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Taking Fishtown to the River

Revitalization may be coming to Columbia Avenue in Fishtown as part of plans for general improvements along the Delaware riverfront. Top: artist’s rendering of the proposed design, bottom: Columbia Avenue now. DRWC / STAR PHOTO

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation’s nearly two-year project will beautify Penn Treaty Park and the “connector streets” pedestrians will use.

Fishtown’s relationship to its waterfront has long been challenging, and the industrial area along Delaware Avenue near Penn Treaty Park is a particularly tough example.

Penn Treaty Park is the perfect park, yielding beautiful views of the Delaware River, and it was the historic location of William Penn’s famed 1683 treaty with Native American Indians. Yet, it is cut off from the neighborhood by I-95 and the high volume of traffic on Delaware Avenue.

Now, the “Take Me to The River,” project, spearheaded by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DWRC), initiated over two years ago and drawing on community input, is getting closer to its goal of beautifying the area.

In Fishtown, the project focuses on not just Penn Treaty Park, but on three “connector streets” that pedestrian traffic uses to get to the park — Marlborough and Shackamaxon streets, and what is considered the “primary” connector, Columbia Avenue.

Last week, the final design proposal by artist Donald Lipski for Columbia Avenue was unveiled at a public meeting of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, held at the Penn Treaty Museum at 900 Columbia Ave.

Lipski’s proposal, for lampposts lighting the way on Columbia Avenue to Penn Treaty Park, is meant to make the area more welcoming and inviting to pedestrians.

“Going to the river down Columbia, a charming Fishtown street, is about as discouraging a prospect as can be imagined — first you must pass under the threatening, graffiti-ed darkness beneath the highway; then a derelict stretch of chain-linked, unused space; then negotiate the traffic crossing Delaware,” Lipski said via e-mail. “I am so proud to be playing a small part in taming this stretch, making it an amenity rather than a challenge.”

In the design, two lamp posts west of I-95 have a turkey and wolf standing on top of them, and to the east, five lampposts atop cast bronze turtles will light up what is planned to be a new park. These animals represented the Native American tribes that formerly resided there.

Along with a planned redesign of the I-95 underpass located there, including increased lighting and stricter graffiti cleanup, the designs hopefully will lead to a cleaner, more welcoming Columbia Avenue.

“I think the work done to connect Fishtown to the park had been a long time coming,” said Friends of Penn Treaty Park president A.J. Thomson. “Friends [of Penn Treaty Park] are drawing thousands of people for our events and hundreds use the park each day. The connector will enhance visibility and bring more people to this waterfront treasure.”

On Columbia Avenue, passersby said the project sounded great.

“If you want to put one of these bronze sculptures in my yard, go ahead, because I think they’re awesome,” said Norm, a Columbia Avenue resident, who attended the unveiling of the design.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is already engaged in redesigning I-95 at Columbia Avenue, moving the locations of the ramps, including redesigning and adding new lights to the underpass. There are also plans to re-landscape the park by the highway.

“I’m just in awe of the changes I see all over,” said Laurie, another Columbia Avenue resident. “When we look at how the city has changed, we feel like our city has blossomed … Now they’re going to give us a sculpture? It’s beautiful.”

Other locals were more skeptical of the project, citing pollution by late night park-goers in the area.

“They all come back from the park at night and throw out their beer cans in the street,” said Columbia Avenue resident Bruce, who even suggested that the bronze turtles might be stolen by thieves.

But DWRC planner Karen Thompson thinks that this redesign will lead to a cleaner, safer Columbia Avenue.

“With increased lighting, more eyes on the street and increased pedestrian traffic, hopefully there won’t be as much graffiti there in the first place,” she said.

Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215–354–3124 or at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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