The Radnor Enhancement Project

Radnor, Pennsylvania

For a complete case study of the Radnor project, see The Art of Placemaking: Interpreting Community Through Public Art and Urban Design.

This strategy seeks to demonstrate how a synergy between landscape elements, public art and roadside scale urban design can reinforce the meaning of a highway corridor: Megalithic monuments establish a continuity with the traditional Welsh settlers' landscape. New highway milestones recall America's first turnpike. An iconography of symbols on sound barrier panels, on granite mile markers, and in the extended trap rock form griffin figures along side the Blue Route exit to Radnor evoke the township's seal. This project received the first award given by the Environmental Design Research Associates and Places Magazine in 1998.

The dramatic excavation of a new arterial highway across Philadelphia's "Main Line" prompted the Radnor Township to engage in a process of design review and enhancement of the highway corridor. The goal of this work is to create a stronger sense of place and a feeling of continuity along the old Lancaster Turnpike which intersects the new "Blue Route," Interstate 476. As planners, The Townscape Institute organized a design team, including the landscape firm, Coe Lee, Robinson and Roesch of Philadelphia, and artist, William Reimann, along side the Township government. The group worked to develop an integrated vocabulary of sculpture, street furniture, interpretation and landscaping. The strategy went beyond beautifying to provide a feeling of orientation for the traveler and to inspire an ethic of proprietorship among residents who could identify with the mental landscape of images connected to the Township.

The design for this five mile corridor "re-imagines" the neolithic stone landscape of Wales, home of Radnor's original Quaker settlers, as well as recalling the 18th century stone walls and milestones of the Lancaster Pike, America's oldest turnpike. Consequently, rocks excavated from the Blue Route are grouped in megalithic sculptures, including a 23 foot high cairn, and a 90 by 100 foot griffin, that mark key entry points along the turnpike, and a "Stonehenge" on the Township's eastern border along Route 30.

A new rhythm of plinths, eight feet tall, supplement the old (18 inch) milestones; they are sandblasted with symbols from the Township seal, including a dragon, lion, tree, and wheat sheaf. These designs were also stenciled onto 14 foot high sound barrier walls encasing two Blue Route bridges.

The Radnor enhancement project was the result of Township initiative, which encouraged the support of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The community received donations from Sunoco and Wyeth corporations, whose support has encouraged comprehensive tree and flower plantings at important vistas, as well as changes in the design of service stations along Route 30. While the Radnor expenditures are relatively modest, the work now demonstrates how enhancement funds can be used under the new intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, and has been the subject of articles in The Washington Post and Planning magazine and an exhibit on "Planning Futures" at the National Building Museum.

Truck drivers, tourists, and residents of neighboring communities are pulling off The Blue Route to inquire at the township offices about the changes that have transformed the landscape. What was once a stretch of shabbily developed roadway is now a community identifier, conjuring up visions of the town's patrimony and giving motorists and residents visual indicators of their location in time and space. With its integrated approach, this pioneering project fosters public art, and improved environmental quality. Some twenty elements already in place illustrate how the new Surface Transportation Act might secure innovative approaches to the problem of community identity and vehicular orientation in future decades.