Center City District redeveloped the old concrete Sister Cities Plaza into the incredible Sister Cities Park five or so years ago. This is a tiny little park on the edge of Logan Circle, right in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul. I can look out onto Sister Cities Park from the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network offices.

It’s a beautiful little space, and especially in summertime when the fountains are on and people of all ages are out. I snapped this photo earlier this week when I was sitting with Bobby Schindler having lunch. Ashley Hahn on Sister Cities Park after its recreation:

The design team wanted to bring elements of Fairmount Park onto the Parkway, and the discovery garden is meant evoke a child-sized Wissahickon. The rocky hill at the northern end – a surprising change in grade– has a trail, logs, and a stream winding its way down to the pool below. The plantings and decorative fence are also expicit nods to the flora and fauna of the Wissahickon.

After being inside the Academy of Natural Sciences or Franklin Institute for part of the day, the discovery garden is “about finding a way for kids to engage… get a little bit wet, a little bit dirty,” said Hanes. Kids can amble along the hill or push rented toy boats around in the pool.

Bridging the formality of the Sister Cities Fountain plaza and the charmingly rustic children’s garden is an inviting, modern pavilion. Digsau’s Jules Dingle described the pavilion as a threshold space, designed to create a “seamless transition from city to garden.”

Dingle explained that the pavilion’s form deliberately echoes “rock forms that might loom overhead and create shelter” somewhere deep in the Wissahickon. The texture and tone of the pavilion’s natural materials soften the design’s sharp angles, and create a critical visual link in the park’s landscape. From inside, the glassy walls provide a 260° vista of Sister Cities Park, Swann Fountain, and the Parkway beyond.

Little spots like this contribute to the “specialness of place” that residents and visitors alike feel about the day-to-day experience of being someplace. It’s often in the “little things” that the big changes find their initial momentum.

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