“Bike Path in Time”
Joseph G. Brin © 2012

Pier 53 on the Delaware River, in Philadelphia, was the point of entry for immigrants, primarily from Eastern and Southern Europe, from the 1870’s through the early 1900’s. Demolished in 1915, it took nearly 100 years before some smart people discovered that the remaining pile of rocks, trash and rotting lumber held promise as a foothold for the city’s return to ecological health and a reborn, sustainable waterfront.


Bicycle paths on this new Delaware River Trail waterfront park travel back and forth in time. Screen out the whining pitch from the interstate highway. Ignore the stop and go noise of closer, local traffic. Then you can “see” and “hear” awestruck, boisterous, frightened and excited foreigners step down the swinging gangplank to a new world and new life. Those brave souls just survived a vast cultural and linguistic ocean crossing most of us will never, even remotely, experience.

It won’t be easy for you to find the small sign declaring the location of this new waterfront park as you approach from a traffic-clogged Christopher Columbus Boulevard. You might pass it a dozen times and miss it. I did. It’s somewhat treacherous crossing Columbus but still easier to find the park arriving on foot. There’s a typical, blue and yellow Pennsylvania State history plaque at the entry with an additional small sign declaring “Dawn to Dusk” visiting hours. This is just part of a six mile multi-use recreational trail – portions of which will eventually be a part of the East Coast Greenway – a 3,000 mile trail run from Maine to Florida.

Architects often talk about a building’s “footprint.” But you can’t physically see it until the building is torn down so we don’t usually think of design as something imprinted within inches of the ground. Yet what I discovered here is exactly that. A sort of ground plane nature lab of stormwater management experiments, a rain garden, clever uses of broken concrete slabs, recycled (no doubt) glass – a curved highway embankment for skate boarders added for good measure.  A dendritic (branching) decay garden, carved in concrete and asphalt, mimics the natural patterns of rivers and streams. Native plants will grow, create new patterns, breaking and slowly transforming hard surface materials.

Pier 53 is envisioned as a new urban ecological habitat, home to numerous species of birds and fish.


Intelligence applied.

Joseph G. Brin is an architect, fine artist and teacher based in Philadelphia, PA. He is writing a graphic novel on Al Capone to be published on Kindle.

Brin’s fine art rowing poster site:
Art and strategic design for a bully-free Philadelphia (“B. Free.”) (

Twitter: @AncientGlass

“New Life” Habitat photo montage: Joseph G. Brin © 2012





Metropolis: “Designing Water”
(Stormwater management/municipal water quality)



Contributors to the waterfront park development effort:


Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC):
Pennsylvania Coastal Zone Management Program
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA)
Pennsylvania Environmental Protection
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Categories: Transportation