0002 Glass and Steel

There is a building in center city Philadelphia, made of glass and steel, perched over the east bank of the Schuykill River with a large, open courtyard at its base.

This courtyard, a seemingly-public space, expands past the building itself and sprawls out an entire city block. In the warm days of summer, the pavement is thick with the remains of spotted lantern flies that met their violent ends under the sneakers of frustrated Philadelphians.

Both the north and south sides of the building offer stairways, winding up into the air until they meet at opposite ends of a second courtyard, this one with views of the water and a steady, cool breeze. There are picnic tables, benches, shrubs, small trees, flowering vines climbing on wire lattices, and even more open space.

Open space that, in any city, can be hard to find. Open space that gave my daughter enough room to ride her bicycle for the first time, gliding down what, to a 3-year-old, must have seemed like an absolutely endless car-free corridor of smooth concrete.

Open space that gives way to the South Street bridge on its north end. A bridge that crosses over the river toward the western edges of the city. A bridge that, before crossing, splits into a ramp that descends toward a boardwalk, running along that river, leading north until it winds inland just enough to branch off again. This time, reversing back up another ramp onto a pedestrian walkway that overlooks a crowded dog run and a pair of basketball courts that my infant son spent hours watching on summer evenings, joyfully yelling some barely intelligible version of the word basketball, over and over, at strangers.

The end of that walkway settles into the middle of Schuykill River Park. A park that, with its open lawn, well-maintained playground, expansive community garden, and narrow walkways, can seem both empty and crowded at the same time.

But, before that, just after the ramp rises from the boardwalk, there is a place that, on humid summer mornings offers a tiny, perfect retreat from the weather. This place, close enough to the water to feel its cool air and watch the barges inch past, is thoughtfully hidden from the sun and tucked into the narrow shadow of another building, made of glass and steel, that cuts into the grey-blue sky and glows yellow in the early light.

A tall building, made of glass and steel, reflects the yellow morning sunshine, against a cool grey-blue sky.