Philadelphia’s fast-paced reclamation of its waterfront continued this fall with the opening of the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk. The 2,000-foot-long concrete structure connects to the city’s popular Schuylkill River Trail and brings bikers and joggers directly to a pathway floating above the water. The $18 million boardwalk is more than just a novel piece of infrastructure—it is a practical way to build-out the trail and ultimately connect it to South Philadelphia. Since existing railroad tracks had eaten up too much real estate on the shore, the Schuylkill River Development Corporation decided the only way to push the path forward was to extend it over the river.
This solution didn’t come quickly: it took eight years of planning and another two of construction. And the finished product is by no means “Philly’s High Line” (the Reading Viaduct will likely take that mantle). But the boardwalk was never intended to be an architectural gem—the project did not even have an architect. The structure’s fairly austere, but practical design was overseen by the engineering and construction firms URS, Pennoni Associates, and CHPlanning.
“The Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk is a visually stunning trail segment that we are confident will soon become a popular destination for regional recreation,” said Joseph Syrnick, President and CEO of Schuylkill River Development Corporation, in a statement. “Its opening is also a major milestone in our efforts to extend the Schuylkill River Trail from Center City to Bartram’s Garden, and eventually all the way to Fort Mifflin on the Delaware.”
The 15-foot-wide walkway’s deck is made of concrete to withstand extreme weather, but is etched to appear like wood planks found on a more traditional, seaside boardwalk. The path expands in width at four points creating overlooks that provide dramatic views of the city’s skyline. At night, the space is illuminated with forty-six solar-powered lights.
The Philadelphia Inquirer’s architecture critic, Inga Saffron, praised the boardwalk—saying that it could surpass the High Line—but noted that its lack of architectural style could cause problems when the crowds arrive. In short, the boardwalk’s popularity could become its biggest drawback.
In an age when cities around the globe are trying to create their own version of the High Line (Philly included), the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk is something entirely unique. It does not have the architectural embellishments or the impressive landscape design you may expect from this type of project, but is an entirely distinct piece of infrastructure that serves its purpose. For now, those sweeping views and the ability to walk, bike, and jog over the river will have to do.