Skip to content

2016 Delaware Valley Hall of Fame Inductee: City Plan of Philadelphia

City PlanThe City Plan of Philadelphia, conceived by Englishman William Penn and surveyed by Thomas Holme in the late 17th century, is one of the most defining characteristics of center city Philadelphia, and was a model for city planning throughout developing colonial North America and the newly created United States. Consisting of a regular grid of intersecting streets anchored by five public squares, the plan is notable for its provision for a central complex of public buildings at Center Square, varied street widths appropriate to their use and the extension of the plan across a large area intended to accommodate the growth of the city far into its future.

Although early Philadelphia residents did not initially stick to Penn’s vision of a city developing from the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers inward, preferring to concentrate on the eastern side along the Delaware, the plan remained in place, with many streets and squares waiting more than 150 years to be developed. The four outlying squares initially served as pastureland for livestock, burial grounds and even execution sites. In the 19th century, the squares were elaborately landscaped and given their current names. Three of the four squares (Franklin, Washington, and Rittenhouse) still serve as neighborhood parks. The fourth, Logan Square in the northwest quadrant of the city, at the base of the Fairmount Boulevard (now Benjamin Franklin Parkway) provides a significant counterpoint to the stately Greek Revival Art Museum at the opposite end of the thoroughfare.

The fifth square, or Center Square, at the intersection of Broad and High (now Market) streets, served several functions for nearly 200 years until the City decided to consolidate numerous municipal functions that were located in scattered sites and designed a building suitable for it. The construction of City Hall, itself a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, began in 1871 and was completed 30 years later. It now anchors Penn’s two main thoroughfares, providing both a symbolic and physical highlight to center of Penn’s “greene countrie towne.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers designated the City Plan of Philadelphia a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1997.