Livability Solutions

Turning a Plaza into Premier Public Space: The Porch, Philadelphia, PA

June 2012


University City District


The Power of 10



Beginning in 2011, the University City District (UCD), a partnership of institutions and business located in the area, worked with PennDOT and the City to transform a 28,000-square foot parking lane and too-narrow sidewalk outside Philadelphia's 30th Street Amtrak Station, into a welcoming and lively public space. The space not only serves the 37 thousand people using the station every day, but it has also has become a destination. UCD and partners wanted to make the space, known as 'The Porch' a more permanent feature and, in so doing, make it into one of the city's premier public spaces.

UCD, in collaboration with Livability Solutions' designated technical assistance provider (Project for Public Space), defined the following objectives for technical assistance:

  1. Growing programming at The Porch by deepening existing partnerships and adding new partners.
  2. Creating a plan for the plaza that meets stakeholders' vision for The Porch.
  3. Creating a management plan for the site that enables The Porch to be a well-functioning, easily programmed site.
  4. Planning improvements to the areas and streets surrounding The Porch to create a vibrant, walkable district. Planning efforts should include the City, PennDot, Amtrak and other stakeholders.


The first day on-site began with UCD staff leading PPS on a tour of The Porch. Following the site visit UCD briefed PPS on its data collection practices and summarized data it had gathered on the usage of The Porch. Following that PPS led a Place Audit workshop using the Power of 10 tool. The tool allows users to measure Uses and Activities; Sociability; Comfort and Image; and Access and Linkages -- which are four critical performance measures for successful public spaces. The day concluded with a public workshop that highlighted UCD's local Placemaking efforts and introduced the Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper approach to demonstration projects. The workshop also provided an opportunity for the public to submit their wishes for how The Porch and other local public spaces might be improved.

The second day of the visit saw a continuation of the working meetings between PPS and UCD staff. To the previous day's discussions of management, marketing and fundraising, the topic of programming was added. Representatives from local arts and culture organizations attended to discuss new activities for The Porch, amenities and equipment needs for programming and partnership opportunities. The visit concluded with a PPS debriefing of UCD and discussion of next steps.


Since the workshop, University City District and its partners have continued to make The Porch an even more vibrant and popular destination in the city. The Porch now hosts a monthly music event with WXPN radio statio, and food trucks visit twice a week. UCD has expanded the footprint of The Porch by adding new large planters to the plaza's approach.

The success of The Porch has spurred citywide interest in similar 'Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper' public space improvements. UCD worked with the City to build Woodland Green, a smaller scale pedestrian plaza that combines an under-utilized street segment with a barren traffic triangle to create a new oasis for pedestrians, and Baltimore Crossing, which replaced a dangerous five-way intersection with a more pedestrian-friendly design that includes new plaza space. Finally, UCD has also worked with the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities, thanks to funding from the William Penn Foundation, to pilot the city's first parklets.