As a symbol of a changing economy and a changing city, the rails-to-trails conversion of the Manayunk Bridge in Philadelphia bears close scrutiny.
"The Manayunk Bridge starts its next chapter Friday when it reopens as a recreational trail connecting the Cynwyd Heritage Trail in Lower Merion to Manayunk and the nearby Schuylkill River Trail," reports Jim Saksa, "shifting from an icon of bygone gritty industry and regional infighting to a future incumbent on recruiting residents and businesses by making the region as a whole more attractive."
The bridge's reopening occurs during a period of revitalization for the Manayunk neighborhood—contemporary construction is finally back on track after the Great Recession slowed the neighborhood's momentum carrying back the late '90s:
"At the foot of the bridge, on Manayunk’s Venice Island, a 150-unit apartment complex is starting to take shape. Another 150-unit complex opened earlier this year, prominently advertising it’s proximity to trails. Across the river, O’Neill Properties is building a $130 million, 600-unit luxury apartment complex. As part of the project, the developer is constructing connections to the Cynwyd Heritage Trail and rehabbing another abandoned rail bridge, the Pencoyd Bridge, into a pedestrian and bicycle path."
The article goes on to muse in more depth about the importance on the bridge as an amenity not only for the neighborhood, but also for the city and region. Saksa speaks with Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor and commissioner of Philadelphia’s Parks & Recreation Department, who says that the bridge fits into a collection of green and open spaces that helps Philadelphia compete with places like Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco for residents and jobs.
Another of the larger implications of the project: the bridge adds to the city's 171 rails-to-trails projects. That total leads the country. "By connecting the Schuylkill River Trail and the Lower Cynwyd Trail, the Manayunk Bridge is forming a critical link in the Circuit, a proposed 750-mile network of trails in Greater Philadelphia," writes Saksa. "So far, over 300 miles have been built. The hard part now is finding ways to connect isolated and disparate trails into one cohesive and comprehensive system."
The article includes a lot more about the Manayunk Bridge and what it means the historical moment facing the city and region of Philadelphia—it's recommended reading for planners and developers interested in integrating adaptive reuse of historic structures into active public spaces as a component of revitalization and economic development plans.
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