The last couple of years have been a huge inconvenience for anyone who works at, walks through, or commutes via City Hall, as east-west passage has been blocked by construction at the former Dilworth Plaza. Make no mistake, we were pleased as punch a few years ago to learn that the brutal public space in front of our county seat would be getting a makeover. And when you compare the new Dilworth Park with the old Dilworth Plaza, it's a dramatic improvement. But like some others, we had a couple of issues with the unbelievably expensive effort.
We have to state again, it's a big improvement over what was there before. Gone are the odd elevation changes. With a glassy entrance, Septa access is far less confusing, and a new elevator improves accessibility. It doesn't smell like pee (yet), and the fact that Center City District will be managing it for the next two decades might mean that it won't any time soon. When we visited, dozens of kids were soaked from head to toe, running through the 11K sqft fountain in the middle of the park. The dancing water element, by the way, looks super cool. There's much more greenery than in the past. There's a cafe located in a glassy building with a swooping roof that serves booze which isn't outrageously overpriced. Check out the pretty pictures:
So there it is. A delightful public space and a big upgrade over what came before. So what are our complaints?
One issue is the sheet quantity of stone. According to Inga Saffron, five different types of granite were used in the construction of the park- the whole thing just lacks a certain warmth. And it could probably benefit from a little more shade, but that opinion might just be a function of the overwhelming heat when we visited last week.
Our bigger concern is the sheer cost of the renovation effort. The final price tag, from what we understand, was $55M. When Sister Cities Park was redone a couple years back, it cost just over $5M. Granted, Dilworth Park is about 60% larger than Sister Cities Park, and it's made much more complicated by the interaction with the rail lines underneath, but doesn't it seem a little incongruous that it cost so much more to renovate it? We don't claim to be experts on the cost of public space renovation, but you'd have to agree that the disparity is incredible. Was it due largely to the materials used for Dilworth? The structural challenges of building above the subway lines? The poor condition of the space when they started? Any insight would be welcome indeed.