Author: Patrick Bredehoft
As an Admissions Officer traveling for Penn last year, I knew that I was supposed to talk about Penn Park while I was on the road. It was an easy selling-point: a new campus space that very few people had seen, a significant expansion of Penn’s athletic facilities, and a bridge between the university and the city of Philadelphia. It made for great press, as well: urban renewal, convenient access, collaboration between the university and the West Philadelphia community.
I do think Penn Park is a special part of the university’s growing identity: it boasts an underground cistern that captures excess storm water, allowing every raindrop to be reused for irrigation. It brings 500 additional trees and native grass species back to the banks of the Schuylkill. It also increases Penn’s total campus green space by 25%, while reducing the campus’s carbon footprint–and opening up opportunities to convert old campus spaces into even more greenery, as with the recently-completed Shoemaker Green. It’s entirely open to the public, but hosts advanced security systems that make it safe at all hours.
But as a Center City resident, I’ve come to realize that these aren’t the reasons that I love Penn Park. I walk to work over the South Street Bridge each day, I follow my dog through the park in the evening, and I jog along the paths to find new energy at the end of an exhausting day. Each time I pass through Penn Park, I’m struck by some new aspect of what it lends to this city: seemingly endless team and club sports practices, of course, but also hosts people from beyond Penn competing and engaging with one another, couples smiling in the grass as they bask in the sun, photographers trying to capture an ephemeral sunset on the Philadelphia skyline, children still unsteady on new bikes, baseball games, tennis matches, soccer, football, Frisbee, and perhaps even a flock of geese that have stopped to rest along a much grander journey. Each time I see the place, I feel lucky to live in Philadelphia, and glad to be part of a city that continues to rediscover itself along the banks of a winding river. Penn Park is a new link in an emerald strand connecting the River Walk, Fairmont Park, Wissahickon, and more trails than anyone could properly walk in a single season.
I’m proud to be a part of Penn not just for what it is, but also for what it will be, and for the ways in which the continually-developing campus benefits the city I live in. Penn Park is one step in the university’s grander plan to transform the surrounding landscape for the better, but mostly, I’m glad that I get to walk by it each day.