Keyword Site Search

The Three Bears Live! And...Living Well is the Best Revenge

By Leslie McGuire, managing editor

This delightful sculpture of three browsing bears is the original piece chosen by John Collins, FASLA, and children play on it constantly. Made of cast concrete, the sculpture is now surrounded by safety surfacing. Originally, the bears were set on a square brick pad. Safety surfacing replaced the brick. The concrete bands, all set flush so there would be no obstruction for the drainage, were repaired and restored. It was very important to keep the banding pattern of the design intact.
Images courtesy of ThinkGreen, LLC.

Once upon a time there were three bears who were having trouble with housing issues. They picked a neighborhood in Philadelphia with a lot of little brick houses and moved in. Just when they'd finished doing the yard, along came another kind of trouble--a big bad wolf. They worked that one out quite nicely and everything was fine until a whole new set of troubles arrived...outdated play equipment and tree roots! So, they finally broke down and brought in the big guns...the landscape architects from ThinkGreen, LLC.

Three Bears Park, named for the charming sculpture, which captivates local children, is located in Old City Philadelphia. This pocket park originally designed by John Collins, FASLA in 1965 is greatly treasured by the local community. Situated under a bosque of locust trees that fill the park with dappled light, children are free to run and play in a peaceful and intimate space that is sheltered from the fast paced flow of the urban environment.

This was a very budget conscious project. The goal was to make the walking, seating and play surfaces safer and allow for more space to grow. John F. Collins, FASLA, was the landscape architect who originally designed the whole park system. He was the chair of the Landscape Architecture program at Temple University and Johnson's mentor, so Johnson was very sensitive to keeping Collins' design tradition intact.

After four decades of wear and tear, the design of the park was strongly intact. However visible signs showed that the park was in need of renovations and restoration. The playground equipment had become outdated and failed to meet new safety standards and the expansion of safety fall zones around the equipment. The extensive root systems of the mature locust tree canopy had created considerable deterioration to the paving throughout the park.

Situated under a bosque of locust trees that fill the park with dappled light, children are free to run and play in a peaceful and intimate space that is sheltered from the fast paced flow of the urban environment.

Working closely with Tania Rorke of Friends of Three Bears Park, Peter Johnson, RLA, ASLA, principal of ThinkGreen LLC, who previously had worked for the Central Park Conservancy, developed a phased restoration plan. Three Bears Park presented a number of challenges, which helped define the project goals. It was very important to remain sensitive to the original design and preserve the character of the park and the appealing qualities that have made it such a cherished space in the neighborhood.

Another primary factor in designing and renovating the paving throughout the park was protecting and preserving the existing tree canopy of honey locusts. The roots of some trees were exposed within their planters, while the paving was in direct contact with trunks of some of the trees. The key to the project was finding an innovative way to manage the interface between the paving system and the root systems. That became a critical element of the plan. It was also important that the existing bluestone and brick on site be salvaged and reinstalled as per the originally documented patterns.

When ThinkGreen began work on the renovation, there were bricks all over the place. The concrete bands were sticking up three inches. There were only two drains in the whole park so they had to make sure they didn't obstruct any of the original drainage patterns. The brick bands have already been restored, but unfortunately, they too will probably age. The paving was cleaned up so it was safe, but the area seen at the bottom of this image still needs work. The bollard lights also need to be restored. Johnson still managed, with a small budget, to re-use the existing paving and re-lay it so it was safe.

A scope of services and opinion of cost were developed to accommodate the design within the available budget. Bid documents were prepared and divided the project into several phases and construction observation was provided throughout the project. The restoration/renovation project was presented to and approved by the Philadelphia Historic Commission, Philadelphia Parks Department and many other city organizations. The project was organized in a manner that allowed the client to allot more of the budget to the primary construction phase. Experience in design/build allowed for many in field decisions to be made in regards to the preservation and protection of the mature canopy and root systems of many honey locusts.

The playground equipment, which includes a custom toddler swing set made just for the site, has a new porous safety surface and new benches. The entire safety surface is set on 3/4-inch clean drainage stone with an eight to ten-inch base. The water that drains into it, therefore, has sufficient underground storage to slow down peak flow runoff.

The restoration/renovation of Three Bears Park was completed in 2006. As a testament to the successful restoration of the park, the locust trees continue to thrive and on any given day the sounds of children at play emanates from this neighborhood park. The community will have a special and safe place for their children to play for many decades into the future. In the near future ThinkGreen LLC plans to bid on the second phase of the restoration at Three Bears Park.

Landscape Architects:
Peter Johnson, RLA, Principal, ThinkGreen
Thomas Johnston, RLA, Principal, ThinkGreen

William Graham Jr, Certified Arborist, Care of Trees

Plant Palette:
5-inch caliper Gleditsia triacanthos (replacement trees)

Vendors/Site Amenities:
Benches- Progressive Products and Materials, Inc.
Worcester, Pennsylvania

Bluestone-salvaged and reused from site
Brick- salvaged and reused from site
Concrete bands

Related Stories

December 10, 2019, 7:02 pm PDT

Website problems, report a bug.
Copyright © 2019 Landscape Communications Inc.
Privacy Policy