30 November 07: Into the Center

Through these doors enter the most important people in the world: your cable providers! Monday morning, over 200 Comcast employees will move into their shiny new digs at Comcast Center, officially (but softly) opening Philadelphia's latest office tower.

But wait, there's more: you can celebrate, too! The fence surrounding the plaza is scheduled to be removed this weekend and it will be open to the public for the first time on Monday. As well, the causeway from Suburban Station into the winter garden will be open for the first time on Monday, so make like a commuter and walk in from underground, up the grand staircase and into the ten-story atrium. You won't be able to miss Jonathan Borofsky's Humanity in Motion above you. I've been assured by the head of security that photography will be permitted in public spaces.

While business as usual gets going in the new offices on the lower floors, work will continue on the upper floors and crown of the tower. Over the past week, the crown has become less transparent as the walls of the tuned liquid column damper are built. When Comcast Center is complete, the crown will be fully illuminated and connected to the corners which will be lit all the way to the ground (and which was previewed in September).

You may be happy to know that our construction photos section has been updated.

Hope you have yourself a nice weekend as we head into December . . . and with December comes the pressures of buying gifts. Well don't you know your friends at Philly Skyline are here to help: we've got calendars for 2008 that will look great on your boss's cubicle wall, or in your kid's dorm room, or in your loved one's office. The calendar is at the printer as we speak, so we'll have them in plenty of time for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, the Mummers Parade, or whatever holiday you do or do not celebrate this time of year. We'll have all the details on how you can purchase them (via pre-order online and the physical places that will carry them) next week.

Till then? Carpe diem, y'all!

–B Love

29 November 07: Bite Sized Casual Observation 4:
Before construction comes destruction

This here, friends (and Vox members), is all that is left of the Gilbert Building. (Matter of fact, there's probably considerably less -- this was yesterday morning around 9.)

Demolition of the square between 13th & Broad, Arch & Race is hummin' right along to make way for the expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center (PACC). The Race Street firehouse still stands, but it's covered in dust awaiting its own demise. The gargoyles on the firehouse still remain, but the rumor is that they will be removed, preserved, and displayed within the Convention Center. We should hope so.

In related PACC news, a trio of hotels are in different stages as we speak . . .

  1. STAGE RUMOR: The first of these is as yet unnamed and a tenant is as yet unnamed: this is the lot at Broad & Race next to Hahnemann Hospital (which finally painted a mural -- seen at right -- on the enormous blank wall there, just in time for a new hotel to be built to block it). The rumor circulating at the moment is a mixed use tower as tall as 60 stories with retail along Broad Street (good), a Convention Center serving hotel (good), and a large portion reserved for residences (ehhh). No announcements have been made, but it'll be worth paying attention to this location as work on the PACC expansion moves forward.

  2. STAGE PREP: At 12th & Arch, test borings have been done but not much else has, at least not yet, for the forthcoming 29 story W Hotel.

  3. STAGE CONSTRUCTION: The one that's actually close to opening its doors and giving you a fresh pillow is the Sheraton Four Points, at 12th & Race in the former Polly Esther's Culture Club building. (What a legacy!) As seen below, new windows have been installed and new rooms are being fit out on all floors.

–B Love

29 November 07: Bite Sized Casual Observation 3:
Take a piece of tinsel, and, put it on a tree

Cut a slab of melon and pretend that you still love Street. Hizzoner will be on hand this evening to plug in the lights of the City Hall Christmas tree (pictured below, with construction of the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton looming behind, now 25 stories high). Mayor Street will say a few words and lead everyone in a rendition of Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime at 5 o'clock sharp.

No official word on whether big corporate evil but oh so delicious Starbucks will be handing out free gingerbread lattes as they have in years past.

If the City Hall lighting doesn't satisfy your xmas tree appetite, well just cross the street to Love Park, cos they'll be lighting their tree too. Is this some sort of revelry rivalry? The Pat's & Geno's of Christmas tree lights? You'll have to come down to find out.

Defy physics and be two places at once: Dilworth Plaza and Love Park, 5 o'clock tonight.

Uwishunu has some more details.

–B Love

29 November 07: Bite Sized Casual Observation 2:
1706 Rittenhouse

Right around the corner from 10 Rittenhouse Square is another über exclusive luxury private advanced ne plus ultra urban living condo tower that's been on the table for a couple years, and it too appears to be finally moving beyond marketing.

The parking lot at the corner of 17th Street and Rittenhouse Square (that's Rittenhouse Square Street -- all the signs for this alley that runs from 17th to 23rd read "Rittenhouse Square") is now closed and being to' up from the flo' up. D'Angelo Bros demolition crew is ripping it up as we speak, presumably in preparation for construction of the automagic underground Jetsons parking garage.

The tower, designed by Philly's Cope Linder and developed by New Hope's Scannapieco Development Corp, will famously swipe the southern views from the tower next door, Two Fifty South 17th Street (they spell out Two Fifty so don't feel too badly for them) and will roughly match heights with the Medical Tower across the street. (1706 is 31 stories and 320 ft, Medical Tower is 33 stories and 364 ft.)


–B Love

29 November 07: Bite Sized Casual Observation 1:
10 Rittenhouse Square

Greetings and salutations, Skylineers.

I've done a good deal of thinking about yr Philly Skyline layout and presentation lately. (Your suggestions have not gone unnoticed, so thank you for those.) As I told some friends over Lionsheads at Tattooed Mom's last night, this site is built not out of blood sweat and tears (although maybe sometimes), but rather out of necessity. What I mean by that is: there is no RSS feed, there are no XML goodies, there is no categorization -- not because I don't want them (although of those, the categories are the only thing I think the site really needs), and not because I'm some html elitist snob -- but because installing blag software would require such a retooling. But we're gonna do it so we can make everyone's wob site viewing easier. Big things are coming (including that oft-inquired feature that rhymes with mini).

Anyway, I say that to say this: the final touches on the 2008 calendar ate up what would have been an otherwise big Hump Day Umpdate yesterday, so today's gonna be make up for that with a series of small, Bite Sized Casual Observations. So, those 188 words out of the way, here is the first.

If you've been anywhere near Rittenhouse Square in the past two weeks, you've probably noticed a big red crane rising up behind Barnes & Noble. And if you've been anywhere near that crane (or if you've been out of town for five years and came back because you had a hankerin' for a pastry at Rindelaub's Bakery), you've probably noticed that construction is moving right along at 10 Rittenhouse Square. They've reached street now, so this site will have a dedicated construction section up in two shakes. Let's say this weekend?

With the pace picking up, the developers have also decorated the perimeter with royal purple banners with the latest rendering of the tower and credits and the web site address and smiling white people. Speaking of the web site, it too has been retooled and brought up to date -- lots of purple, jazz music in the background, and a new construction cam: 10rittenhouse.com.

–B Love

28 November 07: ROCKFEST!
Is Vineland's gain really Philly's loss?

The correct answer is "ehhh." Maybe, but probably not. Inquirer music critic Dan DeLuca has city-side details in today's paper. The Vineland Daily Journal takes the local point of view HERE. Billboard offers its industry point of view HERE. Rolling Stone doesn't care. (Can you blame them?)

As I mentioned before, and as Philebrity called from the get-go, calling it "Philapalooza" is pathetic. Whether the two concert promoters -- C3 Presents and Live Nation's local arm, Electric Factory Concerts -- vying for Fairmount Park's attention and temporary real estate ever actually used the term is unclear, but it was most definitely picked up and run with. (AJ Daulerio appreciated this: Three-day concert sure to be a hit with 20-somethings, headline writers.)

A festival in Vineland? I know of no reason it shouldn't work, but I don't really know anything about Vineland outside of seeing its name folded into the Census' metropolitan Philadelphia statistics every ten years or when it's on Action News for some fatal accident that happened there. I'm sure it's a very nice town.

Did Philly blow it? Maybe time will tell, but right now I have to say no. Belmont Plateau is simply the wrong place to hold any sort of concert, let alone a multi-day festival, and the Fairmount Park Commission should be commended for not saying No, but saying "hold up a second here." Sure, Live 8 was a success, and sure, we hold a massive concert every Fourth: on the Parkway. From DeLuca's article:
"It's unfortunate it worked out the way it did in downtown Philadelphia," [C3 Presents partner Charlie] Jones said. "When you have this type of investment, you can't keep waiting. We had to launch."
Well here's the thing, Charlie: The Plateau is not downtown, as the Parkway is. Chicago's Lollapalooza renaissance is downtown and is a great success. They also have a gorgeous new park that can accommodate something like that. We may in 15 years if the Penn's Landing Great Lawn concept is realized.

Another thing: what's the rush? It's nine months before the intended dates . . . I'm sure you can pull together some big name acts and arrange vendors and cleanup for such a lucrative event in less than nine months.

As the crow flies, Belmont Mansion is four miles from City Hall, so the Plateau is roughly that by car or by bike or by foot, but not by Septa. Well actually, Septa's 38 bus runs from the Art Museum through Mantua out to Belmont Ave; you one could conceivably get off at Montgomery Drive, cross the traffic heading for 76 and walk up the Mansion Drive. Weighing each of those options: If you drive, where would you park? If you bike, where would you lock your bike up? (And would you expect it to be there when you return?) You wouldn't walk -- no one is walking four miles just to get to a place where you'll be standing/dancing/doing drugs in mud for an entire day. Septa? Yeah, good luck riding that bus through the gridlock of 50-75,000 concert goers.

And it's a multi-day festival? Where would people sleep? Camp out in Fairmount Park? Ha ha. The Chamounix Hostel? What's that hold, a dozen people? Hotels? There are no hotels in Fairmount Park, there's the whole Center-City-to-the-Plateau transit thing from the last paragraph, and who would want to stay overnight on City Line Ave?

What Fairmount Park Commission could have done to make Philadelphia a plausible option for a multi-day festival is nominate FDR Park . . . just like it did when Lollapalooza was here in 1994. FDR Park would be perfect now, too: it's right on the subway (which goes right to Center City hotels), there is far more than enough parking thanks to the stadiums being across the street, it's got a lot more space than the Plateau, it's worked here before (over 40,000 people attended Lollapalooza '94), it's already got the best skate park in the city, and what the hell, there's a great baseball team playing just down the street in case the lineup hits a dry spot.

But they didn't, so Vineland gets itself a C3 festival. It's a miss for Philly, but not that big of one, and more importantly, the Plateau is left well enough alone.

Pssst, Electric Factory Concerts: if you really want the festival to happen in Philly (and if you really want to chap the asses of C3), LOOK AT FDR PARK!

–B Love

27 November 07: Fragmented

Hi dilly ho, neighborinos. Consider this a day off at yr friendly Philly Skyline -- there's official business to be taken care of, some of which will be unveiled with bunting and streamers right here in the next couple days.

Not for nothing, though, please enjoy the above Philly Skyline Limo Skyline at Cira Centre. That's Cira Centre I, I suppose, not to be confused with the Cira Centre South project which officially broke ground last week with Michael Nutter in attendance. That doesn't entirely mean you'll see steel beams rising any time soon -- there's a lot of demolition to be done first, and the two tall towers are phases further along in the project than the parking garage -- but hey, there it is.

You have yourself a nice day now, and we'll see you bright and early for an Umpdate.


–B Love

26 November 07: Two Decades of One Liberty

Click to enlarge your Philly Skyline Old School Skyline

1987 . . . let's see. Baby Jessica fell into a well. Ronald Reagan popped into Berlin and offered a suggestion to Mikhail Gorbachev on what to do with the wall. Hair metal was peaking with Hysteria, Slippery When Wet and some upstart out of LA whose debut Appetite for Destruction sold 26 million records. Jim Bakker, uh, launched Jessica Hahn's career. PA State Treasurer Budd Dwyer ended his own on live tv. Basketball was still the Magic and Bird show.

Me? I was reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in Mrs Strong's sixth grade class at Adams Elementary in Tyrone. It was a few years before the Philly Skyline came onto my radar, but 'round these parts it was the topic of discussion.

As we well know, William Penn's unofficial but respected reign as the king of the Skyline was ever-controversially coming to an end, at the hands of a man named Willard Rouse and his ambition called One Liberty Place. The gentleman's agreement debate raged between visionaries who wanted to pull Philadelphia out of a funk and the nostalgic who wished to preserve Billy Penn's high view as the highest. The former was led by Mayor Wilson Goode, whose official portrait, at right, in the Mayor's Reception Room at City Hall has One Liberty Place in it; the latter was led by former Planning Commission head Ed Bacon, who derided his former organization for allowing it and called the building a "monstrous thing" a number of times in a February 1987 Inquirer editorial.

The forward thinkers prevailed, and One Liberty Place officially opened its doors twenty years ago this month: November 1987. It's hard to argue what one skyscraper has come to represent for the city, regardless of your side of the gentleman's agreement coin: a city's rebirth.

After the Thanksgiving parade this past Thursday, I was making my rounds over to Comcast Center when I saw several people standing at the corner of 17th & Cuthbert marveling at the Borofsky sculptures in the atrium. As I framed up a photo, a woman of the soccer mom variety turned to me and said "it's something isn't it? We moved here 25 years ago and it was really the biggest dump of a city you ever saw . . . coming here now is actually great." As I nodded, she walked off exclaiming "there's hope for us all!" No doubt.

The building that would be 12th tallest in the world was nowhere near my own radar in 1987. Nor was the city this hockey fan would eventually call home, for that matter, even as its hockey team took Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers the full seven before bowing out in the Stanley Cup Finals. Perhaps One Liberty's displacement of Billy Penn's position had something to do with the outcome?

Fortunately for me, a fellow named Arthur Petrella was here, and he was fully aware of the significance of One Liberty Place, so much so that he photographed its construction and graciously donated the results to this web site.

From Arthur:
Today's architectural excitement in Philadelphia is clearly at Comcast Center, the nearly 1000 feet tall behemoth at 17th St and JFK Blvd. But twenty years ago it was One Liberty Place, designed by Chicago's Helmut Jahn and developed by Liberty Property Trust (then Rouse and Company), who of course are also building Comcast Center.

One Liberty Place was unique in two respects. Firstly it rose 400 feet above the statue of William Penn atop City Hall tower banishing the so called "gentleman's agreement" not to build higher than William Penn's statue. Maybe more importantly, it raised the aesthetic bar for skyscraper design in a city that had seen buildings of as much as 1,000,000 square feet squeezed into an artificial hight limit of 500 or so feet.

Helmut Jahn was the darling of the 1980s building boom, at least in the USA. At the time it was being built it was the tallest building under construction in the United States and garnered critical analysis almost everywhere from the local papers to papers around the country as well as professional architectural magazines and even National Geographic.

I've been obsessed with architecture all my life, even though I've made my living as an Information Technology professional. Having such a building project in my backyard, so to speak, compelled me to chronicle its construction over the two and a half years it took to build (May 1985 to November 1987). Philly Skyline generously offered to scan the dozens of prints and bring them to its audience, some of whom had expressed interest in seeing such photos if they existed.
Turns out they do. It's fun to pick out things that don't exist today, some twenty years later, like the Greyhound Bus Terminal where Mellon Bank Center is now and the old Sheraton Hotel where Comcast Center is now. The photo prints look quite good -- the colors here are as close to the originals as possible through the means of a scanner-copier-fax-printer. Many thanks, Arthur.

Without further ado, One Liberty Place under construction.

–B Love

25 November 07: Rock in my town, scumbag, or,
just another Saturday night in Upper Darby

I was looking for him, but I didn't see Michael Chitwood in the audience at the Tower on Saturday night . . . he must be holding out for Neil Young. Which hey, is fair enough, but he missed out on a hell of a show by the brothers New Hope. (Set list below.)

Ween reeled through the concert staples you expect (Spinal Meningitis, Voodoo Lady, Bananas and Blow) and nailed the new tunes (Learnin' to Love, Light Me Up, With My Own Bare Hands), but this night was especially a night of Philly love, even without a Freedom of 76 (and without dedicating Wavin' My Dick in the Wind to Monica Malpass). When Deaner introduced "a little song about New Hope, Pennsylvania" the place went nuts as they ripped out Pumpin' 4 the Man. After that he made a comment about the "big game tomorrow" (the Eagles/Patriots game), but it seemed to fly past most people. Toward the end of the set, a clearly into-it and grateful Gener said "all right, this song is for you, Philly" which made you expect Freedom of 76. They did one better and launched into Shamemaker, Philly dialect's direct descendant of Big Lizard in My Backyard. Thank you, Ween. We had the best time at your party.

All in all it was a great night at 69th & Ludlow. I just wish the Waterford Inn would stay open later. I mean . . . you have a bar on the same block as the theater with more than enough space to host (and make mad bank off of) concert goers and you're gonna close at midnight? Is the place run by Septa???

–B Love

Ween, 24 November 07, Tower Theater

ACOUSTIC: Birthday Boy • Chocolate Town • Mutilated Lips • Tried and True • I Don't Want It

ELECTRIC: Golden Eel • Spinal Meningitis • Baby Bitch • Learnin' to Love • Piss Up a Rope • Light Me Up • Voodoo Lady • Spirit Walker • Take Me Away • Pumpin' 4 the Man • Wavin' My Dick in the Wind • Transdermal Celebration • Object • Buckingham Green • Bananas and Blow • Your Party • Roses Are Free • With My Own Bare Hands • The Mollusk • Jonny on the Spot • Powder Blue • The Goin' Gets Tough from the Getgo • Ocean Man • Shamemaker • Fiesta

ENCORE: The HIV Song • Pork Roll Egg & Cheese • Lullaby • Touch My Tooter • Dr Rock

* * *

Since they didn't play it, we'll close this out with a Yankin On YouTube rerun of the Spike Jonze directed Freedom of 76 video.

23 November 07: Black Friday: black like your boss's heart

Well now I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving and feasted with your family and are enjoying the day off. Because if you're at work because you have to be . . . man, that's cold. What boss actually expects his workers to be at work the day after Thanksgiving? Sure, leave the option on the table, but don't make people come in or make them sacrifice a personal or vacation day just to have a day off when no one does any work anyway, jeez.

Then again maybe your boss expects that you'd otherwise wake up at 3:30am so you can make the 4 o'clock opening of Kohl's or the stampede at Wal-Mart and he's doing you a favor. In which case, you should thank your boss.

Whatever the case, I hope your leftovers are many and your Cool Whip is plenty.

The big man below is here in this late fall of balmy parades and short-sleeved attendees to remind us of things past, present, future, and combinations thereof:
  1. Mr Claus brings us Thanksgiving updates of Comcast Center, Murano and Residences at the Ritz-Carlton.

  2. Mr Claus (and Mr Blove) may or may not be at the official tree lighting ceremony at Rittenhouse Square, which happens this evening from 4:30 to 6. (Yes, it takes an hour and a half to plug in Christmas lights.)

  3. Mr Claus has something very special and very exclusive to yr Philly Skyline that will be officially unveiled on Monday. This is the combinations thereof: the ghost of Christmas past got together with the ghost of Philly Skyline future to present this new feature that is just going to be bananas.
Do come back, won't you? Ho. Ho. Hooooooooooooooooooooooo.

–B Love

21 November 07: Ben Franklin hated freedom, or,
When feasting tomorrow, please remember:

For my own part I wish the Eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country . . .

"I am on this account not displeased that the figure is not known as a Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.

Benjamin Franklin, 1784

Happy Thanksgiving, every buddy.

–B Love

20 November 07: These go to Eleven

by Nathaniel Popkin
November 20, 2007
Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and . . .

Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?

Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.

Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?

Nigel Tufnel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty DiBergi: I don't know.

Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Marty DiBergi: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?

Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.
--This is Spinal Tap

Philadelphia needs that extra push. A dozen years of building have brought us some delightful new forms and yet as a city we still lack the confidence to boldly invent. (This is an American problem; the forward-looking US is well-behind in architecture, landscape, and planning.) Perhaps this is the problem everyone has with Symphony House: its insecurity is transparent even through the cast concrete. So we look back first -- and always. And we look over that cliff with fear: we can't see the other side. New row houses, especially, suffer this fear. The result is an endless supply of artifice, poor-quality materials, and sheer boredom. Garages and curb cuts are only part of the problem.

When do see boldness it refreshes; when we can follow its path all the better. So it is on Eleventh Street, that hidden connector. One can argue that the building boom started here in two phases. I remember milling through the 1993 grand-opening of the Convention Center (for or against spending economic development money in this way one has to conclude the building was a symbolic success) realizing that the building was the first major piece of contemporary architecture in Philadelphia since the Bell Atlantic Tower. It was a first sip in a parched desert. The second phase was the gorgeous 1998 renovation of the 16-story factory at Eleventh and Vine for a Hawthorn Suites. Because of this project's visibility on the Vine Street Expressway it too was a powerful symbolic gesture -- and in real ways made that end of Chinatown more pleasant and vibrant.

So we still go to Eleventh, which I followed the other day from Tasker to Brandywine; and I was rewarded -- in a couple places I didn't foresee. At Tasker, where ambitious people are rethinking South Philly, I found the new 1540 Hardware, its bold yellow bays proclaiming a new day. This alone was interesting; only later I realized the builder had used yellow plastic panels to great effect; at Reed an outstanding jeweled post-Modern rowhouse; and at Washington the former Southwark Metalworks still being converted to the Lofts at Bella Vista with its sky-pods. At Spruce, the handsome Le Grenier. At Locust the now-complete Hamilton Building and its canyon-neighbor (here's the other side of the cliff) the edgy and massive Western Union. At Arch, the Convention Center, the poor Hilton Garden, and the former Pitcairn Building, now seriously contemporary lofts; at Vine, the Chinese Community Church, which is a great retro-60s roadside (and an awful, awful mistake), Michelle Liao's renovated loft building, the renovation that houses Khmer and Vox Populi, at Hamilton the city of pods (electric substation, the coolest of all), and finally the sales center (now closed, I think) of Spring Arts Point. All this along the shiny tracks of the old 23, may it live again (how about dazzling new light-rail cars to pull all this together?)

–Nathaniel Popkin

For Nathaniel Popkin archives, please see HERE, or visit his web site HERE.

19 November 07: Philly Skyline, Philly Dot Com Skyline

Well well well, look who added a skyline graphic to their web site.


With two staffs full of perfectly capable photographers (The Inquirer's Tom Gralish comes to mind), Philadelphia Media Holdings instead went outside the company and hired a typical South Street Bridge postcard photo by GPTMC's Bob Krist. You can find it on page 1 of Google Image Results for Philadelphia Skyline and Philly Skyline. Way to go above and beyond, Philly.com webmasters/editors/whoevers.

I have no problem with Mr Krist's photo. In fact it's very nice. But wasn't it just ten days ago I was talking about skyline topicality, especially at a time it could symbolize the new day we are celebrating? Why yes, yes it was (9 November 07, Illadelph Love). Or we could go back to the first Philly Skyline post of the New Year (2 January 07: Get on the good foot):
Jesus H Christ, Inquirer, YOU ARE OUR PAPER OF RECORD. You must have two hundred photographers working up there -- you couldn't have ONE step outside and take a new picture???
I did as much Google searching to get some details about Mr Krist's photo as the Philly.com staff did to find it. According to Philahospitality.org (which uses the same photo), it was taken in 1999. Before Murano, and definitely before Comcast Center, about which Philly.com ran a feature all afternoon, the same afternoon they launched their new graphic without that same building.

Again I say: if I can notice this, why can't Philly.com's staff? Mr Tierney, who approves this stuff?

Oh well, everyone's got their niche. Philly.com's is anything and everything philly (except Murano and Comcast Center in our new header graphic). And most of the time, Philly Skyline's is the Philly Skyline I guess, so here's a Philly Skyline Dot Com Philly Skyline taken last week.

–B Love

19 November 07: La Ballade du Brie

Let there be no mistake, I am a cheese eatin' man. Oh man. Aged gruyère with a sauvignon blanc. A gorgonzola gravy. The little smoked gouda chunks on cheese trays at weddings. Drunken goat at Chestnut Hill Cheese Shoppe. Abbruzze and bacon horseradish spreads at DiBruno Bros. Fondue at Ten Stone. Asiago, edam, extra sharp cheddar, dill havarti, muenster, vegan pepper jack, Cheez Whiz®. Bind me up and feed me fiber three days later, man I just don't care, GIVE IT TO ME. Aaagaahghgghgh.

But for real for real for real, if you stuck a gun to my head (not really a stretch in this town) and demanded that I choose a favorite cheese -- Hands where I can see them! Don't make a move . . . tell me RIGHT NOW: what is your favorite cheese! -- well I would tell you that it is brie.

Brie, the soft creamy French cheese of the cow's teat, of double creme and triple creme and herbed and baked varieties, of such delectable ammonia-y moldy rind, is the taste of heaven in any form: on crackers, with fruit, cool and in chunks, warm and spreadable, as an ingredient or by itself.

In Philadelphia, there is no shortage of brie options, from the aforementioned Chestnut Hill Cheese Shoppe and DiBruno Bros (South Philly and Center City) to Whole Foods and most likely your neighborhood grocer's cheese section, though I wouldn't advise paying more than $3 for anything they might, for example, sell at the Port Richmond Thriftway or anything . . . le barf. I would, however, strongly urge picking up a double creme wedge at Trader Joe's next time you're out checking out Murano's construction progress. Grab a package of sesame crackers while you're at it -- the two won't set you back more than five bucks.

But if you'd rather leave it to the pros to tantalize yr tongue -- sweet in the morning and savory at night, might I suggest two:
  1. As pictured above, this is breakfast at near perfection, deep in the heart of the Wissahickon. Valley Green Inn may serve a lobster, shrimp and scallop hash and a Philly cheesesteak omelet, but you should go for the brie. Their challah french toast is thick, covered in a walnut maple syrup with sliced bananas, and stuffed to perfection with brie. Sunday brunch is offered prix fixe, $18.95, and comes with coffee and a big bowl of fruit (or salad or soup, if you would like one of those things with your breakfast, you weirdo). Bloody marys are extra but strongly encouraged.

    Valley Green Inn: Forbidden Drive and Valley Green Road, Wissahickon Park -- enter from Wises Mill Road in Roxborough, Springfield Ave in Chestnut Hill, or just ride or hike the Wissahickon till you get there.

  2. As pictured below, this is bar food to set a standard. Standard Tap's lamb sandwich is the cool weather seasonal entrée that every corner saloon in the city should strive to emulate. The extremely juicy and tender slices of lamb are served on a hard roll and topped with brie that melts itself into the tiny juicy crevasses only a slow cooked lamb could produce. In fact it's so creamy-juicy that they bring you the excess cream-juice in a little cup, perfect for dipping your spicy house chips in. Philly Pale Ale on the side? A collective masterpiece. The sangwich is $12, the pint is $3.

    Standard Tap: 2nd & Poplar, Northern Liberties

Ahhh, brie. It goes both ways . . . duh, it's French!

This Thanksgiving week, go above and beyond for your family. Let your Auntie Bethel bring the pumpkin pie and Cool Whip. Your Grandpa can make his signature sausage and cranberry stuffing. But you, my friend: do well by the cheese. Give the gift of brie.

–B Love

19 November 07: Paradoxes upon complexities:
Mailer's urban vision

by Peter Siskind
November 18, 2007

"Only a great city provides honest spectacle, for that is the salvation of the schizophrenic soul," says Norman Mailer in Miami and the Siege of Chicago. If Mailer, who died last week at the age of 84, was only occasionally a writer of cities, his urban religion infused everything he did and wrote. This shouldn't be surprising. After all Mailer was a Brooklyn man most of his life, a Village Voice founder, and a New York City mayoral candidate.

But this isn't the place for Mailer biography or overview. For those things, check out THIS serviceable New York Times obituary and THIS fun Times slide show of his life. And you can't go wrong with THIS hour from the Charlie Rose Show last week -- an edited montage of nearly a dozen interviews he gave in the last fifteen or so years of his life that provide a glimpse of him at his best -- his calmer and I think notably wiser years. Rather this is the place to consider Norman Mailer's urban vision, and on that subject the place to start is certainly that same Miami and the Siege of Chicago, his on-the-ground reportorial account of the 1968 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

At the beginning of the masterful Chicago section, Mailer sets the scene. It's a familiar vision:

The reporter was sentimental about the town. Since he had grown up in Brooklyn, it took him no time to recognize, whenever he was in Chicago again, that the urbanites here were like the good people of Brooklyn -- they were simple, strong, warm-spirited, sly, rough, compassionate, jostling, tricky and extraordinarily good-natured because they had sex in their pockets, muscles on their backs, hot eats around the corner, neighborhoods which dripped with the sauce of local legend, and real city architecture, brownstones with different windows on every floor, vistas for miles of red-brick and two-family wood-frame houses with balconies and porches, runty stunted trees rich as farmland in their promise of tenderness the first city evenings of spring, streets where kids played stick-ball and roller-hockey, lots of smoke and iron twilight. The clangor of the late nineteenth century, the very hope of greed, was in these streets.
In the following handful of pages before launching into an epic narrative account of the Democratic crack-up, Mailer traverses the physical and social landscape of Chicago, and contained in that description is the essence not just of Chicago but of urban America itself -- all that fascinates, amuses, appalls and inspires us. There are immigrants and the affluent, universities and untouchables. Of course there's the El, with "iron screeching against iron about a turn, and caverns of shadow on the pavement beneath." And then there are the slaughterhouses with their death and entrails and odors, which Mailer's expansive prose reincarnates into much larger metaphors about the city ("Chicago was a town where nobody could ever forget how the money was made. It was picked up from floors still slippery with blood.") and life ("Watching the animals be slaughtered, one knows the human case -- no matter how close to angel we may come, the butcher is equally there.") Mailer embraces it all -- the comforts, contrasts and contradictions, the unexpected and the unknown.

Back home in New York City in the early 1970s, Mailer wrote the essay "The Faith of Graffiti," where he again takes on the over-flowing stuff sack that is American urban life. Here is New York in a very low time -- angry, dirty, unsafe and nearly broke. And graffiti is everywhere -- on buildings and subways, windows and walls, on cars and trees and benches and fences. To most New Yorkers this graffiti represented disrespect and the uncontrollability of a sour, restive generation ("New York citizenry saw all the children as mad . . . ."). But Mailer was always a challenger of conventions and unexamined assumptions, and he takes his reporter's notebook to the South Bronx and Washington Heights to talk to and hang out with a collection of locally-renown, mostly black and Puerto Rican graffiti-producing kids. He empathizes with their spirit and is impressed by their work ethic -- the persistent effort it takes to get your graffiti name sprayed on sites around the city. Mailer muses out loud about these kids. Weren't they providing arousing visual levity in an era of drab, lifeless architecture full of flat-topped skyscrapers, blank walls and sterile, empty plazas? Might they be the important aesthetic innovators of their times, the rightful heirs of Picasso and Miró and Pollock? Might their use of a subversive urban canvass be the sly, trenchant revealer of American dreams lost and found?

Mailer's famous and infamous ego saw kindred spirits here: "Sufficient in the graffiti-proliferating years of the early Seventies to paint the front door of every subway car they could find. The ecstasy of the roller coaster would dive down their chests if they were ever waiting in a station when a twelve car train came stampeding in and their name, HONDO, WILDCAT, SABU or LOLLIPOP was on the front!" But if Mailer was sometimes an urban sentimentalist, so too was he also simultaneously an urban realist and cynic; he understood that these kids are just doing their best playing a bad hand dealt from a stacked deck: "In the ghetto it is almost impossible to find some quiet location for your identity. No, in the environment of the slum, the courage to display yourself is your only capital, and crime is the productive process which converts such capital to the modern powers of the world, ego and money." And his urban vision was endlessly complex. He inserts the tragedy, too -- a story about a locally famous graffiti artist running from the cops, flipping a stolen van into a furniture store window, and having doctors spend seven hours removing part of his damaged brain. So too is there the trip to Grace Mansion to talk to Mayor John Lindsay in the final weeks of his tumultuous eight years in office. Lindsay hated the graffiti; "insecure cowards," he called the kids doing it. Of course Mailer disagreed with Lindsay, but he respected and admired and felt sorry for him too, this smart, ambitious, hard-working, well-intentioned, pragmatic urban liberal with the movie-star good looks but the terrible misfortune of coming to power during the chaos of the 1960s ("The question may have been whether an ambitious man had ever come to power at a time less promising for himself."). Here was Mayor Lindsay leaving office widely hated by white New Yorkers "for every intolerable reason, first of which was his defense of the ghettos" who also "had been the first and most implacable enemy of subway graffiti" because he saw the damage to the city's spirit when the new, expensive, hard-fought-for subway cars (finally air conditioned!) were instantly defaced with multi-hued spray paint.

Paradoxes, upon complexities, upon tragedies, upon sentimentality -- that was Mailer's urban vision. And form followed function: reading Mailer's most ebullient prose about cities is itself a kind of urban experience -- so full of life it possesses a tactile quality not dissimilar to city walking, where the range of senses are stimulated up to and then sometimes beyond the point of over-load. Of course cities proper were only a small part of Mailer's literary terrain. His impossible ambition was to explore and reveal all of America, and he wanted subjects the bigger the better -- World War II and Vietnam, the C.I.A., murderers and Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali. But Mailer knew as well as anyone that our cities are one of those big subjects -- no matter how hard our ever-more-suburbanizing culture may try to forget it -- and he knew as well that it was the urban sensibility within us all that incubates so many of our greatest creative energies.

Norman Mailer photo by Henry Grossman for Time Life Pictures, subway photo by Doug Grotjahn, nycsubway.org

A native New Yorker, Peter Siskind lives in Fairmount and is a professor of history at Arcadia University in Glenside. You can email directly with him siskindp@arcadia.edu

17 November 07: I heard you got the fever for the flavor

Somebody said you had it goin' on.

Here's a couple small scoops for the weekend. Van Damme.


The Architects Building is prepping and primping, waiting for a Kimpton. The conversion of the 1930s art deco collaboration between Paul Cret, John Harbeson and Zantzinger, Borie & Medary into a Kimpton Hotel will begin in 2008 and should be ready sometime in 2009. This means that current tenants have to relocate, including the AIA Bookstore on the ground floor, but not before one last holiday run. The Bookstore will not move to 12th & Arch until March.

* * *


For a cool million and $775 in monthly condo fees, you too can live in luxury on the embankment to the 676/95 interchange (which is not implicitly bad -- if the riverfront Civic Vision plays out, the city's fabric will embrace and utilize the interstate's infrastructure, in which case these three small blocks in Old City will have been decades ahead of the curve).

Anyway, The Essex. It's not bad looking, not great looking. More on par with KHov's National buildings than with Cecil Baker's York Square. But it's decent, scaled infill and its construction is coming along nicely.


* * *


Speaking of KHov and The National . . . As I understand it, the second phase of KHov's large National at Old City project -- the phase involving the historic, awesome, orange National Building itself -- was sold to a pair of developers from Jersey. This could prove to be a great thing: the design seen on the sign above (on site right next to Elfreth's Alley) is far superior to KHov's hohum buildings from the past couple years. There's just one thing . . .
It's time for something truly different; a condo that represents the newest and coolest technology. The National is reinventing condominium living -- it's where the iGeneration calls home. Say hello to the first iCondo™. Unveiling a pioneering, mobile user interface platform featuring the Apple iPhone™, wireless high-speed internet, standard video and audio packages, home-automation controls and security, plus a universe of possible options makes The National the most technologically advanced residential community in Philadelphia and the country's first iCondo™.
oGod. Can't the new and cool technology speak for itself and be included in the high end condos without having to be called iCondo? I don't know anyone who is opposed to new and cool technology, but I also don't know anyone who would ever be okay with being called a part of the iGen . . . aahhhhh I can't even type it a second time! This is just like the festival concert thing . . . I think everyone would support a(nother) big festival concert here in Philly, but for the why, oh why, oh why, must it be called Philapalooza? Just like condo buyers would support the most technologically advanced and brilliantly designed home, but why, oh why, oh why, must they be called iCondos???

Fortunately, it's not being sold as iCondo, but simply as The National. It's a really handsome project, designed by WRT, Barton Partners and S. Harris & Company, and it retains the landmark façade.


* * *


Meanwhile up here in Fishtown, the old popcorn factory is full steam ahead, so much so that monthly recycling has been relocated. Directly across the street from Palmer Cemetery, the 275 year old final home of Fishtown and Kenso natives. With a party last week (attended by John DeBella!), the long dormant popcorn factory reintroduced itself as Memphis Flats. When completed, the building will house 75 loft-style units with dedicated parking off of the main streets.


* * *


Our final flavor this weekend comes with thanks to Lauren and a shout to my friends Erin and Sal.

It has been a hell of a busy couple of days o'er Comcast way, and that doesn't include any bandwidth throttling of internet users / file sharers. In the course of the past three days at Comcast Center:
• They've mounted the derrick on the roof.

• They've begun removing the crane it replaced.

• The FAA warning lights standard to all skyscrapers have been installed on the roof.

• A protest from a group of black community members marched on JFK Blvd and 18th Street on Friday afternoon, alleging that the work site is populated by suburban (and implied white) laborers rather than minority laborers from the city. [KYW1060.]

• That same afternoon, high winds on upper floors blew out a window that was being replaced, causing glass to fall 30 stories onto the street below. 17th street was blocked off with caution tape between Arch and JFK from about 1 o'clock until at least 5.

• Jonathan Borofsky's sculptures of people walking on beams have been installed in the atrium winter garden.

• Some trees have been installed in the plaza, and others are lined up waiting to be planted.

• Photos of almost all of the above items are in our updated Comcast Center construction section, now up to 86 November photos and like 45 million altogether.
You never knew I knew it but I knew you would pursue it. Hurry up and get a scoop before it's gone!

This Philly Skyline Fern Hill Skyline is a preview for next week. What up, Germantown?

–B Love

16 November 07: I've seen the future and it will be

Well would you just look at that. It's a Philly Skyline Future Skyline! It's just your average peak fall leaves Skyline in late day sunlight and Comcast Center and Murano are finished. (It'll be fun to see how many Myspace pages this one makes its way onto.)

Or it could be considered yr Friday Philly Skyline Filler Skyline, as we're taking the day off. Nathaniel and I are exploring The Possible City (and will report back with our findings), and Steve is working on something too. Good times, people, good times. The forecast is clear -- get outside this weekend.

–B Love

15 November 07: Head in the clouds

You go lookin' way up to see what's going on on da Skyline and the fog rolls in. Bring your respirator, we're going in, high speed, ready set go.
  1. William Penn is nearly free, as you can . . . well, almost see above. Moorland Studios' wax job is finished and the scaffolding is about two-thirds removed. The scaffolding on City Hall's south side is also almost gone. Never thought it would happen, but we just might see City Hall without scaffolding not just in our lifetime, but soonish.

  2. The derrick atop Comcast Center has been mounted but the crane is not yet removed. The boom of the crane is too heavy to be removed via a helicopter, thus the derrick.

  3. In light of all the light talk recently, it's worth shining a light on One Liberty Place, which has been light on the night lights. For two months now, One Liberty has been dark on the evening skyline. Finally changing out from neon tubes to LEDs (like Two Liberty did over a year ago)? Guess we'll see. Keep One Liberty in the back of your mind -- we'll be revisiting it in the coming days.

  4. Fairmount Park Commission voted yesterday to table -- NOT CANCEL -- the proposal to hold a big-ass festival concert at the Belmont Plateau next summer. Can you blame them? If you read this site regularly, you know how much we love the Plateau; there have been two Philly Skyline Philly Skylines (1, 2) from there in the past week alone. So an idea to hold a Lollapalooza-style concert at the Plateau -- the literal heart and center of Fairmount Park -- is not inherently a bad one, but one which needs its logistics handled properly.

    The City holds enormous 4th of July concerts on the Parkway every year, and Live 8 was a massive success, but the Plateau is a total other animal. The Parkway is, you know, in Center City, where every single regional rail line converges. (Whether Septa can handle a ridership spike is another story.) The Plateau is on tiny Belmont Mansion Drive, off of Montgomery Drive, and Septa doesn't even have buses that go there. (It's no small reason the Plateau is so special.) People would drive because people would have to drive. Ain't nobody walking from Center City to the Plateau, and whatever shuttle buses they can scrounge up will have to sit in the same traffic as the people who would drive because they don't take shuttle buses. Bikes? Yeah, I guess you could ride a bike to the Plateau, but are they gonna have a bunch of temporary bike racks for the event?

    Exactly how much trash do you suppose 50,000 people can generate in one or two days? Will attendees be contained to the Plateau? That is, will temporary fencing be put up the entire way around the field to keep people from going into the woods and pissing and littering? Sure sure, there will be a cleanup crew. I'm sayin'.

    And then there is the name: Philapalooza. UGH. It will be 2008 next year . . . seventeen years after Lollapalooza was conceived as a farewell tour for Jane's Addiction. Come on people. I'm not opposed to a festival concert in Philly, but it NEEDS a better, non-apalooza name, and it needs to be held somewhere more accessible than the Plateau. Like FDR Park, where Lollapalooza was once held.


  5. The same day that attorney Michael Sklaroff and his buddy Craig Schelter attended the Riverfront Civic Vision presentation* at the Convention Center, the big name project he represents got an approval from City Council's rules committee. The 263-condo, 43 story, 503' Trump Tower Philadelphia was rezoned to commercial yesterday afternoon, leaving it up to the state to OK riparian rights. The big new news is that a 12 foot wide riverwalk and landscaped plaza are now part of the project, which is kinda neato since it falls in line with one of the core ideals of the Civic Vision.

    [Daily News.]

  6. * More on the presentation later.

But right now, it's still rainy and fall-y out. Feels kinda like this:

–B Love

14 November 07: Sugar baby get on down the road

If there's anything for which we can be grateful to global warming, it's that we have the most belated fall foliage show I've ever seen. Actually we shouldn't be grateful for that, that rather sucks. Buuut it is what it is, America . . . we've made our bed. We'll be sleeping in it for years. Don't sweat those high gas prices right now (remember how everyone was so pissed in 2000 at the high gas prices -- average of $1.75 a gallon? That was awesome!) -- just as soon as the Iraqi parliament passes a law the Bush administration helped write, the US will have first dibs on 63 of the 80 known oil fields in Iraq. What's all this talk about oil reserves running out and petroleum being finite? Sheeeit, we have not even begun to drill Iraq -- we're golden!

Golden just like the leaves in Pennsylvania going on December 2007, that is. The photo above was taken on site at another one of the Bush administration's many awesome legacies, Independence Square. As you already know, Independence Square is the park immediately behind in front of Independence Hall, on the Walnut Street side. The seven foot permanent fence idea was killed, but the bollard-n-chains that are to replace the double-lined bike rack barriers have not yet been installed, and the double-lined bike rack barriers are still there.

But no barrier, be it temporary or permanent or tall or short or concrete or electric or armed with Uzis, is going to interrupt fall beauty in this part of the country, whether it's in October, November or December. The fall leaves were a big reason for my travels to the Great Smoky Mountains earlier this month. For twoish weeks, Ma Nature turns our northeast into a kaleidoscope, even here in the city (except South Philly -- y'all really gotta plant some more trees down there).

There are a ton of leaves that contribute to the spectrum: gingkoes, oaks, gums, locusts, birches, beeches, dogwoods . . . None of them though, I think, comes close to matching the maple. There are so many maples of different shapes native to Pennsylvania -- black, red, boxelder, norway, silver, striped, mountain -- and they all go through the colorful transformation we so enjoy and celebrate. The red maple in its fall stage, for example, is Canada's national symbol.

(An unrelated note: PA's state tree, the eastern hemlock, is an evergreen and as such has needles, not leaves, and those needles do not change color.)

But let's bring this back to Independence Square. Again:

Yr Philly Skyline Foliage Skyline is the sugar maple. These three leaves, resting on the old slab sidewalk on which the public first heard the Declaration of Independence read, all fell from the same tree right here between 5th & 6th and Chestnut & Walnut.

The sugar maple, acer saccharum, is native to the northeastern United States and is found largely in thick forests (like those across the state). Of course a lot of Philadelphia was forest when the William Penn parade rolled up, so a lot of the trees in the city are direct descendants of those here 325 years ago. (The gingko tree at Bartram's Garden, for example, is the oldest one in North America -- it's a male, so it doesn't drop stinky fruits.)

Sugar maples are, along with black maples, the most popular trees for making maple syrup, thanks to their sap's high content in . . . sugar. As well, the wood from sugars is the strongest among maples, and you'll see it used in hardwood floors, bowling alleys and basketball courts.

And there we are, the sugar maple. Whattaya think about that? I love you, sugar maple. "I love you too, Bee Love."

One last reference for the season: Foliage Network has the Philly region marked as peaking, and considering the temperatures won't get below freezing until after this weekend, you might be able to sneak in a weekend in the Wissahickon or Pennypack or Fairmount Park. If you can, you should. Breathe, breathe in the air. Don't be afraid to care.

–B Love

14 November 07: Showtime on the riverfront

Wal-Mart. Waterfront Square. Ikea. Conrail Yards. Penn Treaty Park. Bury I-95. Sugar House. Foxwoods. Bridgeman's View Tower. Yards Brewery(!). Festival Pier. Dredging. PECO Substation. Southport. Cramp's Shipyard. Girard Avenue Interchange. Pier 34 Collapse. Trump Tower. UA Riverview Stadium 17. Moshulu. East Coast Greenway. PATCO Expansion. Riparian Rights. Marina View Towers. Simon's Shopping Mall. World Trade Square. Bike path. Dave & Buster's. River taxis. SS United States.

Built. Unbuilt. Proposed. Approved. Delayed. Canceled. Corrupt. Construction. Planned. Gated. Open. Closed. Successful. Failed. Loved. Hated. Driven. Hiked. Biked. Ridden. Sailed.

All of these things and many many more comprise a geographic sliver so small -- seven miles long yet never more than a half mile wide -- yet so large a part of the collective Philadelphia psyche, whether we're ready to admit it or not. That tiny list merely scratches the surface of the clusterfuck we call a riverfront, and it ought to illustrate why a comprehensive study that brings them all together is such a good idea.

Today, Wednesday the 14th of November 2007, has the chance to be this generation's Better Philadelphia exhibit, but we need to want it to be. Actually, we don't even need to want it to be, we just need to be okay with it. Give it a chance. Hear it out.

Today, Wednesday the 14th of November 2007, is the day Penn Praxis unveils to the public what it's been working on for the past year. Officially entitled A Civic Vision for the Central Delaware, the public is invited, one and all, to the Convention Center at 6pm to see the Delaware Riverfront between Allegheny and Oregon Avenues anew.

There are several important points worth keeping in mind:
• It is not cheap.
• Most of the land in the study is privately owned.
• There is a lot of room for corruption.
But then there are far more important points shaping the project:
• This is not a concrete plan, it is a vision.
• The vision is bigger than any one of us, be it Mayor Street, Harris Steinberg, Craig Schelter, Michael Sklaroff or whomever. The ideas and principles found in print came from people: citizens, professionals, laborers and scholars who came out to the many forums and charettes to brainstorm; planners, developers and architects who sat in on advisory board meetings with the City Planning Commission.
• The vision is long term thinking and can only work incrementally. That is a good thing, as it creates realistic priorities.
• To quote Harris, "it's not about use, it's about form."

In reading through the 242 page booklet (and PDF, which will be made available for download on Plan Philly), and more over, looking at the ugly, not-even-utilitarian riverfront we've assembled over the past 40 years, it's clear that he's right. The people crying foul at this plan are not listening to reason. There is room for everything in a periodic, long term transformation of an ugly, post-industrial riverfront into a working, cohesive, coherent, organic riverfront. You know, like the kind you see in Chicago and Vancouver and Baltimore and Chattanooga(!). While this is certainly a Philly thing, it's worth comparing notes to these other cities with working riverfronts. It's really okay -- honest -- to borrow good ideas, and more importantly, to not make the same mistakes they may have made.

But yes, there is room for everything in what many are seeing as a modern interpretation of William Penn's own plan for the city. The Daily News' Sandy Shea said "grid is good." While I would like to see the Conrail Yards kept intact, be it in an continued industrial use or some re-imagined manner, I understand the importance of extending the existing street system -- the grid -- to the river itself. Or rather, to a re-imagined Delaware Avenue Boulevard.

And again, there's pretty much room for anything, including a very large parcel/park/site in Port Richmond, just like there's room for rowhomes and retail centers and towers and parks. "William Penn's block structure supports everything from Elfreth's Alley to Comcast Center," Harris tells me. "Towers are okay, really -- but they need to be respectful towers and practice good urbanism."

To date, Waterfront Square is the only one of the major residential projects proposed in the past five years to have gotten off of the ground, it's still not even halfway done, and it certainly does not practice what anyone would call good urbanism. Nor does a parking garage that extends from Delaware Ave all the way to the river itself, like those of both Sugar House and Trump Tower. And looking at what has been built -- strip malls, big boxes and parking parking parking -- their very nature is the opposite of good urbanism.

With a couple of tweaks (and the help of a strong residential/condo market), all of the above can happen. In fact, Penn Praxis expects and encourages it to happen. The visual aids that accompany A Civic Vision for the Central Delaware have towers of different sizes through the Center City section, midrises as far north as Pulaski Park in Port Richmond, and entire neighborhoods of rowhomes on the grid in South Philly. And, they all follow Delaware Boulevard.


Delaware Boulevard is the key component of the first of the three networks powering the study: movement systems, parks and open space, land development. Delaware Boulevard is the backbone of the study, which rethinks the existing (and broken) Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard by piecing it together from Oregon Avenue* all the way north past the study area and into Bridesburg and the Northeast, where the Boulevard could continue on. It also rethinks its current use by taking away one traffic lane in each direction and replacing them with a lightrail in the median and better bike lanes on the sides.

The 'movement system' concept is not limited to Delaware Boulevard, though. The underperforming River Link ferry would have river taxi colleagues to share water space with, and with more destinations than just Penn's Landing and Camden.

The entire point of bringing the grid streets down to the river is to make them accessible, i.e. to deal with I-95. In South Philly and in Port Richmond, you can park under 95. This vision thinks we can do better. As the Girard Avenue interchange is already scheduled for reconstruction by PennDOT, an entire new greenway with a stormwater management park under it.

The parks and open space are sure to be the most popular aspect of the study because they're the most easily recognized, by the big swaths of green. Incremental parks connected by Society Hill-like greenways are a consideration, existing unused piers are an easy and short-term solution, and we've already covered the Conrail Yards pretty well. But the jewel, perhaps the jewel of the entire vision concept, is a brand new Penn's Landing.

Ed Bacon's Penn's Landing concept never really saw its full potential, basically because of, well, Ed Bacon's I-95 concept. Penn's Landing Corporation will tell you otherwise, but everyone who lives here and especially near it knows that Penn's Landing sucks. Yeah, the 4th and Jam on the River are great, and the Hyatt was a nice addition, but when you think of Penn's Landing, you think of either parking lots, pi (the tram landing), or Mayor Street's crony indictments. The Great Plaza, as nice as it is, is just a concrete amphitheater resting on a bathroom and even more parking than you can already see with the naked eye. The surface parking at Penn's Landing goes right up to the river!

Not so in the vision. Penn's Landing is reworked as our own Grant/Millennium Park, and Delaware Boulevard is our Lakeshore Drive. The Great Plaza has been sacrificed for a newer -- and infinitely better -- Great Lawn. (I just hope they keep those little "founding of Philadelphia" maps -- those things are great.) The Great Lawn maximizes the space between the Seaport Museum and Market Street with a graded, swooping lawn that finally gives Penn's Landing a permanent destination with unbeatable views.

Those views are partly unbeatable because THERE IS NO TRAM. The removal of the stupid, stupid tram is another subtle, but fantastic, aspect of the study.

Land development is the third of the three networks of the vision, and again, that will largely rely upon who's going to spend the money to build. It may be a chicken-and-egg scenario, but especially in terms of residential construction, all of these things can feed one another. The movement and the park space and the development. People want to live near the river (look at any of those other cities mentioned above -- Chicago or Baltimore for example). And people want to play by the river. (See also, Schuylkill River Park.)

Development also means jobs: temporary jobs for the construction of the various projects and phases, and permanent jobs in redeveloped/relocated industry, whether that industry is of the longshoreman variety or of the technological and scholarly strain.

* * *

These are all merely suggestions. Lots and lots of them, sure, but they're just suggestions. Good suggestions that, with the right input and teamwork, could evolve into planning and zoning and execution and, maybe one day, a beautiful riverfront we're all proud of.

Sure, there are a lot of remaining questions: Will 95 finally be buried? It would be nice, but very very expensive. Who's gonna pay for it? Lot of people, public and private and from tax increment financing programs. Will there be green construction? A lot of it by its nature -- ecological reclamation -- is green, but sure. How long is it gonna take? There is no deadline, but development can easily happen in phases: a bike trail from Pier 70 to Penn's Landing is already planned and could be ready by next year, for example, whereas burying 95 could take decades.

Michael Nutter has said recently that we need to get over ourselves. We do. We need to put aside the notion that the Civic Vision for the Central Delaware is some ivory tower dictation. We need to do better than just admitting that the Delaware Riverfront is a mess; we need to realize that we can, should and will make it better.

And we need to realize that to do this, it takes cooperation, collaboration and compromise. All of it starts by just listening to these ideas. Tonight's the night. Will Mayor(-Elect) Nutter be there? Will Mayor Street, who authorized the entire study, for that matter? Will the Planning Commission, whose name is conspicuously absent from Civic Vision documentation? Will you?

* * *

For more recent editorializing on the vision and the event this evening, choose from the following . . .

Grid is Good - Sandy Shea, the Daily News, 10/30
No it isn't - Craig Schelter and Michael Sklaroff, Daily News, 11/05
A plan for the Delaware - Inquirer editorial, 11/11
Citizens invited - Chris Satullo, Inquirer, 11/11
A walkable waterfront - Inga Saffron, 11/13
Riverfront Development - Mike Dunn interview with Harris Steinberg, KYW1060

Image credits: renderings and composites by Penn Praxis, WRT, William Penn Foundation, photos by B Love

–B Love