June 17, 2014

CityLove: Meet Philadelphia

  • By: Grant Stevens

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Credit: mycombs, Instagram
Woodlands house #CityLovePHL #woodlandsphil --@mycombs, Michael Holmes. Our Monday evening meet-up was at the The Woodlands, a 54-acre beautiful oasis that includes a mansion, an 18th-century pleasure garden, and a 19th-century rural cemetery in West Philadelphia.

Since this past Saturday, National Trust staffers have been in Philadelphia as part of our on-the-ground series of CityLove events. We’ve taken people on behind-the-scenes tours throughout the city and done meet-ups in beautiful spaces. The result? We're falling head-over-heels for the City of Brotherly love. Here are just a few reasons why.

Philly has layers.

One of the points that has fascinated me most has been the multifaceted layers of Philadelphia history. Most cities might have one or two exceptional buildings from each era of the city’s history; Philly has dozens from nearly every era.

Originally home of the Lenape tribe, the area now known as Philadelphia saw the arrival of Europeans in the mid-17th century, more than 350 years ago. Philly played an important role in the American Revolution, but the built environment of the 19th and 20th centuries is what really drew us in.

Credit: jowen41, Instagram
#citylovephl #sphilly #phildelphia #railparkphilly #savingplaces #graffiti @SavingPlaces @TheRailPark -- @jowen41

Once known as the “Workshop of the World” because of its industrial might, Philly is now on the rebound after decades of population decreases. It’s a city rediscovering its industrial heritage, where everyday buildings and industrial spaces are being reused in new and exciting ways. The city is growing again, and people of all ages are moving back downtown.

The project I’m most looking forward to seeing develop in the next few years is the Rail Park -- an in-progress plan to create a three-mile park and recreation path, using the historic elevated Reading Viaduct and the below-ground City Branch rail cut of the former Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. It’s big, it’s ambitious, it’s forward-thinking, and it’s going to be uniquely Philly.

Philly has soul.

Last week, I met many incredible people doing work in a city they love with all their heart and soul. One that stood out is of the Rev. Walter Winborne and the 19th St. Baptist Church. In a city that is losing places of worship at an alarming rate, Rev. Winborne -- who grew up in the church and became its pastor in January 2014 -- is committed to returning his congregation to its main sanctuary (they currently worship in a separate part of the church) and restoring the 19th Street Baptist Church to its original glory.

Credit: tate62_fs, Instagram
#savingplaces #citylovephly #philly_church #19thstreetbaptist -- @tate62_fs, Joe

Working with professors such as Aaron Wunsch at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and organizations such as Partners for Sacred Places, Rev. Winborne and his congregation are stabilizing the church, and will soon be creating a long-term plan for the building, including a major fundraising campaign.

Professors have taught classes specifically dealing with 19th Street, providing real-world experience to students, and valuable resources for the church. Talking with everyone involved you can sense a new energy and a new sense of optimism about the building. It has yet to be saved, but it's certainly on the right path.

To be honest, while working in Philly, I’ve been a little overwhelmed, but only by the positives -- the sheer number of people willing to share stories about the places that matter to them, the abundance of historic buildings, and the amount of excitement and potential the city has.

I hope you will follow along for the final few days of CityLovePHL (or join us in person on Friday for our closing party). In the meantime, check out the thousands of #CityLovePHL images and follow along on our @SavingPlaces Instagram account!

Grant is the manager of Community Outreach at the National Trust. He's proud to be from a Main Street Community and the Black Dirt Capitol of the World—Conrad, Iowa! Now a resident of beautiful Baltimore, you can most often find him reading, running, or out on the road saving places.


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