Marconi Plaza improvements coming

South Philly’s Marconi Plaza will soon see upgrades to enhance and beautify the more than 100-year-old park.

Plans have been in the making since a series of community workshops began in April 2022, seeking input from nearby residents. The results, collected by a hired design team, Land Collective, yielded needs in four main areas including the desire to create a revitalized park, improve accessibility, create a civic core and active edge, and to make it a welcoming place for all.  

Marconi Plaza, encompassing 19 acres of land on both sides of Broad Street below Oregon Avenue and above Packer Avenue, was created in 1913 and remains one of the city’s largest public open spaces. It was designed by the Olmstead Brothers to be split almost equally in half  by Broad Street, serving as a gateway to the Sesquicentennial Exposition, celebrating the country’s 150th birthday with the world’s fair in 1926 at nearby FDR Park. Marconi became the entrance to a tree-lined boulevard that stretched to FDR Park. 

However, over time, changes to Marconi occurred as it eventually became a mixed-use park, featuring grassy areas, athletic fields, play areas and shaded plazas. A recently controversial statue of Christopher Columbus looks over the west section of the park while a bronze statue of Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian scientist and inventor for whom the park is named, overlooks the east plaza.

Over recent years, residents and community members sought more changes to the park with concerns to improve safety and maintenance to the beloved park. Proposed improvements by the city’s Parks and Recreation encompass three suggested phases, which the city says will begin sometime later this year. 

First, the plan will upgrade essential infrastructure and park elements, including lighting and infrastructure repairs throughout the park. It will involve the improvement of lighting, pruning of existing trees and the planting of new trees in original locations. Paths will be re-aligned and re-paved, benches will be added and a new traffic study will be conducted for safe pedestrian crossing at Broad Street.

During the second phase, spaces for activities and play will be enhanced, targeting the active perimeter around the park’s edge, including the current sports fields and play areas. It calls for the renovation of the playground at both locations, the installation of outdoor fitness equipment and the grading and reseeding of the lawn for sport use. A shed will also be built. 

The third phase will activate the elevated, middle plaza to serve as a civic space within the park. Officials say the park’s under-utilized elevated middle section provides a unique opportunity to serve as “a park within the park.” The outer edge of this core could include passive play areas like chess or bocce adjacent to native and pollinator-friendly plantings. The area would serve as an open space in the Central Plaza for events or vendors. Small structures could be installed including chess tables, a bocce court or a lending library.