This is the Rail Park.
Branding Philadelphia’s least seen—soon to be most loved—park.
Hundreds of people walk over it every day. It soars above city streets block by block by block. It cuts through the main artery of this city. But many don’t look up and few look down. A majority of Philadelphian’s don’t even know it exists. But it does and it goes on living and growing without a single care. It’s got views better than Drake’s album; it’s almost impossible to take a bad photograph. It’s for friends, for lovers, for paint, for plants, for steel, for swings, for art, for history, for education, for imagination. This is the footprint of a sleeping giant. This is a connection that will make commutes carless. This is a historic link to the future of green space in Philadelphia.
This is the Rail Park.
So yeah, no pressure at all. We were pretty nervous to work on this project. I’ve been taking friends and visitors to experience it ever since I moved to Philadelphia six years ago. This place and this project both have a very special place in my heart, so I wanted to make sure it got the love and care it deserved.
A little background
The Rail Park is a three mile park that connects 10 neighborhoods and runs through 50 city blocks. It all stands on the unused tracks of the old Reading Railroad. And it has three sections:
When it came to the visual identity, we wanted to create something that felt like a park. Something you could look at and know exactly what it was immediately. It had to be inviting, yet clear, since some of the neighborhoods it runs through are home to people who do not speak English, or know very little. We wanted this mark to be inclusive for everyone in every neighborhood. A public space for all.
When you first look at this mark, you may see a tree. Or maybe you see the railroad tracks first? And after looking at it for one second longer, you’ll see the second, evergreen-shaped tree. Each piece has a significant meaning to the organization.
- The outer tree shape acts as a quick visual takeaway that this is a park. This is a space full of life and growth.
- The railroad tracks moving into the horizon represent the forward motion of the project, something that was really important to convey because it’s been caught up in budgetary restrictions for the past few years. We really wanted to drive home the idea of a future. The three railroad ties represent each section of the park: the Viaduct, the Cut, and the Tunnel.
- Finally, there’s a second tree in the center. This tree represents the part of the Rail Park that we haven’t yet uncovered. The evergreen is strong. It’s patient. It’s the green space that’s waiting to be discovered between the lines — between rail lines, between street lines, and between the lines of the logo itself.
The wordmark is set in Montserrat. Nothing too fancy. We didn’t want to distract from the visual power of the icon by complicating the typography. It’s bold, clear, and a Google font, so you can’t beat that.
The alternate wordmark is where we had a little fun. We developed a simple stacked system that echoes the idea of two parallel train tracks. It looks really awesome as a stencil nodding toward it’s historic Reading roots.
For color we decided to do something a little different. Instead of nailing down one cohesive color palette, we thought, why not make the colors evolve with the space over time? Pulling from the different flora, textures, and graffiti over the seasons. The color palette will live and breathe just as the space does. Below you’ll see some examples we presented.
The Rail Park has been called many names: the Viaduct, Reading Viaduct, Viaduct Rail Park, Reading Railroad Tunnel, the Pit, and more. They’re all different pieces of the same thing: The Rail Park. Many other organizations have helped drive attention to the project, but with different messages and different goals.
Eventually, two organizations joined forces with one big, beautiful, broad vision, of a three-mile public park unlike any other green space in Philadelphia. That’s when the Friends of the Rail Park was formed, as a sort of supergroup to advocate for the park, spark conversation, and lead the project forward.
Our challenge: Get people to know that this place is called the Rail Park. So how did we handle that? We took the most photographed areas of the park and slapped 100+ pt type overtop that says “This is the Rail Park.” It’s a pretty obvious choice, but it’s what made the most sense. We put it on everything from donation cards to presentations to maps. There’s no questioning it. It’s clear. It’s simple. It’s confident. It’s the Rail Park.
In order to help get the word out, we developed a one-pager/press kit for the Rail Park team to send out to any partners or media outlets, so they can have access to all the correct information. You can view it here.
When you go to any of the three sections of the park, you’ll notice graffiti, layers upon layers of it. You’ll see where the fence has been patched dozens of times to keep people out. You’ll notice all kinds of flowers mixed with trees mixed with weeds and sometimes even fruit. You’ll see steel and wood and brick. All of these things living, changing, growing, and dying simultaneously, layer upon layer. The decay of trees and shrubs are actually what formed the park in the first place. No soil has ever been brought in before, kind of like the park spontaneously combusted into existence. Those layers and that energy is what we drew on for inspiration when coming up with some of the brand executions.
We wanted to drive home the idea that this place was made and will be constructed layer by layer, section by section, and over time it will get better and better; growing every day. In some of the materials, you’ll see that we put photos on top of photos to pay off that layered motif. The text is so large that most of the time it bursts off the page to mimic the trees reaching upward and outward over their walls. We also wanted to convey the idea of built up energy. This park is ready to be made. It literally can’t even be contained. On the cover of the map, you’ll notice we used the phrase, “This is the Rail Park. And it wants us as much as we want it.” We wanted it to seem like the text is reaching out to you. Like it’s calling out for you to help, but without saying something obvious like, “We’d love your donation to make this possible.”
The Rail Park speaks for itself, not as an organization.
One of the first things we developed were some new maps. Currently the only way to legally interact with the Rail Park is through a street level walking tour (which you can sign up for here). This was one of our biggest opportunities to get the word out about the park, so why not use the map as an educational tool? Rather than just having a map and a legend, we included information not only about the park, but about the organization working to bring it to life. It also includes information on how you can help, either by donating/becoming a member or just by spreading the word with the proper hashtag (#therailpark).
In addition to the new information, we straightened up the streets and made the three sections much easier to identify (shout-out to my intern Nick Vicente for double checking every street on Google Maps :praise hands:).
We also added a few new cultural institutions to the mix, since many have popped up since their last map was made. Our main goal was clarity. A majority of people will only give to what they can easily understand or envision.
Along with the maps we made some one-inch buttons to give out to people on tours or at events. Just a little something to show some Rail Park pride.
When you sign up to be a Rail Park member, each giving level comes with a different set of takeaways. We wanted to make something that made a statement and made people ask, What is that pin you’re wearing? What’s it for?
For the lower level memberships we turned the green striped tree logo into a die-cast pin. Something just a little more dressed-up than the one-inch buttons.
As the membership levels get higher, we made a straight gold version of the logo for a little bit more of a refined taste. Something you can wear to all those super elegant fundraising meetings.
Have you seen this park?
We wanted to come up with a mini-DIY, low budget…verrrrry low budget, ad campaign for the project just to help raise awareness and hopefully get people to sign up for tours because as soon as someone goes on a tour they are hooked. The vision for the space is contagious and plus Michael Garden, Vice President of Friends of the Rail Park, gives a wicked tour. So we developed some fliers that could be printed on some obnoxious day-glo paper from FedEx. It’s a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek play on a lost dog poster. Playing up the idea that this park wants people to visit, it’s just a little skittish and needs a little bit of love. We made fliers for each section of the park but this one was my favorite. Just a little something to reward people for looking up off of their phones and existing in the real world.
If you want to print this out and hang it up in your neighborhood here’s the file for you.
It’s right beneath your feet. Seriously, look down through that grate. It’s well-loved, but needs grooming. Shy, but loves people.
Answers to the name Viaduct, Reading Viaduct, Viaduct Rail Park, Reading Railroad Tunnel, but it’s real name is the Rail Park. If you want to see it contact email@example.com
Soon you’ll be able to purchase tee shirts and tote bags with the profits going directly to Friends of the Rail Park and the park itself, no middle man. We’re excited to get these printed and even more excited to see people wearing them and talking about the project.
If anyone knows a company that will print a six-color (or a CMYK) tote bag on the cheap let me know.
You’re dead to me.
Everyone loves to see the logos that didn’t make it so here’s a little section just for them.
This version was another play on the perspective tracks but adding branches to give it that double read (similar to the first direction, just a little bit of a classier take on it). Conceptually, this direction focused more on the energy mentioned earlier, it sort of had a 90’s slam poem vibe to it. The feedback was that it ultimately felt a little too hip and too cold. Also, a little too much like deer antlers when it was reversed. Not enough life to it. Still a personal favorite though. Quick shout out to Mikey Loupos for helping with the concept.
We see you ducking through the fence…with your camera, with your sketchbook, with your friends. We get it. It’s beautiful up here. And we want this place to be the opposite of fenced off. We are working — we’ve been working, and we’ll keep working — to make this wild, wonderful space into an open, inviting park. The Rail Park.
So while we legally can’t encourage trespassing, we can encourage you to find out more at therailpark.org
This version was designed to be a mix between natural and geometric shapes. The space is constructed with all of this rigid steel and stone but yet nature has almost completely reclaimed it. So we wanted to mess with the idea of a brushy mark with 10 geometric rail road spikes to represent each neighborhood it passed through. The feedback for this was that it felt a little too metal band-ish and something about it just missed the mark. Makes for a cool tee shirt though.
I want the Rail Park. You should want the Rail Park too.
We had a great time working on this project and will continue to support the Rail Park in any way we can until it’s a real park. We loved working with the entire Rail Park team and we cannot wait to see what else is in store for this project. Do you have any ideas about something you’d like to do for the Rail Park? Or are you a super generous person that is ready to let go of $6M to make this a reality? If so, shoot Friends of the Rail Park an email.
If you’re a normal person please visit therailpark.org to learn about how you can get involved. Whether that’s by becoming a member, or by going on a tour, or even coming out to an event to hear a little bit more about the project. Ask all the questions you want, Michael has answers to all of them.
Just remember: the Rail Park wants you as much as you want it.