Light poles line Broad Street; community unsure of purpose

The new fixtures, paid for by the city and state grants, cost $12 million.

North Broad Street has been lined with 42 light poles, part of a project by Avenue of the Arts. | Matt McGraw TTN

For students and community members who cross Broad Street near Main Campus, the walk across the city’s major throughway now looks a bit different.

Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce and Streets has constructed 41 new light fixtures, stretching two-and-a-half miles along North Broad Street.

During the past eight years, the city and former members of the Avenue of the Arts created a plan to renovate North Broad Street through a massive landscaping and lighting project.

Throughout the last few months, the lights have been installed along North Broad Street and landscaping work has begun.

“It’s probably the biggest project we’ve ever done,” Senior Deputy Commerce Director Duane Bumb said.

The capital cost of the light fixtures and landscaping was about $8.7 million, but the entire project, including community outreach, came to a grand total of $12 million, Bumb said. The funding for this project came from a combination of money from both the state and the city. Bumb added the project is meant to unify North Broad Street.

The design of the 55-foot-high “light beacons” was created by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson architecture firm and James Carpenter Design Associates. BCJ architect Jeffrey Lew said the project is meant to encourage stakeholders to invest more in the area.

“The intent of the project is essentially to encourage development and revitalization along Broad Street, so we chose to focus upon basically from City Hall to Glenwood Avenue and try to find a way to link together neighborhoods and kind of tie them back down to Center City and … create a homogeneous promenade of light and landscape,” Lew said.

Lew added the project is the first step to revitalizing and improving development along Broad Street.

“The hope is that we would basically encourage this and encourage stakeholders to develop the area,” he said.

Bumb and Lew both said the project is not yet complete. Lew added all involved are still trying to optimize the lighting that comes from the new installments so the fixtures will emit more light.

“Please don’t quite judge these yet until we’re completely done,” Lew said.

Despite part of the funding going toward community outreach about the changes happening to North Broad, some community members are unaware of what the purpose of the stainless-steel posts are.

Shawniesha Williams, who lives on 22nd Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue and is a student at Excel Academy North, said she has asked around to find out what the lights are.

“They’ve probably got something to do with Wi-Fi, some type of connection for the Temple students since we are getting so much stuff around here,” she said. “Or probably some more systems or camera systems. … Probably safety-related or some Wi-Fi for the kids.”

Paul Donaldson, who lives on 23rd Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue, said he has also asked around and heard they were lights and cameras.

“If they’re not bright, then what’s the sense? I think they’re cameras,” he said.

To create better communication and avoid confusion in the future among the community, a new nonprofit called Avenue North Renaissance has been created. This group is in the early stages of planning its future community outreach. Avenue North will oversee the development, maintenance and safety of North Broad Street.

Shalimar Thomas, the executive director of both Avenue North Renaissance and the African American Chamber of Commerce said she has a focus on inclusion to avoid issues of gentrification as the project encourages economic growth.

“When we’re focused on inclusion, the benefit to the entire region is so much stronger because we have everyone providing jobs and opportunities for its residents that live in these communities,” she said.

Gillian McGoldrick can be reached at or on Twitter @gill_mcgoldrick.


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