Everybody Hates Dilworth Park [UPDATED]

$55 million buys us a "suffocating" new plaza, er, park.

UPDATE 9/9/2014: OK, OK. So not everybody hates Dilworth Park.


Well, the redesign of City Hall’s Dilworth Plaza debuted last week as the $55 million Dilworth Park, with all of the political blowhard speeches, self-back patting and pompous fanfare that you’d imagine with such an event in Philadelphia. But make no mistake about it: Everybody hates Dilworth Park.

In the Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, esteemed architecture critic Inga Saffron weighed in with her analysis of the park, a park which which she says really isn’t a park at all:

They’ve reconstructed the space in front of Philadelphia’s palatial City Hall, furnished it with a cafe, a high-tech spray fountain and movable chairs, and rebranded it Dilworth Park. But the vast granite prairie is still very much a plaza, with all the weaknesses the word implies.

Saffron admits that the space has been “greatly improved,” but when you’re comparing the new space to the disgusting and dangerous Dilworth Plaza that preceded it, this is by no means an accolade. The absence of giant puddles of urine (for now) and predatory criminals (for now) does not a great city park make.

She takes issue with, among other things, the designers’ “suffocating” need for perfection and the “granite landscape,” which she describes as “dry and stiff.”

In the end, Saffron declares that the “aesthetic is all wrong for a city eager to remake itself for an expanding creative class.” Dilworth Park is, she writes, “a suit in a jeans-and-t-shirt world.”

Meanwhile, veteran Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky paid a visit to Dilworth Park, and he’s not the least bit impressed. He hasn’t written about his experience (yet) for the paper, but he has taken to Facebook to share his thoughts on the subject:

Visited today and was underwhelmed. If it was “barren” before the $55 million makeover, that nice (in good weather) fountain takes up most of the space in front of City Hall. There’s a cafe? I didn’t see it. All the trees are relegated to the perimeter. You can walk through the fountain, which is neat, and the kids loved it, but I have a feeling most of that $55 [million] was on construction, not on appearances. Yes, it’s a bit better, but if it is supposed to be the new town “gathering place” it might have had more “wow” factor.

And these are the same sentiments that I’ve heard expressed by others who have visited the park. In fact, I haven’t managed to find one person who really loves Dilworth Park, at least not one who doesn’t have some political agenda tied to it.

Of course, the park isn’t 100-percent finished and won’t be until later this year when Jose Garces dining, an ice rink, and other features and amenities are unveiled, so maybe it’s a little unfair to judge before the project is actually complete.

But when Dilworth Park was conceived, we didn’t have the fantastic Spruce Street Harbor Park or the PHS Pop Up beer gardens, and since those projects launched, maybe we expect more out of our public space projects. In any event, unlike those recurring but temporary projects, Dilworth Park is one with which we are very much stuck.

Previously: Inga Saffron Crashes the Dilworth Praise Party
Previously: What They’re Saying About Dilworth Park
Previously: Photos From the Opening of Dilworth Park

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