Monthly Archives: February 2014




Foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy: Philadelphia!

In my earliest Central-Western Pennsylvania recollections, I learned that Philadelphia was not a place I wanted to be. It was filthy, it was corrupt, it was dangerous. An “I know someone who knows someone who was killed there” kind of place. Maybe these things once were true, to some degree, but by all accounts—the school system aside—even Penguins fans could agree that things have gotten better.

But there’s a reason “Filthadelphia” is A Thing. There’s a reason “It’s the law, don’t litter” was a Mayor’s Office of Information and Complaints campaign 60 years ago—around the same time the world’s largest litter basket left Philadelphia on a national tour touting that “Billy Penn sure would frown if you litter-up his towne.” There’s a reason the very first essay published on Philly Skyline, titled simply “Brown,” centered on litter from a 30 minute walk in G-Ho before “G-Ho.” There’s a reason Unlitter Us exists from a 21st Century city agency. There’s a reason, above all others, I chose to leave Philadelphia after living nine years here, the last two and a half of which in Fishtown.

Yo man: Philadelphia is dirty. Filthy.

Litter has drawn the ire of many a resident and visitor since the days of open sewers on High (Market) Street and tanners on Dock Street, since John Adams sang about “foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy Philadelphia” in 1776, the musical. Ray Nagin, in his post-Katrina mayoralty of New Orleans, came to Philadelphia in 2007 on a tour of Mayor Street’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, and he said that if his residents came to Philadelphia, they’d appreciate how clean New Orleans really is. Ouch.

Found a bike! It's a bit of a fixer-upper | Photo: Bradley Maule
Found a bike! It’s a bit of a fixer-upper | Photo: Bradley Maule

Center City District’s teal-clad folks on litter machines, the Big Belly trash bins CCD has paid for, and the neighborhoods like Old City and Fairmount who emulate them—these people do a fine job keeping their jurisdictions clean. But Philadelphia’s litter problem extends to all its reaches, from overlooked Poquessing Creek at the rear of Franklin Mills Mall to the oily slicks of Darby Creek flowing through John Heinz Wildlife Refuge past the airport.

In 2009, in the weeks leading up to our relocation to Portland, Oregon—a city Reader’s Digest determined was the cleanest in America—my ex and I ticked off our Philly Bucket List of things we wanted to either finally do or do one last time before heading west. We hit one of these, brunch at Valley Green Inn followed by a Wissahickon hike, on a gorgeous fall day. And while the brie-stuffed french toast was as spectacular as ever, the hike down to the Livezey House . . . it was disheartening, to say the least, when we encountered the piles of trash near Devil’s Pool, trees and famous Wissahickon Schist rocks tagged with bad graffiti.

Five years later, and with a lot more nature on my brain, I live four blocks from one of the many many access points to Wissahickon Park, the 1800 acre gorge that directly serves Roxborough, Andorra, Manayunk, East Falls, Germantown, Mount Airy, and Chestnut Hill, and the rest of the city and region via a short drive, train ride, bike ride, or hike.

I’ve made it my mission to get into the park as much as possible for my physical and mental health, and as a method of doing something about the litter that bothers me so, I’ve chosen to pick up every piece of litter I encounter on hikes at least once a week. For all of 2014. And I’m saving it. And at the end of the year, I’ll present it.

With the blessing of and assistance from Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and the Friends of the Wissahickon, I am happy to announce One Man’s Trash.

This area, near Walnut Lane, is gonna need some attention | Photo: Bradley Maule
“Earthwise”: This area, near Walnut Lane, is gonna need some attention | Photo: Bradley Maule

As the name implies, One Man’s Trash is a solo effort in the name of research, of environmental betterment, of awareness and activism, of art. The idea is to see how much litter a single person can accumulate not just in Philadelphia, but in Philadelphia’s closest-to-pristine natural area.

A mystique must surround the Wissahickon when a religious leader and his band of hermits want to ride out the end times there—in the 1690s; when Edgar Allen Poe writes an 1843 account suggesting Europe has nothing like it (this coming 25 years before its acquisition into Fairmount Park); when a summer crowd diverse in both demographic background and park usage tears down my indoctrinated Philly wall in summer 2000.

The Wissahickon is a wonderful Philadelphia place, but one that unfortunately suffers from the Philly Problem. Litter still runs rampant in the Wissahickon, from small cigarette butts and candy wrappers to large grills and discarded car parts. Friends of the Wissahickon holds a number of cleanup days, including the MLK Day of Service, and teams of volunteers have to clean up problem areas like Devil’s Pool and under Henry Avenue Bridge frequently in warmer months.

But for my part, my only-child Leo who never cared for the group projects in college, I’m going it alone to see what I can find. Here on Philly Skyline, as 2014 unfolds, I’ll be posting a weekly report with my findings: a list of items collected, sorted by type (plastic, metal, glass, paper, clothing, sporting goods, etc), photos from that day’s hike, a map of the route, and other miscellany. Once the weekly report has been filed, the items will be sorted and stored in bins—and kept for the duration of 2014. When the year is over, I will present everything I’ve found with an art installation whose scope and location will be determined. I’ll also have actual data that can be helpful to Parks & Rec and Friends of the Wissahickon.

To be clear: I’m not doing this to be cute. There’s nothing cute about litter, not even the Arctic Splash cartons so well known in Fishtown. Litter is disgusting, and collecting it for a year is a way of finding out just how disgusting and far gone the problem is. Also, I’m not doing this for me, at least beyond the fact that I would love for Wissahickon Park (and all public spaces) to be litter free. Pack it in, pack it out—even the apple cores, even the banana peels, even the cigarette butts. And clean up after your dog.

You picked up your dog's shit in a dog shit bag, and then you threw the dog shit bag in the woods ... why? | Photo: Bradley Maule
You picked up your dog’s shit in a dog shit bag, and then you threw the dog shit bag in the woods … why? | Photo: Bradley Maule

That’s another important point to note. With this project, there is one line I won’t cross: dog shit. I’m not picking up after someone else’s dog, and I shouldn’t have to. All dogs in Wissahickon Park are supposed to be on a leash up to six feet, something well marked on signs throughout the park. But a vast majority of people let their dogs run free, enabling them to run off trail deep into the woods, barking at and chasing other wildlife, startling dogless park goers, making themselves prone to ticks, dropping deuces where they please. They’re animals in nature. Most dog owners pick up after their dogs and dispose of the bags. Some people don’t pick up after their dogs at all; this is bad. Some people pick up after their dogs and then throw the bag into the woods. This is THE WORST. If you’re the type of person who won’t pick up after your dog, fine, Mother Nature will dispose of what you should have. But to go to the trouble of picking up dog shit, in a plastic bag especially made for dog shit, tying it in a knot, and then chucking the petroleum-based waste full of organic fecal waste into the woods . . . this does not compute. So I will document each instance of this I encounter, filed by bag of poop or pile of poop.

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One Man's Trash will also include pretty things like wintry panoramas | The iphone panorama jawn is pretty solid (B. Maule)
One Man’s Trash will also include pretty things like wintry panoramas | The iphone panorama jawn is pretty solid (B. Maule)

One Man’s Trash. It’s my personal excuse to get into the magical Wissahickon Park every week of 2014 and do my part to make it better. And when 2015 arrives, I’ll have a year’s worth of litter collected, sorted, and ready to present in some artistic fashion or another. Trashart.

And when that’s through, everything will be disposed of as it should be: recyclable items recycled, salvageable items donated, the rest sent to the landfill, I guess. Hopefully, there will be very little of the latter.

Along the way—and so as to not focus on a negative—I’ll present features on aspects and assets of the park: bridges, buildings, public art, history, watersheds, geology, flora, fauna, the organizations who care for the park, how the sanitation department works, assorted Wissahickon odds and ends.

So: Welcome! Now that we’re officially into the sixth week of 2014, I guess I’ve got some weekly trashart reports—Weekly Sharts, if you will—to file. Stay tuned.

One Man’s Trash: Week 6 Report

Well I was going to do the Week 6 hike during the ice storm before Ma Nature got all nasty on this poor car
Well I was going to do the Week 6 hike during the ice storm before Ma Nature got all nasty about it
Trying something new with the spring green park boundaries. No sir, I don't like it.
Trying something new with the spring green park boundaries. No sir, I don’t like it.

WEEK 6: Allens Lane & Lincoln Drive to Livezey Lane

Going out and into the woods during an ice storm seemed like a good idea at the time, despite warnings via email from Friends of the Wissahickon to not do so and the sound of sirens and chainsaws and branches clinking like Plinko from above. It wasn’t until I watched a giant branch fall about 20′ from me and saw an entire tree resting on a home in Mt Airy’s French Village and another that had destroyed the car above that I decided, “huh. Maybe not.” (Still, I took the long way home on foot through the neighborhood, surveying the damage: Pics on Hidden City.)

Instead, I let the ice storm run its course and came back two days later for a short but difficult hike on the trails hardened by ice. Branches, and in some cases whole trees, were downed everywhere, especially under the pines. I scrambled down to Cresheim Creek just below Buttercup Cottage (the ruin on Emlen Street/Cresheim Valley Road at the intersection of Cresheim Road) and followed the creek more or less all the way down to Devil’s Pool, where I hung a left and followed Livezey Lane out of the woods. A shorter than usual hike, but in those conditions, it was plenty. And I still managed a decent sized haul of trash …



Week 6, featuring tons of busted pieces of styrofoam
Week 6, featuring tons of busted pieces of styrofoam

1 1/2 gallon bottle Snapple Tea
1 24oz bottle Gatorade
1 24oz bottle water (no label)
1 16oz bottle Minute Maid apple juice
3 12oz bottles water (no labels)
1 16oz Sobe Lifewater (pomegranate cherry)
1 8oz bottle water (no label)
1 wrapper Swedish Fish
1 bag Herr’s cheese popcorn
2 coffee lids
1 bottle cap Coca Cola
1 wrapper Gobstopper fun size
1 random ball (paintball?)
1 piece twine
3 pieces random plastic

Fallen pines everywhere
Fallen pines everywhere, these near McCallum Street Bridge

1 16oz bottle Coors Light
1 crushed can (unidentifiable)

20 random pieces

1 10oz bottle Sprite
1 broken piece glass

1 red balloon
1 nasty piece cloth
1 cigarette butt
1 lighter
1 pair clip-on bells
1 piece burlap

Gross, man.
Gross, man.

Dog shit piles: 4
Dog shit bags: 3
Dogs on leash: 2
Dogs off leash: 9

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Watch your noggin
Watch your noggin
I call this one, "Postcard for an Aunt"
I call this one, “Postcard for an Aunt”


Telner-St Martins Bridge over Cresheim Creek
Telner-St Martins Bridge over Cresheim Creek, McCallum Street in distance

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⇦ WEEK 5WEEK 7 ⇨

Vaya con Dios, Zoo Balloon

Shadow no mo'; fare thee well, Zoo Balloon | Photo: Bradley Maule
Shadow no mo’; fare thee well, Zoo Balloon | Photo: Bradley Maule

As Portland gleefully shovels out from its first snowstorm in years, Philadelphia’s still cleaning up and trying to get the power back on after an ice storm piled onto the wet, heavy snow from earlier in the week. While I’m happy for my Portland friends to have received a wintry wonderland, I’ve been very satisfied indeed with the authenticity of Winter 2013-14, my first full Philly winter in five years. But goddamn, it didn’t have to kill the Zoo Balloon.

Goin' up |Photo: Bradley Maule
Goin’ up |Photo: Bradley Maule

For twelve years, the Channel 6 Zoo Balloon has provided Philadelphia with a giant, striped* dot of fun, a visual landmark for adventurous tourists and suburbanites taking the last big curve on inbound 76 and dudes looking for some new pics of the skyline. Anyone who complained about it was just a whiny sourpuss who, clearly, never took in the view from the top.

* There were actually two Zoo Balloons. Lindstrand Hot Air Balloons, the English manufacturer of the balloon, recommends a lifespan of 5-7 years for this particular brand of helium powered aircraft. The first, of a giraffe motif, flew from 2002-08; the tiger balloon from 2008-2013. This would have been the second’s final year—Zoo officials were just beginning plans for a closing ceremony—but this week’s heavy snow put the kibosh on those plans, and 2014 altogether.

Whether the Zoo replaces it with a third balloon remains to be seen, but there are no indications that will happen, a matter complicated by the fact the Zoo is hemmed in to its 42 acres and the balloon’s site could be put to other use. In the twelve years the Zoo Balloon cast its shadow, the nation’s first zoo has kept up with modern life by painfully, but correctly, moving their elephants to more spacious zoos, and adding newer and better features like Big Cat Falls, McNeil Avian Center, and KidZooU. Not to mention the fact that the zoo, conservationist by nature, went green with renewable wind and solar energy three years ago. This summer, the big cats will join the monkeys and lemurs who already use elevated trails—catwalks—to stroll above zoo visitors. And they did their best to pretty up the ugly-but-necessary parking garage with a giant zoo-y mural and sculptures on the two-block walk under the busy train tracks to the entrance.

The place continues to improve. It would be understandable if, for example, they expand or improve habitat on the balloon’s former grounds, but to do so would take away one of the city’s unique views.

Philadelphia has exactly one official public observation deck: City Hall—a fine one indeed, even though it’s no longer free and you only get a fifteen minute block, over half of which is spent inside the small elevator. The 33rd floor of the Loews Hotel provided the worst kept secret of up-there skyline views until the temporary Level 33 restaurant blew the lid off it. R2L trades you its 37th floor views at Two Liberty Place for bad beer and zebra print furniture. And the Four Seasons atop the CITC is still three years off.

Instagrammin' in Btown: the Zoo Balloon from 29th & Cambridge | @mauleofamerica
Instagrammin’ in Btown: the Zoo Balloon from 29th & Cambridge | @mauleofamerica

The Zoo Balloon was a different beast. Here was an actual hot air balloon, one tethered to the Earth by a strong steel cable, its riders separated from the open sky by only a netting wide enough to stick a telephoto lens through. You didn’t just rise above a zoo, you rose above Fairmount Park and the Schuylkill River and Expressway, above Amtrak and West Philadelphia with just enough distance for the curving river and Art Museum to join your frame. You could even ride it, for $10, without paying the regular $16 admission to the Zoo.

I’ve heard people say ‘you can’t get me up in that thing.’ A fear of heights is one thing, but to not trust its durability . . . I mean, do you think the Zoo isn’t thinking liability first? In twelve years of operation, the Zoo Balloon never had any accidents.

As an infographic next to the ride said, it was the ultimate boy scout. Describing its attributes in zoologic measurements—the height of the balloon was six giraffes—the placards explained the strength of the winch cable, how it operated, the backup generator and hand cranks and such; an airplane safety manual while you waited in line.

Baltimore’s Port Discovery had a balloon that got stuck in the air during a windstorm(!) and had to be hand-cranked back to the ground, leaving four people injured. If there was any real complaint about the Zoo Balloon, it’s that they were a little too cautious with weather concerns.

I'm no Picasso, but do you like it? | G-Ho deck mural circa 2006
I’m no Picasso, but do you like it? | G-Ho deck mural circa 2006

As the zoo’s Chief Marketing Officer Amy Shearer told me the other day, having to put down the balloon made for a sad day at the zoo. It was also a sad day for Philly Skyline. If your browser’s wide enough, you can see the balloon on the right side of this web site’s circa-2009 master plan header graphic. And down in G-Ho, where I lived from 2001-07, the balloon danced in on its whimsy to a mural of the skyline I painted on the deck of the place I lived for four years. (If you’re walking on 24th Street between Lombard and South, look up.) Riding into the city from Mt Airy on the Chestnut Hill West line, I always take a window seat on the left side of the train for the skyline view across the Schuylkill, the moving fifteen-second window on the city ahead, the window that always closed with the Zoo Balloon, docked or aloft. And now it’s docked for good.

I’m gonna miss that Zoo Balloon.

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By my memory, I rode the Zoo Balloon three times: its inaugural year 2002, on a sunny fall day in 2006 when Comcast Center was starting to join the skyline, and last September, when I walked over from my crash pad in Brewerytown. Note the changes in the skyline and landscape in the 12 years.


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One Man’s Trash: Week 5 Report

Between two berms: under Henry Avenue at Gorgas Run
Between two berms: under Henry Avenue at Gorgas Run

WEEK 5: Gorgas Run to Chestnut Hill Avenue


Super Bowl Sunday! Great day to spend in the woods, I’ll tell you what. This was a bit of a long one, right before a, um, blitz of winter weather buried the woods in snow that would last until spring.

Everyone knows the original concrete arch “Henry Avenue Bridge”—the majestic Wissahickon Memorial Bridge, designed by Paul Cret and Ralph Modjeski (who had collaborated on the Ben Franklin Bridge just a few years prior). That bridge, spanning Lincoln Drive and Wissahickon Creek, opened in 1931, connecting East Falls and Roxborough via Henry Avenue.

But in the mid-1950s, the suburbanization of America trickled into city limits with its cul-de-sacs and freeway fashions. In Roxborough, the extension of Henry Avenue meant spanning Monastery and Gorgas Runs, two of the Wissahickon Creek’s many tributaries. In much the same way the old stone arch bridges (Valley Green, Bells Mill, etc) and the two giant concrete bridges (the first Henry Avenue bridge and its older sibling at Walnut Lane) do, the two Eisenhower era bridges treat the park with respect. Their high concrete forms defer to the park’s surroundings without much flash beyond the style of their day; the traffic above them, perhaps that’s a different story.

Below Henry Avenue at Gorgas Run, the flyovers of the future were my Super Sunday starting point for a Yellow Trail trek all the way up to Chestnut Hill.


Super Bowl Sunday mighty wings, the "food" hocked by last year's Super Bowl People from the 49ers and Ravens
Week 5: Super Bowl Sunday mighty wings, the “food” hocked by last year’s Super Bowl People from the 49ers and Ravens

1 12oz can Natural Ice
1 12oz can Bud Light
1 12oz can Yuengling Lager
1 12oz can Keystone Light
1 12oz can Miller Lite

1 16oz bottle Pepsi (old school / 1980s)

1 16oz McDonald’s McCafe coffee cup

1 box McDonald’s mighty wings
1 16oz 7-Eleven cup
1 SEPTA transfer
1 mom’s phone number on note paper

1 pack USA Gold cigarettes
1 blue Sharpie
1 ceramic tile
1 bicycle tire reflector

Mmm ... Fat Tire. [Homer drool.]
Mmm … Fat Tire. [Homer drool.]

1 22oz Wawa cup
1 straw
1 12oz bottle water Nestle Pure Life
1 12oz bottle water (no label)
1 12oz bottle Diet Coke
1 2oz bottle 5 Hour Energy (pomengranate)
1 wrapper Hammer Gel (Montana huckleberry)
1 wrapper Special K strawberry bar
5 pieces random plastic

1 giant scarf

Dog shit piles: 0
Dog shit bag: 1
Dogs on leash: 0
Dogs off leash: 6

Stupid iphone. I wonder if that Samsung Ellen and Bradley Cooper used would have had a better zoom and resolution of these deer.
Stupid iphone. I wonder if that Samsung Ellen and Bradley Cooper used would have had a better zoom and resolution of these deer.


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⇦ WEEK 4WEEK 6 ⇨