A strange area lies a few stories below the sidewalk of Walnut Street and 30th Street in Philadelphia. It is marked by an “X” that is composed of gravel and turf. The gravel paths lead nowhere and the grounds are inaccessible. The rigid geometry of this interstitial place echoes its highly constructed surroundings and the city beyond. Concrete, steel, engineered soils, electrical lines, drainage pipes, railways, and highways structure the environment. I find this space very compelling; confounding.
Whenever I am in the area I look down from the street above and photograph noticeable changes or details I have overlooked. I wonder, what are the forces at work against this enclosed space? A conflation of economic and natural pressures? It seems to have converted into a staging ground for construction happening elsewhere. If you look closely you can see bits of garbage that people have tossed from the elevated Walnut Street sidewalk. Does disorder and detritus give life to this place?
It is the X shaped paths that fascinates me most. When seen from above they make the landscape seem as if it has been marked for some impending purpose that will flash down from the sky. If I were to look at this space through a satellite’s lens and zoom out I would see that Philadelphia is composed of many such places; the missing teeth in a hungry city. Vacant lots are a problem here. Peering down at this landscape heightens this awareness for me. The ruptures in the formality of the “X” offer a glimpse into a kind of absurdity in the way we shape our surroundings. For me it has also become an invitation to imagine alternative relationships to my place in the city.
Benjamin Nicolosi-Endo is a landscape architect and filmmaker.