Paul vanMeter giving a Reading Viaduct Side Tour in 2013. | (c) Bob Bruhin, all rights reserved
[UPDATED 2/14/14] The Reading Viaduct lost one its most passionate advocates last week with the sudden passing of Paul vanMeter. On February 6 vanMeter died of natural causes at the age of 54. In addition to his diverse work as a landscape gardener, writer, and artist, Paul vanMeter was a visionary force behind VIADUCTgreene, a nonprofit dedicated to imagining a new future for three miles of the Reading Viaduct in Philadelphia.
From his obituary in the Reading Eagle:
In 2010 Paul co-founded VIADUCTgreene, a not-for-profit institution engaged in envisioning and promoting a public greenspace along disused tracks of the Philadelphia & Reading Railway's 9th Street and City Branch in Philadelphia. When writing about this project, On the High Line book author Annik La Farge recognized the creative clarity of Paul's vision, referring to him as the "Professor of Place."
Paul was an extraordinarily gifted observer, passionate about the nature of place and equally devoted to enriching the lives of communities through creative landscape planning and design. Paul's knowledge, adventurous spirit, and generosity in sharing his enthusiasms combined to make him a model and mentor to friends and professional peers alike.
Friends of the Rail Park shared these thoughts on its website Monday:
It’s an unbelievable tragedy that his journey of exploring, as he liked to say, the "past, present, and possible" in his own way has ended so abruptly and with so much left unexplored. It pains us to think of all that is lost with his passing, and all that will never be said or imagined because he won't be around to say or imagine it. Let alone the many things that will be lost or forgotten because he isn't here to do the reminding.
We wish to recognize and memorialize Paul vanMeter's formative contributions to the project and express our grief over the passing of a dedicated fellow advocate. Though just over a year ago Paul and the organization diverged onto different paths towards a shared vision, there's no question that both his absence and his presence will be felt every step along the way as we continue on ours.
VIADUCTgreene volunteer Sam Loth shared these thoughts with us via email:
In 2011 when Paul first showed me the Reading Viaduct project and his concept for development I was struck by his visionary approach. Since then several groups and organizations have stepped forward to offer volunteer resources and in some cases professional organizational resources and real dollars to help people form a narrative on the project.
It is still unclear what VIADUCTgreene volunteers may do with the momentum that has been created by Paul. I do believe that Paul would want the organization to continue representing his vision and I believe this can happen. We are all unsure what form this will take and will keep all interested parties up to date as events unfold.
Meanwhile Paul’s immediate friends and family are planning a private memorial service in early March. They have requested that anyone who wishes to honor Paul’s memory please make a contribution to ‘Friends of the Highline’ in New York City. Paul felt right at home on the Highline.
Donations may be made in Paul vanMeter's memory to the Friends of the High Line, at 529 W 20th St #8W, New York, NY 10011. www.thehighline.org.
Ashley Hahn is an independent writer with a background in historic preservation and city planning. She started Eyes on the Street for PlanPhilly in 2011 and was PlanPhilly's managing editor from 2015-2017. Ashley has lived in 12 zip codes that she can think of, including neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She is a Philadelphian by choice.