Love to LOVE you, baby

LOVE Park: Plenty to love, but could use some improvements.
LOVE Park: Plenty to love, but could use some improvements.
Posted: January 28, 2014

I LOVE LOVE Park.

It's not perfect - few things are in Philly - but it is a gem. The iconic Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture frames a view up the Parkway to the Art Museum that could compete with any cityscape. It's a Philadelphia classic that attracts camera-toting visitors day and night.

The main thing wrong with LOVE Park is not the design, but the people - the ones who litter (attracting rats), the ones who skateboard (scarring surfaces and cracking tiles) and the serenity-shattering panhandlers.

LOVE Park is in the news because of - imagine this - politics, the competing views of plaza rehabilitation from Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke, or at least the competing views on how to pay for renovations.

Nutter wants to sell the city garage under the plaza (for almost $30 million to a Chicago firm that would manage the park's facelift). Clarke wants to turn the plaza into a food court - seven restaurants to generate revenue.

Clarke approves of selling the 820-space garage, but disapproves of taking $16.5 million to pay for the upgrade.

Nutter's plan makes more sense than Clarke's. Seven restaurants would clutter the 2.4 acres of open space and wouldn't generate enough revenue, according to a Parks & Recreation study.

I'd like one restaurant in what some people call the flying saucer, the underused Fairmount Park Welcome Center. Turn that into a restaurant and, just for fun, make it revolve. Philadelphia doesn't have a revolving restaurant and the novelty alone could make it a hit.

The brainchild of master planner Edmund Bacon (actor Kevin's father), the park was built in 1965 and dedicated as John F. Kennedy Park in 1967. But after the LOVE statue was installed during the Bicentennial, a nickname was sparked and it stuck.

In researching LOVE Park, I saw critics refer to it as "cold" and "forbidding" and "unwelcoming."

Nutter wants it flatter and greener. I find LOVE's masculine steps, feminine curves and different levels interesting.

Tastes change. Bacon is the person most responsible for modern-day Center City. Business and architecture were ignited by the channel he created with Penn Center, hailed then as an urban breakthrough. A few decades pass and the architectural snipes call Penn Center cold and barren.

It could be better. LOVE Park was improved by Mayor John Street, who spent $800,000 to add grass, flowers, planters and wood benches. (Some upgrades were designed to deter skateboarders.)

The lifeless canyons between the modern but uninspiring buildings in Penn Center are easy and cheap to fix.

Benches, more planters, trees and grassy patches, for a start. Benches should be brightly painted and C-shaped to encourage conversation.

Then add super-bright LED video screens - like on the Kimmel Center at Broad and Spruce - on scattered mini obelisks.

What would be shown on the screens?

Almost anything.

How about one with video of animals in the wild, or travelogues of distant places, or natural wonders - rain forests, volcanoes, the stars above, the seas below? Screens could display "Did you know that?" facts, tips on good health or current city attractions. Screens would lure pedestrians and invite them to sit for a while. The cost would be absorbed by advertisers or sponsors. Easy.

I'll close with an illustration that shows that tastes change and Bacon was a visionary: In its earlier days, Penn Center had a below-ground ice-skating rink, now closed.

The current remake of City Hall's Dilworth Plaza contains (wait for it) an ice-skating rink.

What'll we think of next?


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/BykoColumns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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