Design grant could foretell huge changes for Columbus Square

The Passyunk Square Civic announced that the Columbus Square friends group has been awarded a grant for design services to renovate the park, which could use a little TLC.

Inviting, no?
Inviting, no?

The park — which is often mistakenly called Passyunk Square — is bounded by 12th, 13th, Reed and Wharton streets. On the east side are the rec center, the newish playground and the dog run, but the majority of the park is dominated by a rarely used athletic field surrounded by a high fence. The result is a big, often-empty expanse of patchy grass.

In our dreams, this grant could be the first step toward a Rittenhouse-style passive park for the neighborhood. But the folks at the Columbus Square Park Advisory Council stressed that the process is in the very earliest of stages and that no decisions have been made about what the park will look like in the future.

The grant for pro-bono professional design services comes from the nonprofit Community Design Collaborative. From the announcement on the Passyunk Square civic’s website:

A task force made up of neighbors, along with representatives from the private sector and the city will be working with the Community Design Collaborative team to design a plan to renovate the park. The plan will be complete in about six months, The Columbus Square Advisory Council hopes to use the plan to secure funding to make the plans a reality.

The seating area on the west side is pretty busted
The seating area on the west side is pretty busted

Ilene Wilder, who’s in charge of the advisory council, said the task force will have its first meeting in a couple weeks and that you can tell them what you’d like to see there by emailing

“At this point, I cannot say what the final outcome will be, that will be determined by the process,” she told us. “We are excited about the possibilities, however.”

Indeed. A nice, landscaped park is exactly what this neighborhood needs.

Of course, many people in the neighborhood believe that removing the athletic field in exchange for a passive park will take away opportunities for kids to stay out of trouble. But to that, we say that another baseball field and basketball courts are two blocks away at 10th and Wharton.

Besides, those stone posts around it make it look like it used to be a proper park, and that the fence was added later.

South side along Reed
South side along Reed. 

Unfortunately, the earliest pictures we could find were from 1960, which show the fence and the newly planted trees on the north side.

From saplings...
From saplings…, uh,  proud, big trees
…to, uh, proud, big trees

UPDATE: Thanks to reader & Facebook friend Katherine Knorr and commenter Sarah, who almost simultaneously found this picture of the park in 1934. Back then, it was a real, passive park AND it was called Passyunk Square.

Thanks to Temple Libraries for holding on to all this cool old stuff
Thanks to Temple Libraries for holding on to all this cool old stuff

So, what do you think? Should the ballfield stay? Or what else do you want instead?


30 thoughts on “Design grant could foretell huge changes for Columbus Square

  • March 22, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Large public square with a central fountain, people love to gravitate to a fountain especially during warm weather.

  • March 22, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Would be a nice view for the new condos right across the street.

    • April 18, 2013 at 1:58 pm

      view for condo”s What are you talking about, were talking about people who leave there condos and use the fields for different sports

  • March 22, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I don’t know if they need to completely kill off the athletic fields, but perhaps a smaller version would be a lot better. I see people picnicking off to the side in the summer and there just isn’t much curb appeal.

  • March 22, 2013 at 11:18 am

    You could easily scale down the size of the playing field(s) to make it a better park overall. There are plenty in the area and its not used to its full capacity anyway.
    More benches, a fountain, more greenery / garden, and an expansion of the dog park would make this a much better use of land. That takes precedence over beer leagues and pickup tackle football.
    Even the rowdy teens that drink and smoke here at night would approve!

    • March 25, 2013 at 7:30 pm

      ………..ian…….i have lived around here for 60 years………….there are no beer leagues………where would you like the kids to play tackle football….or any other sport……………in front of your house?………….or in the park that was meant to be used for such activities?…………my two sons have lived and played in and around columbus square for many years…………i could not be happier that they have had someplace safe to play and grow as people……………

  • March 22, 2013 at 11:45 am

    An oversize chess board would provide a fun activity that’s also entertaining for spectators. Also, coming from someone with a high energy pooch, it would be excellent to see some of the space used for an expansion of the dog run as well!

  • March 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    I definitely see the attraction of a big, public square kind of park. In fact, I love the idea. But, as a parent of three (and soon to be tee-ball coach – wish me luck), I think scaling down the athletic field would be huge mistake. There are more and more kids in the neighborhood and while it may seem that there is an abundance, even a surplus, of fields for organized sports, to me there seems to be a shortage. I can see how those not involved with these kind of activities would experience the fields as hardly ever used and wasted space. The problem is that, especially for the younger kids, everybody needs to use the available fields at pretty much the same time. If you aren’t convinced, try finding a spot to have a pickup game in a month or so on a weekday at 5:00 pm – informally playing with my kids I have found this to be a problem. That being said, I would love to see some ideas about how the field capacity could be maintained while still creating a better sense of space within that big field that might allow for multiple uses, maybe by formally defining with landscaping and paths two separate fields for soccer that could then each be divided and used as two separate spaces for, say, tee-ball (though I don’t know if there is actually enough space to do that).

    I have spent a ton of time in the playground area and the area outside the fence and it strikes me that there is actually a ton of land area that is not well-utilized. My take is that the combination of the concrete wall and the fence are the most basic problem with the outside edges being uninviting (Though I do tip my hat to the folks who have labored so hard to spruce up the south side with plantings!). Inside the playground, maybe a third of the space is taken up by an open paved area and that strange round building. Demand is high for these areas as playground space (e.g. there are never enough swings). I would love to see the walls of that round building opened up and used as the basis for a huge castle play structure.

    • March 22, 2013 at 3:46 pm

      I’d definitely love to see a nice passive park in the neighborhood. It definitely doesn’t need to be as big as the whole of Columbus Square, but there really isn’t a decent place for an adult to go outside and enjoy nice weather around here.

      I agree with Steve that the fields get filled up quickly in the spring and summer, so I’m all for creating multiple kid-sized ballfields. The great thing about this park is that it’s big enough for everything. Turning the roundhouse into something is definitely important, and doing something with that large open concrete area (almost never used) within the playground would help.

      I don’t have a dog, but I’ll have to trust the other commenters when they say that the dog park could be larger.

      On a side note, it would be nice if the bathrooms were available on weekends, when the place is full of kids. I mean, peeing on the side of the building works fine too, I guess, but a bathroom would be a bit more sanitary.

  • March 25, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Large passive park with open playground function, much like the new Dickinson Square playground, and expanded dog park would be fantastic. I love the idea of a park that welcomes you inside it rather than being closed-off as it is now. I’m told by a Parks and Rec employee that there are talks of creating a circuit of sports fields around the perimeter of the city in under-utilized space, like along Columbus Blvd. for example. I agree that we need more sports fields, but not necessarily taking up valuable park space in our neighborhood. A nice open space where a game of frisbee, whiffle ball or kicking a soccer ball around could exist without the formality of a sports-only field.

  • March 25, 2013 at 11:09 am

    A passive park would be wonderful!
    Something I was always hoping would happen and that photo proves that was the original intent so I say bring it back! It really can unite a neighborhood (look at Dickinson Square) and while yes it may limit athletic fields we are much more limited in this area for open shaded space to relax, picnic and play in.

  • March 25, 2013 at 11:11 am

    We need a larger, better designed dogpark for our furry friends.

  • March 25, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    This is my park and I would love to see some nice improvements, but taking the fields away would be terrible. The ‘park’ that is recommended for use is closed and locked to any outside groups and not open to having a catch or playing open. Please keep the multi-use fields. Capitolo only allows limited access to folks with keys or the Genos’ softball groups. It is not open to the public. There are so few open areas for playing in South Philly, please keep fields!

  • March 25, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    What I find so interesting about the comments above is how we all use the park, as is, in different ways, and how we see others using the park (very likely informed by our experiences at the times we are there ourselves). I’m at Columbus Square 1 to 2 times a day with my high-energy kid (it ain’t pretty when we are stuck in the house…), and I am excited by the possibility of more upgrades to our beloved park. I’d love to see the high chain link fences go. I have no personal need for ball fields, but an open flexible space (that is, not with walking paths and benches) is an invaluable asset to this neighborhood. Many mornings young men play soccer there, and kids use that “undesigned” space to run to their hearts’ delight. The middle school across the street uses the field for a mid-day recess–lots of just hanging out, but I think that is normal for the age group. I see the paved area around the jungle gyms to be well-used; bikes, scooters, and just yesterday, an impressive 4 yr old skateboarder. The newish fences around the playgrounds must stay; I believe its a safety issue for our youngest neighbors, and I don’t love the openness of Dickinson Sq (some kids can’t read that the playground equipment is intended for different age groups!). The west side benches are in rough shape, but are often occupied, and provide the passive use that commenters seem to desire. I’ve sat there many times with a cup of tea and hope that a make-over, with gardener extraordinaire Peter’s continuing contributions, could be a more attractive gathering space. Perhaps with more resources and manpower, the south side gardens could extend the length of the park, and a similar garden could grow on the north side integrated with more seating.

  • March 26, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    A combination of passive park, athletic fields, playground, rec center and dog run seems possible and the neighborhood needs all of these functions. The 1910 Philadelphia Atlas indicates a passive park layout similar to Rittenhouse and Washington Square.

  • April 1, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    It would be great for the neighborhood a great makeover that would improve property values and bring the community together. Not being based on the dogpark aspect but people could have an outdoor community where children could play maybe a bocce court

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  • April 16, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    I am a frequent user of the park with two kids ages 3 and 10. I live half a block away and have coached various sports teams over the past 5 years (which have regularly played and practiced at Columbus). This park is a big draw for folks, especially those with children and dogs, moving to this hood. Without negating from what volunteers have done and do regularly at the park (hats off to Mr. Tree Man), with ample funds the park space could definitely be used more efficiently and look better. The area to the west side of the park is fairly under utilized- i love the big trees, but the only consistent use I witness in that area is dog walking (bathrooming). The athletic fields are highly utilized by soccer, baseball, and football teams. This team use creates a feeling of community that I sure would hate to lose. I agree that the athletic fields could stand to be downsized, but strongly stand opposed to removing them. I would love to see grant funds used for sod restoration (see Markward park) within the athletic field, and clean up of the west side of the park. I envision a park where older citizens lounge on the west side playing chess, youth run the bases around the baseball field, a young couple plays frisbee on lush grass in the outfield, a family shares a picnic on the north side and everyone comingles to chat about how great South Philly is.

  • April 16, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    What type of spirit is governing the idea of taking away playing fields for hundred of children? Someone wrote they can go play at another field at 10th & Wharton. What could they be thinking? What is going on when so called adults are putting themselves ahead of children? In South Philadelphia there are so little space for young people to play. This is where young people grow up and make lifetime friends.

    • April 17, 2013 at 7:19 am

      This park could definitely be better. The not very old playground has not been well maintained and there is no bathroom access many times which leads to public urination. There are few shadey spots in the main play areas and in the summer you fry. There is no entry to fields from the 13th side. But those big fenced in ball fields get a lot of use by people of every age. There aren’t many safe, contained shady spots for kids to play and run and explore in a city and this is one. The “fields” at 10th & Wharton are a world away to this neighborhood and also heavily used. Make the fields better, make the park more beautiful and functional. Keep a place for Peter the planter to do his magic. But don’t take away the one thing that really works.

    • April 17, 2013 at 9:25 am

      Gary – I agree with you. Keeping the ball fields should be a requirement.

      • April 17, 2013 at 10:58 am

        Gary is exactly right. The ball fields absolutely need to stay. Hundreds of kids use them.

        • April 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm

          This field is used by Taney baseball six days a week, local schools (2) recess five days a week, weather permitting, local school (2) softball league practice, league kick ball teams, a flag football league, a rugby team for practice (?), and daily pick up games of soccer, as well as other pick up games. How it can be described as “a rarely used athletic field” defies reality.

          The dog run could definitely use enlargement and redesign. New turf like the stuff at the dog run at Schuykill Banks would be awesome. Maintenance issues are everywhere, as you would expect from a well used park.

          • April 17, 2013 at 4:00 pm

            The park is plenty big enough to accomodate some ball fields, some passive park, the playground and water sprays and the dog park. I am not sure why everything has to always be all or nothing…all ball fields or all passive park. A well-thought out design could incorporate all of the above without any group…adults, children, dogs having to feel disenfranchised. That said, no matter what changes/improvements that are eventually instituted, if there are no resources for maintenance and upkeep, then the children will continue to play ball in what looks like the Sahara Desert today.

  • April 18, 2013 at 8:14 am

    The ball fields are used all weekend long and many week day afternoons. The field needs some love. Its hard packed dirt and the grass will not grow in some places any more.

    The playground area needs shade.

    I love the shade and quiet of the bench area along 13th street.

    Could we get a bocce court in there somewhere?

    • April 18, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      The field needs love is right! Believe it or not grass will grow! Two years ago a group of volunteers took the steps needed to grow grass. It took alot of work, but we were successful! For whatever reason the rec dept will not maintain the field and did not ask us back to do so. The field is permitted too early in the season, not allowing the seeds to sprout and isn’t given enough time over the winter to rest, which is a common practice. Considering all the exciting developments in this neighborhood, you think we could figure out how to maintain a grass field. Not only is the dust a nuicence, but a health hazzard! The rec dept should be ashamed to let children play in such conditions! What a joke!

  • April 18, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    I was Born and raised around 13 & Dickinson I always will keep the memories of playing baseball with my family in Columbus Sq. I drive by everyday in the summer and I see 30 to 40 kids learning the game of baseball and having a great time. Please never change that the dogs even have there own park what about are kids./

  • April 20, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    I live half a block away from Columbus Square and when I heard the about the so-called proposed plans concerning the ball fields my husband and I were fuming!!! The individual who stated that the field is “rarely used” have no clue whatsoever as to what she is talking about! Maybe she need to actually go there and see it in person before making a statement. Not only is that field being used by the kids from the school (Christopher Columbus Charter School) up the street when school is in session, but it is also being used by hundreds of kids, parents and coaches for various organized sports (baseball, soccer, and flag football just to name a few). Baseball practices are held FIVE days a week from 5-8 with games every Saturday & Sunday any where from 9am-6pm.

    I have 4 children ranging from ages 16-8 and 3 of them are boys. This ball fields is where my boys grew up playing and currently play baseball and soccer at. The rec center is taking input from those interested in seeing improvement made to the park so stop by there and fill out a form if you’re interested. I totally agree in making improvement to the park and all, but there is no reason to do away with the fields. If more benches and green space we’re looking for there’s plenty spaces to do so. The proposed plans ought to be incorporating everything that this field have to offer to bring the community together not divide the community…

    As soon as this article was shared with me from a friend I have commented, posted, shared and submitted our inputs to Columbus Square Rec center expressing our concern and what improvement we liked to see with the field. I have also made neighbors, friends, parents, coaches and the various sports league aware of the proposed “Passive Park”. We need a place for our younger generation to come together and build life long friendships and keep them off the street. Their interests and future ought to be our number one priority as parents and adults.

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