Morning Headlines: Master Plan for Fairmount Park Coming Later Today

Inga Saffron is not pleased.

Fairmount Park will get a brand new master plan at a launch event scheduled for this evening at Smith Memorial Playground. The event, hosted by the Fairmount Park Conservancy, PennPraxis, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and the Parks and Recreation Commission (there really are two, to every Ron Swanson’s dismay), got a preview from Inga Saffron this morning. She seems nonplussed:

The main goal is to improve connections through the wooded areas, down to the river. Some solutions are as basic (and obvious) as adding a traffic light on Kelly Drive so Strawberry Mansion residents can cross safely.

The plan contains dozens of micro-recommendations in the same vein, and I suspect that few will grab the public’s imagination. “Provide incomparable views” is one of the stranger ones.

Saffron has been less than thrilled with goings on at Fairmount Park since Mural Arts announced a project inside the park over the winter.

She seems resigned that the only plausible changes will be small in scale and curses the overall “lack of ambition.” But there is one concept that excites her – even as she concedes that its implementation is not immediately likely:

The plan does endorse one big idea: creation of a public boathouse as an anchor for a new Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill’s west bank. Right now, you have to attend a private school or pay a hefty membership to row on the river. Nothing would do more to democratize the park than a boathouse accessible to the masses. But endorsing an idea is not the same as making it a reality, so the proposal comes across as a token gesture.

But we should not cede control of the river to rowers alone, cautions Saffron, taking the opportunity to use a most excellent ten-dollar word and remind readers about the travesty of an in-park mural.

Meanwhile, the plan overlooks the need for a facility that allows non-rowers to rent canoes, rowboats, and sailboats. In recent years, the rowing community has essentially annexed the Schuylkill as its private waterway. The community’s hegemony was confirmed by the parks department’s recent decision to allow a private donor to paint a rowing mural on a park bridge. The plan offers no guidance for handling future requests.

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