By Melissa Bischoff
Geary Park, located at the southeast corner of S. Broad and Geary Streets in South Philadelphia, was in desperate need of some upgrades when the Sports Complex Special Services District (SCSSD), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit fully funded by the Eagles, Phillies, and Comcast Spectacor, began working on plans for the major renovation project in 2018. SCSSD surveyed neighbors for their feedback, which included a need for more lighting, removing fencing to eliminate unsanctioned off-leash dog activity, and creating a more welcoming, yet passive space, with beautiful gardens and an attractive landscape to enjoy.
Enter PHS’s Public Gardens and Landscapes Team. For more than 15 years, PHS has partnered with SCSSD, serving as a consultant in maintaining their 36 adopted public landscape areas throughout the Sports Complex neighborhoods. For Geary Park, PHS was brought on in March 2020 to serve as the landscape architect and design lead for the project. Together, SCSSD and PHS developed a new vision for Geary Park that features a strolling garden with serpentine brick walking paths, a variety of site furnishings, a nature grove, biodiverse perennial garden beds with flowering trees, and unique colorful outdoor lighting. This spring, the newly renovated park opens to the public following a ribbon cutting scheduled for May 24th!
Prior to the renovation, Geary Park was a fully fenced-in park with one walkway and limited site amenities. Additionally, stairs in the sole walkway made the site inaccessible for users of most mobility assistive devices. Neighbors were concerned that the space was being used as an unofficial dog park, and there were also safety concerns about the lack of lighting in the park – the park didn’t have a single light before redesign.
When designing a new concept for Geary Park, PHS’s Public Gardens and Landscapes Team considered the unique needs of the neighborhood residents, who wanted the new space to be a different experience from nearby FDR Park, which already features a lot of active recreation amenities such as tennis courts and playgrounds. “We arrived at a strolling garden to be able to meet the needs of the neighbors, who wanted a peaceful place to enjoy the landscape,” says Rae Vassar, PHS Landscape Architecture Project Manager. “Along with the multiple pathways, the park has benches, tables and even rocks and boulders for seating options, so neighbors can picnic together, enjoy the space on their own, and connect with the plants and pollinators on site.”
SCSSD wanted Geary Park to be a jewel in the neighborhood that people would notice and could take pride in. The design includes an extensive lighting plan with security (pole lights) as well as aesthetic lighting (tree uplights and downlights). The new lighting also includes programmable color-changing LED technology, which will allow accent lights to tastefully display colors for holidays and Phillies, Eagles, Sixers, and Flyers gamedays!
The new strolling garden features several paths that neighbors can leisurely walk through, seating areas to connect with friends and family, and a beautiful garden at the center with seasonal plantings showcased in the surrounding areas. The PHS design team was mindful to incorporate existing trees into the final product with significance to the community. “Our team was sensitive to the vernacular of the area, and we have incorporated red brick into the walkway as a nod to that. It isn’t the easiest material for building a curving path, but if you look in the neighborhood, it's red brick everywhere,” says Leigh Ann Campbell, Director of Landscape Architecture at PHS.
Once re-opened to the public in May, Geary Park will be an oasis for South Philly residents for years to come. Rae says, “It's a place to have a relaxing stroll and see plants, go read a book in the evening, or meet with a neighbor for coffee in the morning -- there really wasn’t a great place to do that before." Thanks to SCSSD’s private investment and ongoing future maintenance commitment, South Philly residents will have a bright, new, beautiful space to call their own this spring and for many seasons to come.