Broad Street Greenway

I think that Philadelphia could transform Broad Street, its most significant public boulevard, if we decided to start replacing Broad Street’s concrete and asphalt medians with soil, grass, and trees.

I first started thinking about this in Pittsburgh, when I saw the way that certain Pittsburgh streets have simple but elegant elevated green garden medians, and the thought really took hold during Michael Bloomberg’s time as New York City mayor when he helped inaugurate MillionTreesNYC, the city’s initiative to plant and and care for a million new trees across the five boroughs.

There’s frequent debate about whether Philadelphia should start ticketing/towing cars parked in Broad Street’s median as you get down into South Philadelphia, and those debates go nowhere due to the entrenched interests of city councilpersons. Why not obviate that debate entirely and replace the median over time with grass and shrubs and flowers and trees? We would be transforming Philadelphia’s greatest street into Philadelphia’s grandest street, outstripping even the Ben Franklin Parkway in time for beauty.

I don’t think there’s any one solution, and here are just a few examples of how it could be done. Here’s Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem:

Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard, Harlem.png

That looks relatively simple and would probably require the least expense. In other words, keep the existing median dimensions along Broad Street, but punch out the concrete and asphalt. The result is an attractive streetscape for walkers, bikers, and drivers.

Here’s Grant Street in Pittsburgh, which I think is the street that got me thinking about this about a decade ago:

Grant Street, Pittsburgh.png

This is maybe even better from a safety standpoint, since it discourages jaywalking and would allow Broad Street to be narrowed a bit to accommodate a wider median and also maybe a permanent bike lane, all of which would naturally reduce speeding and accidents.

And here’s the Champs-Élysées in Paris. I walked along this avenue when I visited there in July 2012, when I was in Europe for the London Olympics:

Champs-Élysées, Paris.png

The boulevard itself has no real median, but these incredibly wide (by American standards) sidewalks accommodate a double-wide planting of trees and functionally park space along the way. This could be another approach, eliminating Broad Street’s median entirely and doubling the capacity of our sidewalks and reimaging their role as public space.

Compare these few options with the present reality. Here’s Broad and Locust:

Broad and Locust, Philadelphia.png

And here’s Broad and Lombard, a bit farther south:

Broad and Lombard, Philadelphia.png

And here’s Broad and Castle, much farther south when the median turns into overflow parking space and the buildings are set back much farther from the street:

Broad and Castle, Philadelphia.png

Now imagine these scenes transformed, as part of something like a “Broad Street Greenway” initiative to place a few thousand trees all along Broad Street—left, right, and center.

Imagine the experience of walking Broad Street in the summer, when the trees serve as natural canopies alleviating the heat. Imagine the experience during the autumn when the changing colors and resplendent hues also provides jobs for dozens of seasonal workers to sweep the streets and bring a human presence to stretches of Broad Street that feel remote and desolate during certain hours. Imagine the experience during the spring when those trees serve as homes and stopping points for all sorts of birds and chirping life, bringing nature’s sounds and songs to a part of the city that desperately could benefit from something other than the sounds of horns and engines. And imagine the experience during the winter, when certain neighborhoods or the city itself might string up little white lights to festively illuminate the city’s grand street, bringing some hope and optimism and warm feeling to a time of year when many feel particularly discouraged or alone.

Creating a Broad Street Greenway for Philadelphia wouldn’t just be a parks project, or an environmental initiative, but it would also be a great public service and a great act of revitalizing and enlivening one of best known and imagined parts of the city.


I think every town should be distinctive—even in the ordinary features that are a part of any community.

I was in Ocean City, NJ recently, and noticed these sunburst crosswalks along Asbury Street downtown. We need crosswalks at intersections. We don’t need uniform, identical, boring stripes at every intersection in every town and state in the country. It’s good to have a local spin on things.

I’d guess that Ocean City’s sunburst design isn’t unique to this shore town alone, but it’s at least unusual enough to make it distinctive. Imagine if State College, Pennsylvania transformed their crosswalks into etchings telling the stories of The Legends of the Nittany Valley, stories uniquely rooted in the folklore of the place.

We should do that.

National Museum of Catholic History

When I lived in Old City, Philadelphia I would frequently pass the Natural Museum of American Jewish History on Independence Mall. This was around the same time that I had joined the board of the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute, which played a central role in the 19th-cenutry creation of the American Catholic school system.

Growing familiar with the Catholic history of the city, and seeing how American Jewish history was being told in a relevant way to international visitors, started me thinking seriously about the role that a “National Museum of Catholic History” could serve.

There is no such museum or cultural center for Catholic in the United States today. I think Catholics tend to view their Christian life in a much smaller, humbler, and more parochial way, so this makes sense to a degree. Catholics tend not to see themselves as a national constituency in the same way that other Christian denominations do.

But it’s also past time we learned to start doing that—seeing ourselves as a people, and curating our story so that future generations can understand their role as Catholics in American life.

A few thoughts on what such an institution might look like:

  • A museum that tells the Catholic story from its beginning—the one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church
  • A museum and cultural center focused as much on artifacts as cultural conservation—on the living out of the orthodox faith in the present
  • A place for Catholic thinkers, leaders, and educators to serve on fellowship to teach in a coordinated way, developing curriculum that could be used nationally in schools and parishes
  • Not limited to history of Catholicism in America, but that still speaks to it in a special way—speaking to ways that Christianity has shaped the American experiment, and the ways it has to stand apart from the state
  • A headquarters in Philadelphia with sister institutions in other cities that speaks to Philadelphia’s unique role as a “Holy Experiment” and Pennsylvania’s special role in crafting American pluralism and religious toleration
  • A welcoming place for all types of visitors that is nonetheless unapologetic in conveying the particularities of the universal faith

The Knights of Columbus seem like a natural organization to spearhead something like this. It could, however, be too narrow if created by any single constituency. It’s for this same reason I’d be hesitant about the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops organizing it by themselves.

I’ll probably develop this further as time goes on.