like I have a better sense of what’s being proposed now that I’ve seen it. Certainly, the scenes shot underground are immensely helpful.

vanMeter makes one point that shows both his sincerity and his appreciation of the railroad’s role in the city’s trajectory:

“Of all these postindustrial places being turned into parks and green space, I don’t know of any that really speaks to its city’s history like this one does.”

The Eerie Abandoned Railway That Could Become Philly’s Next Park [Gizmodo]

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  • kclo3

    It only solidifies the extreme confusion I have over van Meter — that he thinks postindustrial places must be turned over to parks, regardless of surrounding location; that a right-of-way intentionally built to last even without regular maintenance, running under active roadways with bridges which must be maintained, is in some kind of danger of failing for transit, much less unshielded people; that ViaductGreene/FoRP is effectively ignoring and failing to promote the infinitely more prominent, famous, and visible Viaduct with priority over the City Branch. It’s like they don’t even care about the Viaduct anymore: where’s the history lesson on that?. How on earth can they negociate with CSX, with a liability placed in their hands, over Reading Int’l for the Viaduct?

  • Jay

    Anyone who joined Paul on a guided walk would gain a deep appreciation not only for Philadelphia’s rail and industrial history, but this country’s. On these walks Paul’s passion for trains, history, design, architecture, gardens, and place making was contagious, and he made the case for turning this area into a garden park. VIADUCTgreene is about the past and the future, industry and wildness. Having gone with Paul twice on the walk, I am convinced that this is the best investment Philadelphia could make. Sadly, I also know that it isn’t as easy as just agreeing it’s a great idea, and, sadly, Paul is not here to champion it.