Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA [MAP] Designer:
N/A Project Type:
Industrial Landscape Completion Date:
Both underground and above ground sections are privately owned, however there is a tour of the accessible parts on Saturdays with Sidetour(1)
Unknown to many Philadelphia residents, there’s a secret garden above and below the streets of their city. The abandoned Reading Railroad viaduct running through the city center is something of an unseen garden, composed of completely spontaneous vegetation. Arriving around Pennsylvania Avenue and 27th Street you enter a cave-like tunnel, with graffiti lining the walls around you and gravel mounds beneath your feet. If you continue walking, the darkness is eventually broken by vents above that allow light to filter down. During the fall, leaves collect along the vent screens and rain down when the wind blows. It’s all ridiculously magical.
In some places you emerge from under a bridge and suddenly you’re in a glade of Rhus
where ivy clings to walls all around you. It feels like you are in a forest, not a city.
In other spots the viaduct opens completely to the sky so that you suddenly find yourself ambling through Phragmites
meadows that rise well above your head.
As you continue, the path widens and narrows, but wherever the sunlight reaches there are grasses, forbs, vines and trees. As the line returns to street level, young trees cast shadows across graffiti-decorated buildings.
If you find your way to the raised section of the viaduct, completely disconnected from the below-ground portion, the experience continues… but it’s completely different.
This place holds stories of Philadelphia’s history in the form of train trestles and wind-dispersed seeds. It’s dereliction illustrates our post-industrial lives today. Maybe, the growing interest in this secret garden suggests something about our future. It could be believed to be unkempt, invasive, abandoned, dangerous, beautifully wild, playful, mysterious, colorful, peaceful or full of possibilities. But whatever you call it, it’s definitely worth going and seeing for yourself.
If you’re interested in reading more about the viaduct, viaductgreene.org and readingviaduct.org are area advocate groups interested in the potential of creating a publicly accessible space.
Laura Cruz is a Graduate Landscape Architect living in the Philadelphia area. Contact Laura by email
or check out her portfolio