“Welcome Park is our favorite public space in Philadelphia” said approximately no one ever in the history of our rapidly expanding universe. And yet here we are in the midst of controversy, thanks to a statue, a retracted plan, and an unfortunate communication strategy by the National Parks Service. A tale as old as time, as they say. Let’s make our way near the border of Old City and Society Hill to get our bearings first, as it’s been just over a decade since we traveled through time to learn about the property.
A bit of history on the site: William Penn lived in a slate-roofed house here after arriving (on his boat, the Welcome). The building was demolished in the mid-19th century to make way for another building, which then burned down. Another building came and went, before the park we see today was built in 1982 for Philly’s 300th birthday.
Nothing much of note has happened here since then, at least up until last week. As you may have read in Emily Bloch’s excellent summary above, a proposal to refresh the park was issued by the NPS, asking for community feedback on what the future of the spot should look like, as it clearly needs a major overhaul in such a prime location. But as people began to dig through the details, something caught the eye of many: the William Penn statue, a miniature replica of the one which graces the top of City Hall, was to be removed. This shift would allow for more landscaping, seating, and other amenities, all while working hand in hand with the indigenous nations who owned the land to develop a new concept. Not everyone, however, was fond of these plans.
After a flood of pushback generated mostly online, the NPS issued yet another release: the statue and the park were to remain as is for the time being. Call up the PR squad! While perhaps not a case model for how to engage the public productively, we do hope that there are plans to do something here sometime before 2026, as the park is anything but welcoming today in its current shoddy shape.
So, this park isn’t exactly a treasure worth preserving in amber. The grid design on the ground is a mess, cracking and not reading much as a map at all. The walls are dirty and offer little, unless you’re looking to read half a chapter in a history book. While it is not exactly the height of garden season, the dead plants make the lack of landscaping that much more dramatic, with the wind whipping through to stir up the piles of dead leaves. This park serves basically no one. We would have to imagine that tourists, the folks next door at the Moravian condos to the south, and the residents of the Adagio Homes to the east would all welcome something more, uh, welcoming. Maybe next time the NPS will keep things quiet until their plans are fully baked.