Five Squares and a Diagonal: How Parks and a Parkway Shaped the Development of Center City

Weekend Tour

Philadelphia was one of the first planned cities in North America. Its plan for a “greene countrie towne” was crafted by William Penn and his surveyor Thomas Holme. Based on Roman army camps, it called for five public squares in the core of the city. This tour will explore how those squares developed from public pastureland and burial grounds to what noted planner and author Jane Jacobs called “Philadelphia’s greatest assets.” The tour will also explore the greatest changes to Penn’s original plan—the introduction of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as a gateway to Fairmount Park, and the clearance of much of the original business district for Independence National Historical Park.

Along the way, participants will learn why Logan Square evolved from home of the city gallows to a glorified traffic circle (and what’s happened since); how Rittenhouse Square transformed from the domain of the elite to a counter-culture haven to “the perfect square;” how Centre Square was replaced by City Hall (and how it gained some park space back); what led free and enslaved Africans to gather in Washington Square, forging its nickname “Congo Square,” and when Franklin Square shed its reputation as the gateway to “skid row” to become a family-friendly play space. Midway through the tour, we’ll break for lunch at Reading Terminal Market, one of America’s oldest public markets, housed since 1893 in a National Historic Landmark Building, with an interesting story of its own.

Tour Leaders

Darren Fava

Communications Content Manager, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation