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11 / The Urban Experience

Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Artist / Origin Paul Philippe Cret (French, 1876–1945) and Jacques Greber (French, 1882–1962) (designers)
Region: North America
Date 1917–1926
Material Pavement and trees
Dimensions L: approx. 1 mi. (1.6 km.)
Location Philadelphia, PA
Credit © Alan Schein Photography/CORBIS

expert perspective

David B. BrownleeProfessor of Art History, University of Pennsylvania

Additional Resources

Brownlee, David. Building the City Beautiful: The Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1989.

“City Planning, the Fairmount Parkway, and the Free Library of Philadelphia.” In Celebrating 75 Years on the Parkway. The Free Library of Philadelphia Web site. http://libwww.freelibrary.org/75th.

The Parkway Council Foundation Web site. http://www.parkwaycouncilfoundation.org.

Sies, Mary Corbin, and Christopher Silver, eds. Planning the Twentieth-Century American City. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Wilson, William H. The City Beautiful Movement (Creating the North American Landscape). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway

» Paul Philippe Cret (French, 1876–1945) and Jacques Greber (French, 1882–1962) (designers)

The City Beautiful movement arose around the end of the nineteenth century in America.

As reformers in other sectors of society sought to improve the conditions of America’s increasingly poor, crowded, and dirty urban centers through social programs, sanitation initiatives, and the law, the designers of the City Beautiful movement looked to urban planning and architecture for solutions. Beautification of the urban environment, they asserted, would inspire civic loyalty and moral virtue in the city’s inhabitants. It would, moreover, encourage upper-class visitation and spending, while fostering national pride through cities that could compete with the great metropolises of Europe. One of the most important precedents for City Beautiful planners was the Champs-Elysées in Paris, a broad boulevard that served as the model for similar designs in cities across the United States, including Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Philadelphia’s original plan, laid out by William Penn in the seventeenth century, took the form of a regular, rectangular grid; the Parkway cuts a swath across an entire section of that grid. Stretching just over a mile long, it runs between City Hall and the entrance to Fairmount Park, Philadelphia’s extensive park system. True to its City Beautiful ideals, the elegant, tree-lined Parkway not only brings a slice of nature to the city, but also serves as a focal point for art, culture, and learning. The dramatic terminus of the Parkway is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a majestic example of Greek revival architecture. Other major buildings and institutions, including the Free Library, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, are situated along the length of the Parkway, while greenery, monuments, and grand fountains ornament the islands that punctuate its central axis.

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