The Chinatown Stitch, an urban design project that would cap part of the Vine Street Expressway, moves forward in Philadelphia

Patch Job

The Chinatown Stitch, an urban design project that would cap part of the Vine Street Expressway, moves forward in Philadelphia

The Chinatown Stitch could deliver a 2.5 block deck above the Vine Street Expressway between 10th and 13th Streets. (Famartin/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

A $159 million federal grant was issued this week to Philadelphia officials interested in capping portions of the Vine Street Expressway: A menacing, below-grade thoroughfare that’s divided Philadelphia’s Chinatown since it was completed in 1964.

The Chinatown Stitch is an urban design program led by a broad coalition that wants to build a deck above I-676 between Philadelphia’s 10th and 13th Streets. Its goal is to quite literally “stitch” back together Chinatown and Chinatown North. Upon completion, a 2.5-block park supported by a concrete deck would be built atop I-676; much like what Boston’s Big Dig delivered decades ago, and what Dallas, Houston, and other cities around the country are doing to make amends for urban renewal.

We will finally be repairing a historic wrong,” said U.S. Congressman Brendan Boyle, who represents the area, at a recent press conference. “It will be a transformative day for our city.” The money was secured from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Reconnecting Communities Pilot grant program, created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). This comes on top of a previous grant of $1.8 million for project studies, announced in 2023.

This diagram shows I-676 today between 10th and 13th Streets. (Courtesy City of Philadelphia)
This diagram shows the cap that Chinatown Stitch would deliver between 10th and 13th Streets. (Courtesy City of Philadelphia)

Today, I-676 divides the working class ethnic enclave physically split between Chinatown and Chinatown North. Over 100,000 cars pass through the urban highway daily; a phenomena which puts pedestrians at risk, and creates significant noise and public health problems. Tragically, this is a common pattern for many communities of color still reeling from the deleterious effects of urban renewal.

The project to cap the Vine Street Expressway is led by the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability (OTIS), the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), city officials, and community leaders. Its design and mission was laid out last December in a document called the Chinatown Stitch Vision Report.

Existing streetscape (Courtesy City of Philadelphia)
Proposed streetscape (Courtesy City of Philadelphia)

An architect or engineering firm have not yet been named for the project. But after a series of charrettes, the coalition shepherding the Chinatown Stitch arrived at what they call a Two Block Concept, a design that meets budget constraints while achieving the initiative’s main social goals.

The Two Block Concept proffers a concrete deck above the Vine Street Expressway between 10th and 13th Streets, but leaves an aperture between 11th and 12th Streets for ventilation purposes. This iteration prescribes an Arts Park & Lawn, cafe, pavilion area, flexible fields, play space, programming area, a new Crane Community Center, and shade structures atop the deck. Equally prescient, it would deliver safe crossings above the Vine Street Expressway to reconnect Chinatown and Chinatown North.

“The Chinatown Stitch project seeks to cover the existing below-grade Vine Street Expressway from 10th Street to 13th Street, providing greater connectivity between the Chinatown neighborhood that spans both sides of the highway,” Senator Bob Casey’s office said. “Beyond covering the highway, the project will consist of greenspace on top of the cover, which may be complemented by traffic calming along the local Vine Street travel lanes, improved pedestrian and cycling infrastructure on Vine Street adjacent to the cover, among other possible features and improvements.”

The Two Block Concept (Courtesy City of Philadelphia)

This week’s historic announcement to fund the Chinatown Stitch follows a similar project currently underway in Philadelphia. Penn’s Landing is a project by Hargreaves Jones and KieranTimberlake that will cap over parts of I-95 and create a new, $430 million, 11.5 acre park on the Delaware River.

Construction on the highway cap could start as early as 2027.