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The Pop-up Placeholder
Groundswell Design creates a colorful temporary park in Philadelphia.
Matt Stanley

Philadelphia’s Spruce Street Harbor Park is more than a temporary summer space for picnics and sunbathing, it is a preview of the city’s grand vision to turn its industrial waterfront into world-class public space. Since opening in June, the 5,500-square-foot space has brought thousands of daily visitors to the banks of the Delaware River. The park’s immediate success is due, in large part, to an inspired and colorful design by New Jersey–based Groundswell Design Group.

The park was funded by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC), which commissioned a master plan to reimagine the city’s waterfront, and through a grant from ArtPlace America.

Douglas Bovitt; Matt Stanley

“We wanted to create an urban beach idea because people can be so locked into cities,” said David Fierabend of Groundswell. Groundswell brought in sand, colorful Adirondack chairs, and created a boardwalk along the river. It also repurposed three floating barges to create a waterside refuge complete with a beer garden and restaurant. It planted 30 trees and created floating “water gardens” on the river itself.

On the shore-side of the site, Groundswell scattered bistro tables and chairs, hung over 50 handmade hammocks, and strung-up 800 feet of lights. A sense of spectacle is reinforced at Spruce Street’s seven misting stations where vapor sprays out of iron pipes that were fabricated to appear like twisted trees.

While the park will be dismantled after Labor Day, Jodie Milkman, a spokesperson for the DRWC, said it should not be considered a “pop-up park,” but a placeholder. “This park has proved to be a great case study for those who want to make a case for place making,” she said. “We created a great civic space that has established the potential of the central Delaware River waterfront.”

Spruce Street Harbor Park will return next summer, but before it does, many of its pieces will be reused at the Waterfront Winterfest held at the site later this year.

Henry Melcher


Matt Stanley