Fanciful cityscape maps with exaggerated drawings of landmarks, buildings, restaurants, and points of interest are available at many destinations you travel these days. The maps are rarely accurate and not much help to find what you are looking for, yet they are fun to view. Sights you would expect to find on a cityscape map of Philadelphia would be the Liberty Bell sporting a pronounced crack, Billy Penn standing proudly atop a miniature City Hall, and, of course, the Museum of Art with a caricature of Rocky dancing on the top of the steps.
Imagine the Philadelphia cityscape map under a magnifying glass and you would find colorful murals on the side of buildings, grand architecture in the middle of a city block, and impressive sculptures on street corners or inside one of the many parks. These are the artistic ingredients that breathe life into a metropolis, pump energy through its veins, bring smiles to faces and happiness to hearts.
Touring a cityscape is like strolling through an art gallery, best appreciated when you peruse, pause here and there to let the surroundings penetrate, and then breathe in the culture. Years ago I became so intrigued by Philadelphia street art during my morning runs through the city that I began taking photos along the way and posting them on my blog. When my route extended onto the trails of the Wissahickon I started shooting green spaces as well. What I found was an artistic fusion that makes up the heritage and character of our city.
My travels on foot through Philly neighborhoods will be the roadmap for the Cityscape section of Schuylkill Valley Journal. Think of it as a tour of murals, sculptures, architecture and the people who bring our city to life. It will include history about some of the things that fascinate you every day, yet you never stopped to wonder how they got there, or why. One edition may be about bridges, another, the life of an artist, and still another about doorways.
An appetizer of what to expect in future SVJ Cityscape articles follows:
JFK Plaza at 17th and Market Streets is nicknamed LOVE Park after the famous sculpture by Robert Indiana who produced the original image in 1965 and created the sculpture in 1970. The image was used for an 8¢ US Postal Stamp in 1973, and became the basis for other creative variations translated in many languages. Facing the LOVE sculpture from the City Hall side of the plaza offers a dramatic view of the sculpture sitting at the foot of Benjamin Franklin Parkway with the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a backdrop.
Glass art is a sometimes under-appreciated medium that has proliferated around the city. In many instances it is found in obscure places like narrow center city streets and obscure alleyways. There are entire row house facades in Fairmount adorned with glass art, as well as an archway on South Street and a neighborhood marker on Ridge Avenue. This image adjacent to Girard College is one in a collage on the side of a row home on Poplar Street.
The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program creates brilliant murals in the heart of communities as a means for art to heal, unite, and triumph over the forces of despair. The program enlists members of the community to participate in composition of art that transforms places, individuals and institutions. This mural on Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy is one of hundreds throughout the city that breathe life into community and instill a feeling of hope.
Historic Valley Green Inn, built on land purchased from William Penn in 1685 and constructed in 1851, rests on the side of Forbidden Drive along banks of the Wissahickon Creek that snakes along the bottom of a gorge and flows downstream into the Schuylkill River. Part of the Fairmount Park System, the Wissahickon is a jewel within a metropolis with a rich history dating back to the 18th century. The park has been a refuge to such prominent names as Edgar Allen Poe and John Greenleaf Whittier. Today Wissahickon Park is an escape for pedestrians, runners, cyclists and equestrians who stroll and ride Forbidden Drive and explore its miles of trails.
Come along on a tour of Philadelphia with SVJ and create a Cityscape map of your own.
By Jim Brennan