Community Spotlights

The incredible transformations of 5 Civic Commons sites in Philadelphia

by Melissa Romero on October 26, 2018

In 2014, Fairmount Park Conservancy received a $11 million Reimagining the Civic Commons grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. The goal? To support five major public space projects in Philadelphia: Centennial Commons in West Fairmount Park, Lovett Library in Mt. Airy, Bartram’s Mile at Bartram’s Garden, the Discovery Center in East Fairmount Park, and the Rail Park just north of Callowhill.

Reimagining the Civic Commons brought together a collective of partners to demonstrate, through a series of place-based investments at five sites in Philadelphia, the ways that civic assets can be elevated and connected as an integrated, sustainable system and how they can be designed and developed to foster talent, opportunity and engagement.

Four years later, after the final ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Discovery Center in September 2018, all five civic spaces are now open for fun events, exploration, and community gatherings! Read on to see how these five spots have been transformed, in before-after photos. And it’s not over yet: Find out what’s in store at each Civic Commons public space.

Bartram’s Mile

In November 2015, Bartram’s Mile became the first Civic Commons project to break ground in Southwest Philadelphia along the Schuylkill River at Bartram’s Garden, in partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and the Schuylkill River Development Corporation. Two years later, on Earth Day, the one-mile-long path opened, becoming the first segment of the Schuylkill Banks located along the west side of the river.

Today, the trail provides many opportunities for the Southwest Philly community and visitors alike to explore and enjoy Bartram’s Garden; it meanders past the Sankofa Community Farm and down to the river, where there are free kayak and boat rides every Saturday. Soon, Bartram’s Mile will connect to the Schuylkill River Trail on the other side of the river via the Grays Ferry Swing Bridge, further connecting communities on both sides of the river!

Visit Bartram’s Garden’s website

Lovett Library and Park

Mt. Airy’s Lovett Memorial Library opened in 1887 alongside a one-acre park. In 2016, the library closed to undergo an 18-month renovation and expansion as part of two initiatives: Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries and Reimagining the Civic Commons. The Free Library of Philadelphia and Mt Airy U.S.A worked together on the project, with the goal of invigorating and activating the park and turning the library into a community hub.

Since opening in December 2017, Lovett Park has hosted to its first-ever Parks on Tap, a traveling beer garden that gives back to Philly’s parks, as well as garden parties, Music Mondays, Wellness Wednesdays, and more fun community events.

Visit Mt. Airy USA’s website

Centennial Commons

The first phase of the Centennial Commons project focused on giving new life to what had been an underused section of West Fairmount Park along Parkside Avenue. Working with the Parkside community and Centennial Parkside CDC, the project brought swing benches, lighting, traffic-calming measures, large rain gardens, and other amenities to the neighborhood.

Phase 1 opened in May 2018, and has been home to everything from Parkside Fresh Food Fest to movie nights to free walking groups like We Walk PHL. Next up: Centennial Commons Phase 2, which will bring a new play area right by Parkside Edge!

Visit the Centennial Commons website

The Rail Park

The Rail Park celebrated its grand opening just days after the Centennial Commons’ own ribbon cutting. The quarter-mile-long elevated park provides the public access to what was once a long-abandoned rail line and features large bench swings, more than 1,000 plants, 11 types of trees, 30 varieties of perennials, and environmental graphics throughout. Center City District and Friends of the Rail Park have much more in store for the Rail Park, with programming and nearly three more miles of park in the works.

Visit the Rail Park’s website

The Discovery Center

On September 28th, the Discovery Center in East Fairmount Park became the fifth original Civic Commons site to open. The ribbon cutting also marked the reopening of access to the Strawberry Mansion Reservoir, which had been closed and fenced off to the public for nearly 50 years.

Today, the Discovery Center offers trail walks and bird-watching with Audubon Pennsylvania, plus rock-climbing, ziplining, and more activities with Philadelphia Outward Bound School.

Visit the Discovery Center’s website

The Conservancy congratulates all of the partners involved!: Center City District, The Discovery Center with Audubon Pennsylvania and Outward Bound PHL, Friends of the Rail Park, Free Library of Philadelphia, Mt. Airy USA, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Schuylkill River Development Corporation, Bartram’s Garden, The Knight Foundation, and the William Penn Foundation.

To learn more about the Reimagining the Civic Commons Initiative, please visit

On October 27th, Recreation Center Advisory Councils and Park and Library Friends Groups will come together for the first-ever Public Space Summit, supported by the Knight Foundation. It will be a day of inspirational, practical, and educational workshops and sessions where public space stewards can come together to learn from each other, swap ideas, and collaborate.