Unsightly bus islands were removed, and the street was dressed up with wider sidewalks, better bus shelters, improved signs, new lighting and freshly planted trees and flower boxes.
John Collins, whose work touched the city in so many ways over his long career, and whose social conscience led him to teach gardening to prisoners and to involve the jobless in his projects, died Friday of complications of Parkinson's disease. He was 75 and lived in Glenside.
He was the former chairman of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture at Temple University, and taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State University, Harvard, Cornell, Drexel, the University of Virginia and Louisiana State University. He also taught at the School of Architecture and Planning in New Delhi, India.
John always considered himself first and foremost a nurseryman. He established a nursery at Temple's Ambler campus, and he and his students and colleagues won numerous prizes at the annual Philadelphia Flower Show.
"I have a compulsion for growing plants," he once said.
Among his other contributions to improving the life of his city, John designed and developed small parks scattered among the office buildings, the Schuylkill Banks Park along the east side of the river, pedestrian walks in Society Hill and many others.
Inquirer critic Inga Saffron wrote in 2007 that Chestnut Street Park, west of 17th Street, was her favorite small Collins-designed park.
"When you're sitting within its dense umbra, with the water softly plucking at the fountain's concrete pillars, you almost feel you are resting in a mountain grotto," she wrote.
Many others experienced the same pleasure in other Collins-designed greenspaces - and hardly anyone knew his name.
In a tribute to Collins in 2007, Joseph P. McLaughlin Jr., longtime friend and neighbor, an administrator and teacher at Temple University and one-time deputy mayor under William J. Green, commented, "I have been fortunate to know John Collins, the private man, and to see in his personal life the same qualities of integrity, generosity and stewardship that are evident in his work.
"John Collins has both a generous soul and a deep sense of responsibility, not just to his clients - and his most important client was always the public - but to almost anyone who ever asked him for anything."
In 1982, John established greenhouses at the House of Correction and trained prisoners in urban horticulture skills. The program continued until 1990, when a new prison administration dropped it.
In the mid-'90s, his department at Temple trained and employed jobless residents of North Philadelphia in various projects to improve the urban landscape.
John Collins was born in Conshohocken one of the eight children of William and Florence Collins. He received a bachelor of landscape architecture degree from Penn State University in 1959, and a master of landscape architecture degree from Harvard University's Graduate School of Design in 1962.
From childhood, John showed a talent for art, and, at the age of 15, started a commercial nursery in his parents' back yard.
In 1963, he cofounded the firm of Adleman, Collins & DuTot, which became Collins DuTot & Associates. In 1971, the firm joined with others to form the Delta Group, which had offices in Philadelphia and Baltimore.
John married the former Sandra Snowdon in 1959. They lived in Mount Airy for 34 years before moving to Glenside.
He also is survived by a daughter, Kathleen Collins Hoffman; three sons, John R., Christopher and Matthew; three sisters, Elizabeth Knighton, Margaret Kennedy and Alice Wager; three brothers, Peter M., Francis R. and Joseph F.; and three grandchildren. He was predeceased by another brother, William F. Collins, a former Inquirer reporter and food and restaurant critic.
Services: Funeral Mass 10 a.m. Wednesday at Holy Cross Church, 154 E. Mount Airy Ave.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the National Parkinson's Foundation, Box 5018, Hagerstown, MD.