31 January 07: Let me shoot them with my bop gun

Got to get over the hump. Got to get over the hump. Got to get over the hump. Got to get over the hump.

1-2-3 Umpdate go!
  1. CATCHING UP ON RESTAURANT WEEK: This is totally my bad. Since we bypassed MMLU on Monday, Restaurant Week got dissed and its Skyline mention got postponed to today. Not all is lost, though -- including tonight, there are three nights of good dinin' to be had for thirty bucks at umpteen million restos across the city. If we're putting in recommendations, we'd say Solefood, Farmicia, Warsaw Cafe and Susanna Foo, but hey, there's a massive list HERE.

  2. CATCHING UP ON THE NEXT GREAT CITY: Ok, this one has been a long time coming, but it's been under wraps. The wraps are now off and The Next Great City is here. It was under wraps because there are a number of Philly Skyline pics in the official NGC literature and they were planning an official launch, a launch which happened last week. Check the coverage in the Inquirer, Phily Business Journal and Metro.

    NGC is a coalition of several groups, individuals and organizations that are striving to make Philadelphia great again by offering a totally achievable, ten point strategy to the mayoral agenda. Many of the talking points -- creating public riverfronts, adopting modern zoning, energy efficient buildings -- have been repeated publicly ad nauseam recently, and it's because they need to be and because they haven't happened yet. A number of other ones -- expanding recycling, improving transit stops, stopping sewer backups and preventing flooding -- are so common sensible that it's kind of sad they haven't taken hold yet.

    It will be fun to watch these issues take shape within the mayoral race over the next three and a half months. Next Great City is a fantastic project and opportunity, and we're proud to be involved. [NextGreatCity.org.]

  3. SPEAKING OF ENERGY EFFICIENT: We love us some South Street, and we love us some energy efficiency. When Cecily Tynan tells us to open the blinds in the winter to warm up the house, we listen. When PECO tacks on a measly seven bucks to our bill to help develop its Wind Farm, we gladly pay it out. (Well ok, we were snookered on that one, but we can at least feel good about it.) When Comcast Center embraces things like fifteen foot floor-to-ceiling windows and waterless urinals, we look up and marvel. (And take like 1000 pictures.)

    Down here on South Street? Remember 1300 South Street, Nathaniel's what's-wrong-with-this-picture essay? Well, here's one idea to start righting this wrong. Philly-based Urban Green Partnership has proposed to build a self sustaining, eight story building at the corner of Broad & South, on the west end of the current Arts Garden (which, as Nathaniel said, is nice, but is in the entirely wrong location).

    While Comcast Center is going to be the most recognized and lauded green building in Philadelphia when it is completed, this mammajamma takes it a step further, wanting to create 100% of its own power via solar panels, rain water capture, and so forth. It also employs composting, uses recycled products, and is relatively cheap in terms of building cost. Before you go callin' people crazy hippies, get the full story HERE.

    Philadelphia yet again has a chance to grab brazen opportunity by the balls. Let's build it!

  4. THE SEGUE, IT WRITES ITSELF: Nathaniel's piece on City Hall's courtyard and Dilworth Plaza last week was pretty much the ringer in our City Hall Week lineup. Our bad, then, that we entirely forgot to plug his other essay from last week, which also falls in line with Next Great City. While 90% of the population would agree that Septa sucks, Nathaniel sees Septa for the good that it can be, and makes a plea for Septa pull itself up by its bootstraps, to make us love it. Transit works in every city Philadelphians loathe hearing themselves compared to -- Boston, DC and that godforsaken New York -- yet those cities work in large part because of transit. We can get there too. Read Nathaniel's take at Green City Journal.

  5. CHRIS WEBBER, GO TO DETROIT HELL: (Jess kiddin' Detroit, and C-U-Soon.) Seriously? Scott Rolen? Run out of town. Eric Lindros? No love lost. But Chris Webber? Seriously guy, eat a dick. We blame Billy Jean King for taking on your broke-down, over-the-hill, underachieving, overpaid ass in the first place, but to cry misery and "I can't wait to get out of Philadelphia?" Ugh. It seems like more of a chicken-or-the-egg -- the Sixers' sucking made Webber suck or Webber's sucking made the Sixers suck -- but to whine about how "rough" it was is just insulting. This guy is six foot ten and he shot under 40% from the field. Give me a break, C-Webb. [Inquirer.]

  6. GOT TO GET OVER THE HUMP: Okay, thanks for your patience on this super late Hump Day Umpdate. To take us over the hump and on home, we're yankin' on YouTube back to 1977 to see the legendary Parliament tear the roof off the sucka.

–B Love

31 January 07: PSPS Fishtown vista

This pre-umpdate Philly Skyline Philly Skyline comes with a little nip of Wild Turkey. It was taken at happy hour a couple days ago at the corner of Montgomery & Girard. It made me realize that pretty much every single photo of the skyline I've taken in the past three months or so has been filed under Comcast Center's construction. Comcast Center has already changed the skyline for good, and it's still got over a hundred feet to go. Soon enough, we'll see Comcast Center in stock shots of the skyline: newscasts; small business logos; mayoral candidate web sites . . .

Haven't seen it recently, but NBC 10's skyline shot was, for the longest time, one taken when The St James was under construction. You might remember our first post of 2007 commenting on The Inquirer also using a picture of The St James' construction when, uh, talking about construction in 2007. Channel 6 will have to commission its glass sculptors for a Comcast Center to go with their set of trophy towers in the Action News studio. Philebrity reported last week (via Herr Wook) that Margolis Realty has already added it to its real estate logo/signs. They did that a couple years ago when Comcast Center still had a mini-pyramid on top, but it was pretty forward thinking. And of the five mayoral web sites, Nutter, Fattah and Evans have skyline photos, Knox has a partial skyline graphic, and Brady has a collage, yet none feature Comcast Center. So consider this a tip, ye mayoral webmasters: since thinking forward is the name of the game, it may behoove you to Photoshop in a truly "Philly of tomorrow" graphic, the Philly Skyline with a completed (or even under construction) Comcast Center.

Back soonish with a Hump Day blitz.

–B Love

30 January 07: Heavens to Betsy back up to the heavens

That's not to say that Arch Street is heaven or that Comcast Center is God . . . though maybe. This was the view just after sundown last night in the OC. At 239 Arch, the Betsy Ross House is one of the more popular destinations in our historic city. Kinda funny, then, that there isn't even any proof that Betsy sewed the first flag, nor that it was commissioned personally by George Washington. Typical Negadelphian attytood? Nah. We're not saying she didn't do it, or even that she ran a shoddy shop. She was a fine seamstress. But did she do it? We'll never know. And we're perfectly fine with the idea that Old Glory was born in Old City. Still, don't be upset if our lasting impression of Betsy is that of Bruce Vilanch from the Elton John concert two Fourth of Julys ago when Bruce walked on stage dressed as Betsy and declared, "I'm the world's biggest flag."

Flags are the theme of the day for your Philly Skyline Philly Skyline. As always, clicking the above enlarges the above. You might have noticed a lot of flags throughout our photo essays and neighborhood tours and the like. The US flag in particular adds an instant flash of color to any picture. Its presence is strong around the city, too, even in non-war-time-shows-of-support: the big flags on the Market Street side of Centre Square; the tops of the Aramark and PSFS Buildings; the 30th Street Post Office; the Art Museum.

A young buck by the screenname of Phillydreams suggested nearly five years ago on Skyscraperpage that Philly should erect the world's tallest flagpole. We agree! Think about this. The world's tallest flagpole, right now, stands in North Korea. North Korea. Dubya has managed to squander a good deal of our rah-rah patriotism, but surely the fact that North Korea has the world's tallest flagpole is motivation enough that the USA needs this. It's only 525 feet tall at that, less than the height of William Penn.

Fairmount Park has tons of free land. Tons! The Belmont Plateau is one of, if not the best, places in the city to relax and enjoy the skyline. Directly across Belmont Mansion Drive from the mansion itself, there is a mini-parking lot that is, um, closed off to cars, so people are forced to park on the shoulder of the road. If we take a small chunk closest to the woods in the northwestern part of the Plateau, we can designate a circular viewing area with the history of the flag on a plaque.

The tallest of the Roxborough TV towers belongs to Channel 6, WPVI, and stands 1276' tall. Let's go one better for our World's Tallest Flagpole and take our symbolic 1776' back from New York's cornball Freedom Tower. A 1776' flagpole would not just be seen from Center City, but from the entire region. And here's the other thing: the standard flag would be our city flag, the blue-yellow-blue Philadelphia Maneto flag. It could change out with the US flag for things like Flag Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth and so forth. And, for example, if some prince is visiting from the UK, we fly the Union Jack for the duration.

The Local 401 is part of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental & Reinforcing Iron Workers. Let's put that Ornamental to work -- have a design competition for the flagpole. For the flag, it HAS to come from Humphrys. Humphrys is located, appropriately enough, directly across the street from the Betsy Ross House in Old City, and has been in business here for over 125 years. (Humphrys also supplied the official City Flag hanging at Philly Skyline's South Street HQ.)

Let's do this, Philadelphia. Let's erect the World's Tallest Flagpole (before Dubai decides to), right here in the home of the US flag.

[Betsy Ross House.]
[Humphrys Flag Company.]
[Wikipedia: Flags.]

–B Love

29 January 07: Barbaro is dead

Huh. Drag.

So anyway, we've decided we're gonna bypass a regularly scheduled MMLU in favor of launching Steve Ives' latest contribution to da Skyline, In the Way of Progress. With the confirmation that Vox Populi, ServiStar Hardware, the Pleasure Palace and others are closing imminently, Steve took a walk around the four square blocks slated for demolition to make way for the Convention Center's expansion. For such a small geographic area, there are quite a few pleasant, bittersweet surprises as far as architectural items being lost. I'll turn it over to Steve from here.

* * *

In the way of progress

There was a time in this country, not too long ago, when "new" and "better" were terms that had inseparable meaning with the thinking of the time being "What is" and "what was" must be put away to make way for "what will be", "what could be". As times changed and mindsets and cities evolved, people started to become more aware of preserving the unique places and spaces that make their communities unique, that give them a sense of wholeness and familiarity.

Philadelphia's record on maintaining its historic and distinctive structures runs truly hot and cold. This is the city that allowed The Fairmount Waterworks to sit derelict for years along the banks of the Schuylkill before more visionary minds set it on a path to a new purpose. This is the city that cut away the heart of America's first business district to construct a failed pedestrian promenade that only very recent efforts finally developed to a state of being anything close to a "Mall".

And now we stand behind the wrecker's ball once again as the hopes and dreams of those who make a living playing to others' hopes and dreams ride it into the future. The Pennsylvania Convention Center is about to undertake its long awaited expansion project. Promising to keep Philadelphia in the mix amongst major convention cities, it will throw the gables and glass another block west to an admittedly less than beautiful stretch of Broad Street, bringing with it more revenue for the city, more bodies filling hotel beds, more butts in restaurant seats. However, for that to happen, the contents four city blocks will have to be demolished and tucked away on these four unassuming blocks can be found a historic firehouse, some of Philadelphia's oldest highrises, the working spaces of artists, lawyers, cooks and carwashers. Even a home that has the look of a Colonial holdout can be found nestled away and it too will have be cleared in the name of progress.

There is no growth without some pain and to advance all of us must, inevitably, shed remainders of the past. This holds true for cities as well as human beings and like human beings, that act of shedding can mean more to us than we may realize. Here is an honest look at what Philadelphia will be shedding to take another step towards the future.


–Steve Ives

29 January 07: Hike up your Skirk a little more

Today's Philly Skyline Philly Skyline comes courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania's fantastic new home for bioengineering, Skirkanich Hall. In only its second semester, it has become a landmark building for Penn's campus, really picking up Huntsman Hall's slack. Designed by New York's Tod Williams / Billie Tsien, Skirkanich is a hybrid of sleek glass and amazing glazed, fired brick which ranges from a deep forest green to a bright chartreuse which is echoed in various panels within the building, including the doors to the men's room. A photo essay dedicated to Skirkanich Hall is gonna happen one of these days.

Another thing worth pointing out in this fifth floor Skirkanich Skyline Skyline is the top of Comcast Center's concrete core. Here, we can see the panels of the slip forms have entered their removal phase, marking the end of the concrete's skyward climb at roughly 920'. From here on out, Comcast Center rises in steel and glass to 975'. We should be able to notice the steel's indentations for the southside cutout, the lower end of which is on the 49th floor, our estimate for the current progress.

A Monday Morning Lookin' Up is in the mail. Watch for the postman, yo.

–B Love

28 January 07: Sunday Brunch

Oh man, yer here on a Sunday? But doesn't it seem like a good day for a ham and smoked mozz frittata at Morning Glory in Bella Vista? Or an extra-horseradish-y bloody at Johnny Brenda's in Fishtown? Or the chili omelette at the Domino Diner in Roxborough? Or the trout-n-grits at Littleton's Diner in West Oak Lane? Oh, it's a chill boilermaker-n-croissant from G-Ho's Ants Pants kinda day? Well dig it, and thanks for stopping by. We make a 100% guaranteed promise that there will be no Royal Visit coverage here. Although . . .

    It was with utmost sincerity that we were going to apologize for forgetting the Academy of Music's 150th anniversary on Friday until they rolled out Regal Rod Stewart for the prince and his pony. One can only imagine Camilla bobbing her head to an orchestral "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?"

    All the same, happy birthday y'old hag. Architects Napoleon LeBrun and Gustav Runge designed the Academy with four stories of seating in 1854, the groundbreaking was a year later, and in 1857 the new hall opened with the opera Il Trovatore. The Inquirer has a nice little section of philly.com devoted to the Academy with coverage of the anniversary and lots of historical photos HERE.

    Before moving on, a few thoughts on Rod the Bod's rooster-mullet-first dive into disco. This really was quite a break from his "Maggie May" rock and roll roots, and it features one of the greatest keyboard riffs of all time. Ahead of its time, "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" featured a promo video three years before MTV launched. And, it has spawned quite a few spinoffs, above all else the Revolting Cocks' version, an excellent cover by the late, great Tiny Tim, a horrible dance version from '97, a Puff Daddy sample for The Lox's "If Ya Think I'm Jiggy", and for chrissakes a Paris Hilton cover from last year. Lord have mercy. For your convenience you can yank on YouTube for all of these except for The Lox by clicking below.

    Da Ya Think I'm Sexy by Rod Stewart
    Da Ya Think I'm Sexy by Revolting Cocks (NSFW)
    Da Ya Think I'm Sexy by Tiny Tim
    Da Ya Think I'm Sexy by N-Trance
    Da Ya Think I'm Sexy by Paris Fucking Hilton

  2. COMCAST CENTER ON DA SKYLINE: THAT WAS EAZY: Why, oh why, did we not think of this before? As our Comcast Center section has risen with the building's construction, we've been concerned over its ease of use, given the volume of pictures and content. So then, a major hat tip goes to Mike of University City for the suggestion to put a simple navigation at the bottom of each page. DUH. How'd we not think of that before? So Mike, consider it done. This navigation is also on the launch page, in case you'd only like to see the most recent pictures first. Where's our Comcast Center section? It's →→→RIGHT HERE.←←←

  3. PIANO LESSONS: On Friday, the Penn School of Design formally announced it is at long last getting a redo, and it's brought on an internationally renowned architect to do so. School of Design Dean Gary Hack introduced Renzo Piano to a well-attended-for-a-Friday-afternoon audience as that man. At Meyerson Hall. In the basement.

    An intentionally appropriate venue, the School of Design's largest lecture hall is drab and devoid of any natural light, which Piano's work celebrates. Michael Burlando graciously gave me a tour of Meyerson Hall after the introduction, and it is painfully clear to see just how badly the School of Design needs something better and more befitting an Ivy League caliber design program. I can only imagine how Renzo Piano must have felt when taking the same tour.

    Gary Hack and Renzo Piano

    Martin, Stewart, Nobel & Class' Meyerson Hall really shows its age. Built in 1967 before University City was University City and when the concept of urban context was at its nadir, it sits acrimoniously at 34th & Walnut, the heart of the campus, with its main entrance well off of the same intersection. The 34th Street side is even walled off by an unnecessary planting. Piano clearly recognizes this, rendering Meyerson the butt of several jokes. "The new building should be more flexible and inspiring than this one. (Pause.) Much more." When discussing the timeline, Hack said that it would be a four year process between study, design and construction, including consideration for the demolition of Meyerson Hall. Piano pumped his fist to this, saying "on the day of demolition, everyone is invited; we make big barbecue together," which drew lots of laughs and cheers.

    To be clear, Piano was just hired; there is no design to show to the public yet. This was merely the introduction. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is Renzo Piano, and he will make the School of Design better by giving us a landmark School of Design building." Piano ticked off a few major examination points heading into the project:
    • People must understand that this building is about design.
    • As such, it must be a destination, a rendezvous point, in addition to serving as an academic hall.
    • The new building must be open to community.
    • Metaphorically speaking, the building will be a factory.
    • The building will be as technologically advanced as possible, striving for green building ("we would look silly if we didn't build green; how can you design for design without it?") and embracing natural light and openness.
    Needless to say, it's a benchmark time for the School of Design, especially when the University is embarking on its eastward expansion. Congrats to all parties indeed.

–B Love

26 January 07: Hear my jam with a funky Piano

First Mark Zoller drained all three foul shots with a second on the clock to push Penn past the coach who recruited him and Temple, now this. Penn is on a roll this week. Penn's renowned School of Design announced today that it's hired Italian architect Renzo Piano to redo its presence on campus. Whether that means an addition to the existing Meyerson Hall or an all new structure remains to be seen, but bringing on a Pritzker winning architect really shows that the School of Design gets it. (Google 'Centre Pompidou' or 'New York Times Tower' if you're unfamiliar with Piano's work.) Congrats, Penn -- this is fantastic news.

Some other fantastic news finds itself in the customary Philly Skyline list format.
  1. A FRESH VIEW AT BRIDGEMAN'S: While on the congratulatory tip, we've got to send ours to Marc, Ryan, William and the 2945 LLC guys for closing on the purchase of the two parcels where Bridgeman's View Tower will soon rise. This is a huge step forward for the building which is leaps and bounds above anything else proposed for the waterfront (including you, Chump Trump Tower). If we haven't been clear about this, we'll try again: Bridgeman's View is an extremely important project for the development of our forlorn, oft-discussed, in vogue Delaware Riverfront. The developers and architects are local, and this project has come to this point with beneficial community input led by Matt Ruben, Jennifer Lewis and the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association (which, as an aside, Philly Skyline wishes all community organizations were like).

    The parcel is zoned to 950' -- to the roof, that is. Not to start any rumors or anything, but . . . the spire is higher. Where Comcast Center has a flat roof that absolutely makes its place on the skyline, a spire could really push the envelope at Bridgeman's View. If BVT were to open today, the John Hancock Center in Chicago would be the only taller residential/mixed-use building in the country. JHC has two antennae on top that are not included in the building's height. Trump Tower Chicago, on the other hand, features a spire that is included in its height, much like One Liberty Place's 945' and designation as (current but not for much longer) tallest building are thanks largely in part to its nearly hundred foot spire. If BVT is 950' to the roof, imagine what a spire could do. Philadelphia could have its first 1,000' building. Just sayin'.

    Now that this huge hurdle has been cleared, there are T's (e.g. construction financing) to be dotted and I's (e.g. site preparation) to be crossed. An official groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for this fall. So remember, skyscraper fans, patience is power. [PBJ.]

  2. FUNKY PIANO, PT 2: Speaking of skyscraper fans, let's step back down to Hawthorne and the Broad & Washington meeting we covered last week. (Scroll down this page to 18 January 07: Central Park South Philly.) Well, never mind that little Time Warner photoshop job we threw together. Phillyblog member 'R. Pianothrower' pianothrew together some amazing Google Sketchups of the tower's massing here, here and here. Aren't those great? Discuss at Phillyblog.

  3. INDEPENDENCE HALL, A VICTORYISH! You didn't think we missed this important update on one of Philly Skyline's biggest talking points, did you? Independence National Historical Park announced this week that ding dong, the fence is dead. Which old fence? The wicked, 7 foot, expensive, ironic, freedom fence, that's which. Stephan Salisbury continued his excellent coverage for the Inquirer with this piece on Wednesday.

    In short, we did it! So far. Our job is not done. The big dissecting fence has been replaced by a more complementary structure of movable bollards and chains, but bollards and chains are still not free movement at the very birth site of our country's lauded freedom. Another item of importance (which falls in line with City Hall Week) is that Old City Hall will no longer be permanently used for metal detector security screening. And, security screening will no longer even have metal detectors, but will be more akin to ballpark entrances with bag searches. Well played, Park Service -- now keep goin'.

  4. THANK YOU MAY I HAVE A NUTTER: (Boy, that joke never wears out, does it?) Listen up New Philadelphia fans: this weekend, you can meet mayoral candidate Michael Nutter in his home office at 15th & Chestnut -- maybe even donate some time or money while you're there -- but if you want to, you gotta RSVP. You can do that HERE.

  5. GET YOUR VOX OFF: This is it, people, visit now or forever regret never seeing one of the greatest art collectives Philadelphia has ever produced. This weekend marks the end of Vox Populi's run at 1315 Cherry Street (the Gilbert Building), as the PA Convention Center is set to move forward. Accordingly, Steve Ives has done us a solid and has taken pictures of that which we're losing as the Convention Center expands. That's going to be the essay du jour come Monday, so people get ready. [voxpopuligallery.com.]

  6. CAMDEN VISION, 20/20: Remember 2004 and 2005, when Camden was named the Most Dangerous City in America (and when Philly Skyline unashamedly hitched its wagon to the story with Camden photo essays 1 and 2)? Well, ABC's 20/20 was paying attention, and actually still is. On tonight's 20/20 broadcast (ABC, 10 pm), it has a feature called 'Waiting on the World to Change' which follows the lives of three children growing up in Camden.

That's all for now, folks, but there's a good chance we'll poke our heads in this weekend. HOLLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

–B Love

26 January 07: City Hall Week, the exciting conclusion

Time stops for no man, but time paused for exactly 1/400th of a second yesterday morning in the southwestern corner of City Hall courtyard. I like this picture for all its detail. (Clicking it enlarges said detail.) The Corinthian columns, the arches, the keystones, the 26 foot clock, the masonry, the iron, Calder's eagles, a Swede, the City Charter. City Hall tower alone has so much going on that perhaps it was fair to have been derided as a monstrosity by the time it was finished 30 years after it was begun, or to have been labeled by modern master Louis Kahn "the most disreputable and disrespected building in Philadelphia." Fortunately, taste is subjective and our figurative and literal city survived the urban renewal push to knock it down.

Our City Hall Week has been fun and fruitful, and at some point in the next week or two, we're gonna do a City Hall Week Redux with an all new set of photos. The plan was to actually do that today, but the weather wasn't so cooperative this week, and Nathaniel's essay from yesterday (whose intro, The People's Courtyard, ran in this week's City Paper) is a tough act to follow. Which reminds me, some excellent comments came through in response yesterday:
Tim from Philly: These ideas you have for City Hall should be printed and presented to someone high up in the city. They are excellent! City Hall definitely needs some entertainment around the actual building. Now that they've finally cleaned it up a bit (after probably 10 years of scrubbing), having some restaurants, performers, and public art would really make it a great place to go hang out and chill. I think there should also be some colonial actors walking around and giving tourists some real history of the building like they do in the Independence Mall area . . .

Perry from Richboro: Super fabulous piece by Nathaniel on City Hall. After winning the battle at Indy Hall, yes, it is time to take up the case at City Hall. There are so many reasons why this would succeed. Yes, finding a benefactor is key, and a five year project can completely turn the space around. HOWEVER, this is Philly afterall, and the "public" space at Penns Landing still is a dream after 35 years, so grounded we must be. Perhaps the mayoral candidates can get behind this, if for no other reason than to show they have "vision", which is the single most sorely lacking quality of our civic leaders for the past 50 years.

Melissa from Chinatown: I work in Centre Square East and live in Chinatown. On my daily walk to and from work across the North end of the Hall, I'm persistently reminded of the dreadful absence of anything Brotherly-Lovely in the entire City Hall area, and I think the ideas you've laid out are exactly in line with the way to fix that. And THANK YOU for at least identifying who that "Baldwin" character is, I see that statue every day and wonder if I'm not well-versed enough in Philadelphia history to know who a man might be who is obviously so well-known that he warrants no further explanation than his surname.

BVan from G-Ho: Don't mean to be the fart in your soup bowl or nothin' and I'm sure you know this already, but they already did the plans, they just don't have any money for niceties like this. Check out this PDF. There's a whole bunch o' stuff that looks real great that we can't afford.
This raises two good points: 1, THEN WHY THE HELL IS MY SOUP SO BUBBLY? and 2, good, the bureaucrats are at least aware that something is wrong at City Hall. (How loaded is that statement?) The difference here, though, is that Nathaniel's ideas find an independent benefactor footing the bill, thereby reducing the city-squanders-dedicated-taxpayer-funding option. We love City Hall. Let's make it better.

It's a sunny Friday, baby, and with it comes a lot of shiny happy sunny stuff. This is such stuff as the next update is made of. Check back innaminnit.

–B Love

25 January 07: City Hall Week, floating to the future

Nathaniel and I met Saturday afternoon at Dilworth Plaza with the intent to enter City Hall courtyard, observe how underused both it and the Plaza are and envision better versions of each. Except, well, City Hall courtyard is closed on the weekends. Nathaniel had been in the courtyard in the days preceding our visit. A few of pictures are further down in this segment, before-and-afters featuring the dull now and the ambitious, photoshopped future.

Since the courtyard was closed, we walked from the west portico clockwise around the entire building. Along the way, we noticed that the statue of locomotive builder Matthias William Baldwin only said "BALDWIN" on the front, and that a full description was on the back of the pedestal -- behind chains. We presumed it was located here because it faces a now-closed City Hall subway entrance/exit. We noticed that there are cars parked on the east side of the building, in spite of Ed Rendell's efforts as mayor to rid Penn Square (the actual square, not the throughways) of cars. We stopped and took in some skilled skaters making use of the low granite benches Dilworth Plaza has to offer. (This really couldn't be more perfect since Mayor Street intentionally ruined Love Park for skaters AFTER two consecutive X-Games in the city, during which the skating events were . . . right here on Dilworth Plaza!)

And, when we made our way back to the west portico, we counted no less than four sets of people stopping to take pictures of the building. One fellow went as far as asking us why the building wasn't open. Funny he should ask.

There are a lot of ways that Philadelphia City Hall, unarguably the greatest civic building in the United States, could be better. Nathaniel Popkin -- whose Philly Skyline archive is found HERE -- outlines some of these here.

–B Love

25 January 07: Juggling and sipping . . . at City Hall?

How ambitious are we?

In 1871, we were feeling ambitious enough to design and build the largest municipal building in the world, a vision amplified by sculpture, carvings, symbolism, and the world view that says we've taken into consideration the best that the world has to offer and now Philadelphia, it is yours. The world changed considerably by the time the building was completed in 1901. Laden with corruption already, it appeared a relic of a pre-modern age, and ever since we've used it begrudgingly. That hardly matters now. The fact is City Hall is the most brilliant thing we have. What we do with it today is a test of our ambition as a people.

My proposal covers only three areas: (1) stewardship, (2) the courtyard, (3) the "skirt," or exterior plazas. This is not a comprehensive plan for the building. Alas the interior renovation, reorganization of the offices and court rooms, installation of HVAC, etc., etc., is for another time. The point here is get us started possessing, enjoying, and thinking about this monument.

Stewardship: The Friends of City Hall

City Hall, unlike other city monuments like the Art Museum or Independence Hall, has no one outside of the Department of Public Property to manage its use, renovation, art collection, historical interiors (one or the other of which is regularly damaged by fire or water), or to decide how to present its wonders to the public. The wonderful folks in the Tour office have battled tooth and nail for recognition; finally their office is being renovated and will be a welcoming place for visitors who wish to go to the tower or learn more, purchase souvenirs, and receive other information. New signage is also being installed.

Now let's form a non-profit organization, The Friends of City Hall, with a board independent of the mayor or council, with power to raise money, market, coordinate renovations, curate the art collection, program all the public spaces, and manage the building as an historical site. Unlike city government, this organization will have the power to draw funding from sources all over the world. Having it in place will make it easier for a mayor (or governor, ahem) to apply his own resources and political capital to the effort. The money raised through sales of souvenirs, art replicas (there are more than 250 sculptures in the building, not to mention the big one on top: totally untapped), tours, rent for courtyard spaces, etc., can be put toward a renovation and maintenance fund.

The Courtyard

Here, in the most important public gathering place in the city (the exact center of the original city and what is the fifth of Penn's five original squares — still considered Centre — or Penn Square), you've nowhere to sit, think, or look around at the bit of French Second Empire before you. (Forget Las Vegas, with this, our version of the French royal palaces, the Tuilleries and the New Louvre, with our own Place de la Concorde — Logan Square — Philadelphia was plucking, copying, fantasizing a la postmodernism before the great-grandparents of the builders of New York, New York or the Venetian were even born.)

This plaza is larger than it seems. Remove the ugly planting beds and there's enough room for several cafes and restaurants, benches, and the broad walkways we now enjoy, all the while maintaining the sense of intimacy and anonymity and openness. The goal is not to turn this into a private party, but to invite you, me, everyone, to dwell here, to enjoy it.

The surface under foot should be a combination brick, Belgian block, and crushed limestone. And already there are lovely new (turn-of-the-twentieth-century) light fixtures that match the original lamps braced to the walls.

At the center of the courtyard, install a large circle of outfacing benches around a fully-grown Franklinia, the tree discovered by John Bartram and named for his compatriot, Ben Franklin (Ben needs his place here, as everywhere else, if for no other reason, über-poetically, that his persistence at the French court produced the money for our revolution, bankrupting them, and causing theirs, ultimately putting the Tuilleries and the New Louvre in the hands of the people).

Let's liven things up, starting in the southwest corner: ice cream. We could hand this over to Capogiro because their gelato is supreme, but we ought to be mindful of price, as this installation isn't meant to exclude. No: ice cream, Philadelphia-style. Bassetts, then: in a real turn-of-the-century get-up and tables for enjoying the treat.

Moving east, to the pair of miniature towers that flank the South Portico: La Colombe deserves this spot for many reasons, not the least of which is that they're responsible for making Philadelphia a respectable coffee-roasting town once again. Here's what we do: Put their coffeemakers and espresso machines inside the east tower, which is where you'll go to order your cappuccino. They'll maintain 35 small tables beneath both towers. The west tower can be used as a newsstand, with displays of papers and magazines on racks just outside that tower door.


Moving around to the east side, inside the west wall of the tour office, room 121, and utilizing, if necessary interior rooms 115-119, facing into the center of the courtyard, a small bar with another 30-50 tables. I haven't a good choice for the operator here, but envision something like an outside taproom. This will raise all kinds of issues, of course, and will be subject to an assault on many fronts. Drinking in City Hall! Cavorting. Laughing too. We're breaking ground here.


In the northwest corner, using rooms 177-183 perhaps, just around the corner, a Marathon Grill, home-grown favorite of the lunch crowd. These folks know how to feed a lot of people at a time, a certain requirement with 50-100 tables between the City Hall Tower archways and the West Portico.


It would behoove us to think for a minute about one other facet of the courtyard: the subway entrances and the station below. Currently there are four, one in each corner. Though I'm the first to say public transit needs to be easier to use and more accessible, I think this might be a bit of overkill. My observations indicate that the one that is used is the northeast stair (removing the others will simplify the space). It is also the one closest to the center of the courtyard, which means there is room here to call attention to it. I'd like to see an architectural contest to re-design that entrance, with my mind's eye on something strikingly contemporary, fully contrasted to the architecture around it (not so large, perhaps, as a glass pyramid — that's so eighties — somehow communicative with the clothespin outside). This may be a small matter — the entrance to a subway stop — but embracing transit here, at the heart of the city, carries massive symbolic weight. More importantly, this is the city's great hub: you can get there from here, truly anywhere. So the station below, with service to seven subway and trolley lines, and concourse connections to the now-renovated Suburban Station and fifteen regional lines, awaits complementary treatment. I don't speak of the generic platform overhaul; rather a strong reference to the monument above: including displays of art from City Hall, historical and architectural descriptions, a directory and floor plans, etc.

The Skirt

From the Marathon Grill, we pass through the old prisoner's entrance, the West Portico, with its symbols of sympathy (how arcane in these days of "empathy deficit," as Barbara Ehernreich describes our culture in this month's Harper's), and out into the expanse of the city. Now we need the place to deliver us, entertain, excite. Now, to the north, we have a toilet. Here's an almost unbelievable amount of space, mostly empty, but so well-proportioned, waiting. How ambitious are we?

Below is Dilworth Plaza, clean now, symmetrical, thoroughly empty. Let's hand this space over to local artists: 20 stalls for painters, photographers, etc. to show and sell their stuff, with the Friends of City Hall to regulate, ensuring high quality. This is an old idea, of course, but a powerful one because it draws directly on local talent, who too-often seem to be hidden. This is a result of particular Philadelphia problems: the lack of confidence in our own and the abhorrence of commerce.

To add depth to the endeavor, the space could be used also for periodic shows of art (as compared to stalls) from international artists, perhaps a revolving sculpture exhibit (of new work or of sculpture that now sits hidden away in the city's storage warehouses). Regarding this idea, it's important to remember this is the base of the Parkway, our expanding art-amalgam.

Above, between the West Portico and the Northwest entrance, extending around to the North (ceremonial) face to the sculpture of Baldwin, we ought to hand this space to Stephen Starr (love or hate him), making this the first, in sequence, of the proposed Parkway cafes. Let's see what big ideas he can come up with and we'll worry later about how to incorporate a restaurant kitchen and indoor seating, if necessary, into the fabric of the building.

Beyond the restaurant, extending northwest to the corner, The Friends of City Hall can hire performers, such as dancers, jugglers, circus acts, perhaps with certain local folkloric or ethnic resonance, to take up residence to entertain. This can be formally-devised, with a daily, revolving schedule, or informal, with acts gathering on whim, or on nice days.

Finally, I add another aspect to the circus we're creating, this idea borrowed in part from Penn, which last year had a program allowing scholars to stand at an outside lectern and deliver a lecture of 60 seconds or less to the gathered public. I recommend we do this in a city-wide context, open to anyone, not just chosen scholars, but with a formal system of review to guard against abuse. Each day, at lunch time, perhaps ten people will have the opportunity to stand at the mike and speak: we'll call it Philly Speak Your Mind!

Are we getting there? Leaping from a nineteenth to twentieth to twenty-first century notion of a city? I think we might be. The truth is these are small ideas, but in the context of a city that fears and resists its own celebrity, critical first steps. Start with the heart and everything else will follow.

We need folks who think this is a good idea and who have additional — better — ideas to help. We'll need the Center City District to get excited, the historic commission, elected officials, the folks in the Tour Information Center. We'll need movers and shakers to form The Friends of City Hall. We'll need the Pew Charitable Trust and the William Penn Foundation and others to adopt the idea. Takers?

–Nathaniel Popkin

24 January 07: G-Ho Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba
Jean Jacque Wamutombo G-Ho

Well that was a safely played, boring State of the Union address. There was hardly any controversy, and the Prez was on the democratic congratulatory tip. Pffft. The thinly veiled warning to Iran (which was predictably spun as defending our freedom abroad but unpredictably standing o'd by Madame Speaker, whose denture shifting I could just not stop watching, no offense) was about the only pot-stirring the pundits will be able to run with this morning. Now that there's a democratic majority, Dubya's really playing the uniter-not-a-divider card. BUT!

My man Dikembe Mutombo was in the HOUSE. Clearly the tallest man in the room, the new American citizen was lauded by the president for his humanitarian efforts, namely the hospital he's helped build in his native Congo. (If only GW Bush would have had to pronounce his full name . . . actually now that I think about it, imagine if Mayor Street had to pronounce Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean Jacque Wamutombo; dude got "Ryan Howard" wrong!).

Here in the 215, we'll always remember Deke for being the final ingredient AI and Larry Brown needed to push the Sixers to the NBA Finals, back when the NBA was still watchable. (Just not over Shaq and the Lakers.) The 40 year old Mutombo is still playing, averaging a humble 3.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game backing up Yao Ming for the Houston Rockets. Big ups, big man.

It's Hump Day. Let's Umpdate.
  1. OH WE OH, G-HO: AND SO . . . What we've known has been long coming has finally come: the fate of Graduate Hospital is before us. The landmark healthcare complex is returning to its UPenn roots, leaving in its wake a half-assed, cheeky neighborhood name, and we couldn't be more proud.

    The hospital will close in March, eliminating a couple hundred jobs at the hospital, according to District 1199C of the hospital and healthcare employees union. Another way to look at this is: well, the hospital announced it was being sold back in June because Tenet Healthcare had to settle a nearly billion dollar lawsuit from Medicare, and seven months is a long time to look for another job in a city where there are approximately 8,000 hospitals.

    The UPenn Health System is teaming up with Allentown-based Good Shepherd Rehab Network to convert the G-Ho complex into the best rehab center in the city. Its location on South Street is perfectly convenient to the baby boomers and empty nesters in the Rittenhouse area who'll soon need post-surgical rehabilitation. In the long term, it's a boon to the neighborhood and, coincidentally, it gives new life to a dying hospital. [Inquirer.]

    What about "G-Ho"? What about it! The loss of the Graduate Hospital name only solidifies the legacy of G-Ho! G-Ho thrives on the twist, and what better twist than to have a neighborhood named for a landmark that doesn't exist? VIVA LA G-HO!

  2. G-HO, PART DUH: 'Member last week when we congratulated the owners of the soon-opening bar at Grays Ferry & Catherine on their bar naming announcement, Asylum? SIIIIIIIIKE. After further review, it's been determined that Yellowbar is preferred, and so it shall be named. Yellowbar, as we'd observed, is now painted gray, causing all sorts of questions to uninitiated G-Ho noobs, and who doesn't like the idea of drinking in a gray bar called Yellowbar?

  3. A CAPITAL CORRECTION: Yesterday we posed theoretically -- "chances are" -- that architectural conservatives might loathe the juxtaposition of City Hall on One Liberty Place and everything One Liberty Place represents, and that those same folks may be better suited in a low-rise city like Washington DC which, we told-you-so'd, has a higher density than Philly. As it turns out, Philadelphia's 135 square miles are in fact denser in population than the District's 68 square miles, roughly 11,000/mi² to 9,000/mi². OOPS. Consider this our apology, but we did admit we painted with an awfully large brush yesterday. As you were, then.

  4. YO MURANO: We'd just like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that, for all our Comcast Center celebratin', we haven't forgotten about the slick 43 story glass bullet going up at 21st & Market. Our Murano section is up to date as of, oh, 7:15 this morning.

  5. DOC OUT, BRADY IN, NEXT MAYOR UP: Damn. I mean, nobody begrudges a guy for wanting to spend time with his family, but of all the Old Philadelphia candidates, we liked John Dougherty the best. Yeah he's a big union boss, and yeah he has a bully reputation. Is it fair or warranted? Not our place to say. But, he does command attention and, one might think, the potential for a Richard Daley like presence in City Hall. Say what you will about how things are done in Chicago, the point is that things are done in Chicago. And besides, with Johnny Doc in a mayoral race, things are just instantly more entertaining. Good luck in South Phil, Doc. Our friends at The Next Mayor (and Daily News) have an exclusive interview with Doc HERE.

    That officially leaves four, but as Mary Patel told us first in her City Paper Political Notebook report from Washington after Congress' swearing in, Bob Brady's making his run official tomorrow. Let's see, that's five candidates for a city position, three of whom are already serving public office, one in Harrisburg and two in Washington. And to think that Councilman Michael Nutter took the high road and resigned his position before doing the same. The time devoted to running a mayoral campaign has seemed to work out for Nutter, having raised the most campaign money so far and having a stance on seemingly every issue, proactively offering solutions to quell the violence the current administration cannot. Nutter is New Philadelphia, and this is a very, very good thing. Whether New Philadelphia can overcome Old Philadelphia is what we're all going to watch as the next four months unfold.

    Another quick word about Mary Patel: we recently had a sit-down with her, and as one might have surmised about a journalist covering the city and more for a dozen years, she's got a lot of opinions and ideas. Mary is going to help us kick off an all new feature next week.

  6. PHILADELPHIA, HOME OF THE PLUSH FLUSH: Ed Rendell, your vision is flowing full stream. As noted by the Stinkmeister in yesterday's Daily News, the City Toilet has been met with such success that there may be as many as 35 new toilets by the end of this year, and not just resigned to Center City. According to the map included with the story, public toilets may soon be installed at 10th & Christian, 52nd & Market(!), Vernon Park in Germantown, the River Drives, and lots of other locations. What a novel idea, not having to purchase anything just to get a bathroom key with a stupid big wooden paddle attached to it. It costs a quarter, and it'll already be clean. What amazing times we live in.

  7. RIGHT ABOUT NOW, I'M GETTIN' BUSIER: Speaking of 52nd & Market, we're gonna yank on YouTube to take us back 12 years under the El. West Philly's Youngstas could have blown up as a talented group of young rappers, but it's hard to deny their shot was killed by the timing of the popularity of Kris Kross and Another Bad Creation. Still, Da Youngstas earned the respect of a lot of hip hop heads from about '92 (when they were on the Juice soundtrack alongside Rakim, EPMD and Big Daddy Kane) to about '95, when they released the track DJs B Love and Warren Kaos rocked on the Cumberland Valley airwaves, Mad Props.

    Da Youngstas' Quran Goodman is still reppin' though -- his Myspace is HERE.

City Hall Week will continue tomorrow when Nathaniel checks in with a new, sensible way of looking at our center square.

–B Love

23 January 07: Juxtaposeur

If you're standing down on Arch Street between 8th & 9th ('bout halfway between the federal prison and the Pearl construction site) and glance west, you're treated with the textbook old-on-new architecture juxtaposition which you either love or hate. Chances are, if you love it, you think progressively and welcome bold architectural challenges; and, if you hate it, you think Philly should never be weaned from its Quaker teat and would be better off likening itself to the bureaucratically low-rise Washington DC (which is way denser than Philly) or some European city you've probably never been to. If you love this City-Hall-on-Liberty-Place action, you probably love the Gherkin-on-Tower action in London. But if MacArthur-Jahn is too much contrast for you, so then must be the classic Fifth Avenue Helmsley-PanAm contrast. Broad enough brush?

I'm not tryin to tell ya what to do; you have your own freedom of choice who to listen to. (Thanks, Eazy. Thanks also, Arsenio.) Really though, the thought of One Liberty Place towering over City Hall is not one given little passion; few are indifferent about it, but it is what it is. Certainly, the Philly Skyline would not be what it is had William Penn stayed on top, but City Hall still holds an important part in the skyline's sum. (Except, I guess, in views from the west.) In our collective consciousness, though, it should always stay the focalpoint, and that's one of the reasons this week is City Hall Week on ye olde Skyline.

Today's entry, in addition to the Philly Skyline Philly Skyline above (clicking enlarges), includes links to required reading on City Hall, the only building in the city with several different web sites detailing different aspects of its history and significance.
  1. VIRTUAL CITY HALL: This is the city's official web site devoted to the building, run by the Department of Public Property. Here, you'll find a lot of factual tidbits (history, archived photos, timeline, etc) and also tourist information about interior tours led by Skyline fave Greta Greenberger and tower tours, which are free but limited. There's also an archived video of the implosion of The Vet. It's virtual insanity, and it is HERE.

  2. AJAX ELECTRIC: Why Ajax Electric? Ajax has built more salt baths, introduced more advances and can put more experience behind your system than all other salt bath manufacturers combined. That's why.

    More specifically, because the Huntingdon Valley based salt bath company had the earliest comprehensive web site dedicated to Philadelphia City Hall. It still resides in its proudly-1998 format with its way fab animated gif of Penn tipping his cap. Trivial points that would make Johnny Goodtimes happy abound, from the tale of the ironworker mooning the city from atop Penn's hat to the Phillies' catcher who caught a baseball dropped from the same hat in 1939. Ajaxelectric.com/cityhall is more thorough than Thurl Bailey. See it, use it, love it HERE.

  3. PHILADELPHIA ARCHITECTS AND BUILDINGS: The Athenaeum's PAB project represents again. The go-to site for Philly's architectural heritage has an inventory of 151 historical images, including not only 19th century photos and blueprints, but also a number of the plans and schemes from the urban renewal era, in which the French Second Empire City Hall would have been demolished, were it not for the obscene cost of doing so. Interestingly, French-born Paul Cret was among those in the "tear it down" camp. HERE.

  4. PHILART: Another proudly pre-21st century comprehensive Philly web site, philart.net specializes in the public art found throughout the city. It recently ditched its javascript navigation for the much easier to use (and easier to link to) php jawn you see now. The sculptures on and around City Hall -- from Alexander Calder's statues adorning the exterior to Emlen Etting's abstract tribute to Richardson Dilworth -- come with photographic reference. Bust a philart and pretend no one heard it HERE.

  5. PHILLY HISTORY: The city's Department of Records must've heard the president speak about the internets, because out of nowhere last year came phillyhistory.org, a blog devoted to showcasing the city archive's over two million photos. It's a fantastic resource, but since this is Philly, it's also a little clunky. It doesn't take away from the site though, and a search for City Hall yields 386 results -- that's just what they have online. The physical archives at 31st & Market must have an entire cabinet full of City Hall photos from the past 140 years. Span the centuries and blow your mind HERE.

And of course, you can check out Philly Skyline's own City Hall photo archive by clicking Bill Penn in the site's navigational graphic on every page. We're adding to that collection as we speak and intend on sharing all new photos of City Hall later this week.

–B Love

22 January 07: Mad 90° angles

There's a Philly whirlwind a-swirlin' out there, I'll tell you what. For the first time ever, da Skyline rocked over 100,000 hits on a weekend day, topping out yesterday at over 107,000. That is just bananas. Y'hear that, Councilman Clarke???

Let's see how many we pull in for this Monday Afternoon Monday Morning Lookin' Up. (That's pronounced "mama lu", rhyming with the Dr John classic "Mama Roux".)
  1. CHASE CHASIN' PAPER AND CHASIN' TAIL NO MORE: Go get 'em, slugger. Second baseman Chase Utley and the Phillies are happily married for seven seasons henceforth, thanks to a contract extension signed over the weekend for $85M. That's chump Chase Change for the team's de facto leader. Fret not RyHo, you're gonna get yours! And of course, congrats to the new Mr and Mrs Utley, who are probably out playing putt-putt golf on their honeymoon. (That's Jennifer Cooper Utley to the left of our sluggers up there.) [Phillies.com.]

  2. TIP A 40 FOR THE 40 / THE SOUTH OF SILENCE: What's that sound outside Philly Skyline corporate HQ on the G-Ho end of South Street? Why, it's nothin' at all, nothin' at all, nothin' at all! Yes indeedy, today marks the beginning of the end for the old, dilapidated, Skyline favorite South Street Bridge, as a six ton weight limit goes into effect today, and will not be lifted until the new bridge is built and open. Meaning: Septa's 40 bus will be detoured for at least the next two years and our little nook of our favorite street will be quiet, from Septa buses anyway. Now let's see if PennDOT can add a "NO TRUCKS" to the South Street exit signs on 76, since we've counted, oh, at least half a dozen 18 wheelers rumbling up South already today. [6abc.] [Septa.] [SSB.]

    We'll have a huge announcement of our own on the South Street Bridge just as soon as we can connect some dots.

  3. SNOW REMOVAL FOR SQUARES: Now that Bee Love's snow urges have been satisfied (to an extent), here are three snow removal observations from this morning involving Squares. Washington Square: well removed! Seeing as how the National Park Service assumes responsibility for Washington Square and its eternal flame, it makes sense that the sidewalks there were cleaned and salted by 8am for the morning rush. And, seeing as how the severely underfunded Fairmount Park Commission cares for Rittenhouse Square, it makes sense that its sidewalks were still snow covered and packed-down-slippery for the morning rush on this end of Center City. (Hey, there's only so much ground those CCD dudes in teal and yellow can cover before rush hour.) The two squares side by side in the graphic above are actual satellite images taken this morning while we imaginarily floated past each. (Rittenhouse left, unshoveled; Washington right, cleared and salted.)

    Our square the third is that of Toll Bros' Naval, who performed exemplarily today. No slippin' or slidin' on Grays Ferry Ave, nor on 24th, Bainbridge and South Streets, the block between which they own and will sooner or later build 2400 South Street. Now, pardon the liberal guilt here -- this is simply an observation -- but isn't it interesting that Toll Bros is a famously white, suburban company, whose first ever large urban development is in a historically black neighborhood, and its snowy sidewalks are shoveled by Latinos? Oh what the hell, celebrate diversity!

  4. SPEAKING OF SQUARES: Yo smokers, YOU STINK. We've admitted our smoke ban wavering all along, and we maintain this: these civil liberties should not be breached when one considers you are entering a BAR; however, these clothes should not stink for the sole reason one entered a BAR. It seems an American right to wear the same jeans three days straight. So now that the smoking ban has been in effect a couple weeks, we wouldn't have it any other way . . . except, maybe, at the places who won the exemptions. Like, let's say, The Fire. It was nice to see everyone out in full force supporting the El Dorados and Gildon Works on Friday night, but man, didn't we say that the smoking ban exemptions were going to be overly smoky?

    So to our beloved bar owners: we know it's begrudgingly that you enforce the ban inside your privately owned establishment, but at the end of the night (read: tomorrow morning), we love you for it even more. You listening, Patti Doobies? We love you more because you no longer stink. All you remaining smoking-allowed bars, though, we support you in theory but we're too spoiled to bother visiting you any more.

  5. FORBES: FORGET FRANKLIN'S 13 VIRTUES, LIVE LIFE THROUGH ROCKY: Yo. Last week, Philebrity pointed out this scathing if-the-truth-hurts review of Rocky Balboa from UK's The Guardian. (Btw Philebs, LUV U, but those "PHILADELPHIA BANDS SUCK. PROVE US WRONG." ads . . . suck. They prove themselves right.)

    Anyhow, fast forward three days and open Forbes mag. Ivan Schneider (no relation to Ivan Drago, though maybe) extols a whole new set of Philadelphia virtues, brought to you by a fictional Philadelphian whose real life supplement lives in the home of the world's greatest plastic surgeons, California, although perhaps vicariously still in Philly through his larger than life likeness at the Art Museum. The gist is: you too can succeed with the eye of the tiger.

    (A special thanks -- and congratulations -- to Greg for this heads up.)

  6. WE'VE GOT MAIL: We're aware that some of you have been waiting weeks for a reply, and we sure do appreciate your patience. You'll definitely get a reply, so please bare with us, and as always, thanks. Your messages are actually helping us figure out our visitors better than our logs are. (Although it's always fun to see we're turning up for search strings like "wanamaker building myspace layout" and "public enemy in the hour of kaos" and "franklin mills vegan".) So: thanks! If you'd like to and you haven't already, drop us a line.

  7. CITY HALL WEEK: It's a celebration, bitches! Grab your drink, grab your glass, cos we're headed into the very heart of the city, the centermost of Center City, our beloved City Hall. In addition to today's Philly Skyline Philly Skyline below, we're gonna ease in with our existing stash of City Hall photos, found HERE or by clicking Billy Penn in the site's main graphic on any page. Some new pictures and new thoughts on the place are coming later this week.

Enjoy the rest of your Monday . . . we're gonna spend the rest of ours poking around the Tom Knox for Mayor Flickr site.

–B Love

22 January 07:

Our first Philly Skyline Philly Skyline of the week goes back two years to the day, when we got our biggest snowstorm of the 04-05 winter season, 10.5 inches of powdery white stuff. A photo essay from that day is found HERE. Check out the third picture on page 6 to see where Comcast Center was two years ago today.

Though there's only just enough to cover everything in white out there right now, the above seems an appropriate way to kick off CITY HALL WEEK here on da skyline. This week we'll be poking around City Hall to share some facts about, photos of and ideas for our beloved, ornate palace of polity.

But not before a MMLU and a big hearty THANK YOU to the Phillies for locking in Morning Glory's favorite second baseman for seven years. Sit patient RyHo, they know you're there with all your hardware daddio. Brett Myers and Geoff Geary to go before the big man goes ca-ching.

–B Love

19 January 07: Friday is Fire Day

Yessirree Bob, catch a fire is right. This evening you should find yourself at the Greater NoLibs-Fishtown sector's pre-JB's live music staple The Fire for a Philly infusion of grit, blooze and soul in the double bill of El Dorado and Gildon Works. And come on, the place sells cans of Schmidt's, the brewery that stood a mere two blocks away before it got Blatstein'd. Do this thing. Rock out with your caulk out, 4th & Girard, 10:30pm.

A look across the board heading into the weekend looks a little something like this.
  1. DARRELL CLARKE, THE BREWERYTOWN SQUARE: Councilman Darrell Clarke is such an opponent of rule bending zoning that he joined forces with State Senator Vince "This is not a fait accompli!" Fumo to decry the Barnes Tower developers' presentation and introduced a bill that would impose a height limit of 125' to buildings on and near the Ben Franklin Parkway. (Except that the Barnes Tower didn't bend any rules; it was just unpopular.) Odd, then, that a little further up in his district, he'd bend his own rules to rezone 16 acres of Brewerytown for the purpose of expanding Westrum's Brewerytown Square development into its next phase. Presumably, this includes the dryly named 'Enclave at Brewerytown'.

    Isn't rezoning a large swath of post-industrial, gritty B'town a good thing? Well, it can be. Though beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, we'd prefer something that wasn't so gray/tan/vinyl/plastic/suburban/WHITE in the middle of such a brick/mortar/concrete/urban/BLACK neighborhood, but hey. The point here is neither white nor black, but Clarke's approach to the process, a perfect example of why the oft-mentioned zoning reform is so important that it may end up on the Primary ballot.

    Clarke has introduced two bills, one which creates a new zoning district -- the Industrial Transformation District -- and one which sets boundaries for the first example of this new district, 30th to 32nd, Girard to Oxford. As we say, this could turn out to be a good thing, but it could also jump to the forefront of Philadelphia political status quo.

    Specifically, the Councilman who was so strongly opposed to one group following existing code to propose the Barnes Tower is the same Councilman who so strongly supports another group NOT within existing code that he's bending over backwards to rewrite code for Brewerytown Square. Another interesting footnote to this nugget is that the new district has no height limit. Huh.

    Planning Commission has recommended tabling the bills until more discussion with the community -- the community led by Al Alston's African American Business & Residents Association, which is no fan of B'town Square, mind you -- can be held.

    The bills are to be voted on at Council on February 7.

    [Bill 060901 (via Hallwatch)]
    [Bill 060902 (via Hallwatch)]
    [Brewerytown Square]

  2. COMCAST CONCRETE COUNTDOWN: You may have noticed from our construction progress section -- or from as far away as the Delaware Memorial Bridges and way out Route 3 in Newtown Square for that matter -- that Comcast Center's concrete core is waaaay the hell up there. The guys at Madison Concrete have one more floor to go, and a couple more wall pours to go, and that's all she wrote. That's scheduled to happen the week after next, and we plan on being there to bring you the good news. After that happens, the hoists will be removed piece by piece by the crane, and the steel will take over and climb 99 feet above that. After that, glass. After that, a big celebration marking the opening of the tallest building in Pennsylvania.

  3. CITY HALL, NAKED AND LOVING IT: It's looking good without all that shaft scaffolding, innit? We think so, and we think it's about time people with money do, too. To point: Tom Knox's mayoral ads are already all over the airwaves -- god bless 'im for putting his money where his mouth is -- but City Hall in the background's got the ugly scaffolding on it. As do just about all the kondo krazay web sites that were built at the peak of the kondo kraziness (hi, Residences at the Ritz).

    Anyway, here's hoping YOU like our French Second Empire civic sanctuary, cos next week is unofficially City Hall Week on da Skyline. More details to come, bet on it. And while you're placing your wager . . .

  4. COP A COUPLE POWERBALLS: ATTENTION EVERYONE EXCITED THAT SLOTS ARE COMING TO THE RIVERFRONT, the Powerball is now estimated at $205M, so go spend a lot of money on tickets -- you're sure to win! Do it do it do it! [Powerball.com.]

  5. ASYLUM, NO "THE": Congratulations, G-Ho, your newest bar is called Asylum. Opening five weeks from now, John and the guys' Asylum takes its handle from the original name of the historical space currently occupied by Toll Bros' development, the US Naval Asylum. The bar is at Grays Ferry and Catherine, and is expected to open in late February.

    (And on a completely unrelated note, the choice of Eminem to represent "asylum" above is not without significance. We'll elaborate more when the time is right, but think "photos" and "compare/contrast" and "Motown/Philly" and "really soon.")

  6. A SOCCER IS BORN EVERY MINUTE: Hey soccer fans (all eight of you), David Beckham is coming to America! (And when I say the boy has his own money, I mean THE BOY HAS HIS OWN MONEY.) Yes indeedy, like the great Pele experiment of the 70s, this is sure to sweep hundreds of Americans off of their feet into a futbol frenzy. In fact, ol' Becks and his Spice Wife have the US on such a soccer kick (get it!) that we may bring an MLS team to Philadelphia, no, Glassboro, no, surely somewhere the Delaware Valley who cares. Why not just ask The Eagles? I'm sure Jeffrey Lurie would be interested in sharing The Linc's ramps grass with a full time soccer team! Sounds kinda similar to the major event happening in DC this summer, when the MLS All Stars face off with Mexico's Primera Division at RFK Stadium . . . scheduled for the same time the Nationals have a home series. OOPS.

    But seriously, folks. You can read all about how the Philly Glassboro MLS idea went kaput and all other soccer news HERE. Let's go Phillies!

  7. YANKIN' FOR THE WEEKEND: To take this one home, we're gonna step out into the clubs of 13 years ago for the black, female equivalent of Hall & Oates, the lovely ladies of Zhane, who like Daryl & John, hooked up while hittin' the books at Temple. "Hey DJ" was a tough peak for them to top, but it's still a club classic, and they're still Philly's girls no matter where they are now. It's Friday night and the weekend's here, I need to unwind. WORD.
Have a good weekend and getcha Quaker hat ready for next week.

–B Love

18 January 07: This just in: SNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW!

–B Love

18 January 07: Central Park South Philly?

It's nighttime in the big city. The scene is the Hawthorne Cultural Center at 12th & Carpenter, across the street from the nearly block long wicked mural-mosaic on the ground floor of that huge building on Carpenter. The Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition has neatly assembled a cast of players black and white, collars white and blue, and heavy opinions to and fro. This community zoning meeting was held to gauge response to a developers' proposal of how to build on the sad empty lot at Broad & Washington used one month a year for Cirque du Soleil. And a response they did gauge.

A quick note: yesterday's rumor was WRONG, it was FALSE. The developer is not Mr David Grasso. The correction is below, in this collection of facts as they exist.

  • LOCATION: The entire block between 13th & Broad, Carpenter & Washington, as well as the corner lot at the northeast corner of 13th & Washington.

  • NAME: There is not yet a name for the project.

  • DEVELOPER: Rimas Properties, who developed the handsome 1352 Lofts on the other side of the Hawthorne neighborhood, on South just off Broad, next to the Arts Bank.

  • ARCHITECT: Guy Gindhart designed the preliminary drawings revealed at the presentation to represent massing and concept. Once the project is further along, a 'higher end' architect will be hired.

  • CONCEPT: A mixed use project based on the concept of Time Warner Center in New York -- a 6-12 story base that encompasses the entire block with two towers rising from the base. The base features a shopping mall on the first three floors with a large public atrium in the center, offices on the floors above it, and the towers are strictly residential, 1100 units total. The top of the base will be a courtyard terrace accessible by residents of the towers. The sum area of the retail, office and residential space is 2.3M sq ft.

  • TOWERS: Two of them, 53 stories each, approximated at 657'. That's taller than the Blue Cross Tower (625') and taller than The St James (498'), a comparable building in terms of location and prominence in its area.

  • STREET LEVEL: Viewed from above, the block resembles a postal stamp in that the four corners have rounded bites taken out of them. The largest of these is the focal point of the project, at Broad and Washington, the ceremonious southern anchor to the Avenue of the Arts, one block from the subway. Not unlike the Shops at Liberty Place, there would be street entrances to shops on the ground floor, and the sidewalks would be spacious enough along Broad and Washington to accommodate tables for cafes and restaurants.

  • MALL: The retail space would start with larger tenants like Barnes & Noble and Cheesecake Factory, contain boutiques such as Burberry and Hugo Boss and be filled out by smaller tenants such as cafes and newsstands.

  • CARS CARS CARS: 1500 parking spaces for the residences (and presumably their guests?) would be within the main massing, with entry on Carpenter St and dropoff points at Broad & Carpenter and along 13th St. Across 13th Street, another standalone garage, 12 stories tall (slightly taller than the existing U-Haul structure next door), would accommodate 1100 more cars for the mall and offices for 2600 total cars. A pedestrian bridge would go from the standalone garage across 13th Street into the mall.

    Conceptually speaking, the attendees of the meeting were, to put it mildly, extremely opposed to the project. Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition should be commended for running the meeting in an orderly fashion, and that old dude in the yellow sweater should get Zsa Zsa'd for frequently speaking out of turn and audibly sighing and muttering under his breath like Al Gore in the 2000 debates. I thought for a moment he was actually going to say the words not in my back yard when he bellowed that rezoning this site would lead to rezoning everywhere in the neighborhood, including at his home next to the strip mall at 11th, to which the developers' lawyer snapped back "yes and I'm sure you'd find a way to block that." ZING! (The lawyer also tersely asked to the room at large, into the microphone, "is something funny?" when he heard someone giggling.) But for annoying as Yellow Sweater (who, by the way, admitted after the meeting that he was new to the neighborhood) was, he and his fellow detractors raised some valid points.

    Like, for example, that Broad & Washington is not exactly Columbus Circle, and that Central Park isn't across the street from the project. As with so many Philadelphia neighborhood meetings, "it's too tall" was the prominent sentiment among the crowd (remember, the meeting was being advertised using the hated Barnes Tower as an example), even more so here than parking and traffic concerns. For as pro-smart-development as Philly Skyline is, we kinda agree; 53 stories is pretty freaking out of scale for Broad & Washington. One lady made the point that the MLK towers were torn down to reduce the density of the neighborhood, and a project of this magnitude would swing it back up. She agreed with Yellow Sweater that the tallest buildings in the immediate area -- Marine Club and the Lofts at Bella Vista -- shouldn't be exceeded in height.

    Developer Sam Rimas said part of the concept of building this type of shopping at Broad and Washington was to keep some of the people otherwise driving to King of Prussia and South Columbus Blvd closer to home, to which another lady suggested that "this is a residential neighborhood, and the project, for as nice as it looks, is better suited for Center City."

    There's a vacant lot at 8th & Market that this would be absolutely perfect for. Rimas' development at 1352 South is ideal for its locale, the perfect scale with a good design (by Granary Associates, who is usually known for its hospitals). Who knows, maybe the point of this meeting was to overshoot a reasonable concept and face the opposition until a compromise is reached at the point they really have in mind, perhaps the same idea only with a shorter podium (let's say six stories) and shorter towers (let's say 20).

    Broad and Washington is begging for something grand. This is grand. It's just . . . maybe too grand. Rimas' people said they want to work with Paul Levy and the Center City District to build the right project. Not that we can speak for Levy's people, but we're guessing he'd agree.

    –B Love

  • 18 January 07: Gap tooth neon Philly Skyline Philly Skyline

    The view from one of my favorite places, on top of the Ho (Graduate Hospital garage, 17/South), yielded this cold-night-navy-blue-sky photo last night en route to the Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition's zoning meeting on the conceptual for Broad & Washington. Details on that are being assembled as we speak.

    Click the above to enlarge and get the full scope of how bad One Liberty Place's crown lights look when it's missing not one, not two, but three bars of neon. Apparently these types of situations will be resolved when the lighting goes LED within the next two years, as the Inquirer's Julie Stoiber reported a couple weeks ago.

    Back shortly.

    –B Love

    17 January 07: Humps in a hurry

    Sunny and 29 . . . this is more like it. It's a good looking Hump Day afternoon so we're gonna rapid fire this Ben Franklin Birthday Umpdate and head out into the great outdoors.
    1. HOW HIGH IN HAWTHORNE? We find out tonight. The Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition, the civic association for the small neighborhood formerly home to the MLK projects (between Bella Vista, G-Ho, the Gayborhood and P-Square), is holding a zoning meeting tonight to weigh the merits of a proposed mixed use project on Washington Ave between 13th & Broad. You might remember this parcel from such Cirque du Soleil performances as Quidam and Delirium. The mixed use project? Two 48 story towers that, rumor has it, are placed on the table by David Grasso, the in-vogue developer who not only has 1601 Vine coming down the line, but who has huge investments on Washington, in his Lofts at Bella Vista (what up B-West) and the House of Blues idea proposed for 16th & Wash. Stay tuned . . .

    2. NAME THAT GRAY BAR YELLOW BAR? If you live in Naval Square or ride the 12 bus or keep up with our friends at The Illadelph, you know that something's going on at Grays Ferry & Catherine, the formerly yellow bar formerly occupied by Pandora's Box. John McHugh and crew have been putting in late hours readying it for a winter/spring opening, and they've asked the G-Ho community what it should be called, and tonight we find out. The four finalists -- Asylum, Yellow Bar, Periscope, and Dexter's -- will be entered into hat and ceremoniously drawn at the Sidecar tonight at 9:30. We're pulling for Yellow Bar because, in spite of a general disdain for irony, we kinda like the idea of hanging out in a gray bar called Yellow Bar. Asylum and Periscope pay homage to the old Naval Home and Dexter is a tug on nostalgia for a horse (or was it a mule?) dear to the neighborhood, but c'mon: Yellow Bar just sounds great. [Phillyblog.]

    3. MAD PROPS go out to Matt Golas and the gang at Plan Philly on the redesign and launch of the new site. Lookin' good guys, and best of luck.

    4. THE IRON CHEF IS OUT TO LUNCH because his prices are so CRAZY! Yessir, you too can now ingest the most famous sushi this side of the Pacific Schuylkill and it won't slice and dice your wallet. That's right, one Morimoto is now rockin' a lunch time special, and from 11:30-2 Monday-Friday you can dine on a choice of lunches from 'scattered sushi' to tempura for less than thirty bones, and you won't be lying to your friends when you tell them you ate at Morimoto. [morimotorestaurant.com.]

    5. NO LOVE FOR G LOVE? It came outta nowhere, this new "itunes exclusive" G Love record. Except that it's not new at all -- it's a compilation of ten demo tracks he recorded fifteen years ago before he came back to Philly from Boston. The first review at itunes?

      The funny thing is that Anonymous is probably not too far off. That review has been removed, but some other choice reviews from today include these nuggets only an English teacher could love . . .
      • true g.love fans should be freeking out over this! dont start talkin about smtn till you know the whole story. your sayin its messed up that he recorded this after lemonade!!!!!! what the crap

      • Garrett "G Love" Dutton has outdone himself. I mean the lyrics actually sound like "My baby got SARS." Do not buy

      • I havent herd it but pumas wrock

      • I wouldnt make my own enemy listen to this. Horrible

      • Oh Snap Girl! I know you Did-nt. This is straight zuchini fresh. Put basel on it and you got a baklava cd. magically delicious.
      Ouch. They got some harsh words for my man, but G Love, B Love's got your back. We're gonna send this hump on home and yank on YouTube to take us back to '97.
    –B Love

    17 January 07: Happy Hump Day, B. Free

    An early morning, last minute heads up for ye: it's the big man's 301st birthday (which you already knew from your calendar), so count on lots of Ben Franklin oriented activities and lots of Ralph Archbold today. An unusual but interesting approach is being sponsored by Bartram's Garden -- it's called Franklin and Bioethics and is being hosted by Dr. Arthur Caplan from Penn, from 9:30 to 10:45 at Franklin Hall, 427 Chestnut. Then after the seminar, there is a procession to Franklin's grave at Christ Church Burial Ground for a wreath laying. It's all free, so go dig it and tell 'em a Franklin fan sent you.

    While you're in the Franklin spirit, why not stop in at the crazy 70s underground Franklin Court, Market Street between 3rd & 4th. It's within this courtyard that you'll find what is sadly the most recognizable local structure by local-based, world-renowned architects Venturi Scott Brown, the Franklin Ghost House. (It's sad that a touristy skeletal structure is VSB's biggest hometown attraction, not that they designed it. It's a fine ghost house if ever there was one.) The neon freakout room is always a hit, too.

    Anyhow, do your duty and spend a Benjamin today. And if you like, click the image above for today's Philly Skyline Philly Skyline. (The larger image doesn't feature Ben, although we could retrofit if there's a demand for it.) It's a wide angle shot looking through the futbol goal posts in the outfield at Taney field. Where that purple and yellow playground on the other side of the outfield stands now is roughly where Penn's planned pedestrian bridge from Locust Walk will touch down. Which reminds me, we're doin' a whole big thang about Penn's master plan we hope to have live in the next couple weeks.

    Back more in a few with an Umpdate.

    –B Love

    15 January 07: Of the civil and of the civic

    Way outta leftfield on this one, gotta admit. When we should have been doing a whole lot of other things over the weekend, we went and put together this collection of RBM photos taken over the past month. They're basically the ones that aren't part of a larger photo essay, the filler between two dedicated releases. Y'know, an EP. Check it out if you like.

    * * *

    It's Monday, the dawn of a big week on da skyline. The South Street Bridge will at long last reveal itself online (more so than we've already covered, that is). The Philly Skyline interview will makes its debut this week under the heading Good People. ("John Q Interview? Oh, he's Good People.") Some observations heading that direction . . .

    1. THE END OF FOOTBALL SPELLS THE BEGINNING OF PHILLIES FEVER: We got nothin' to say about that Eagles game that hasn't been said. Punting with less than two minutes left? Shawn Andrews going down and the announcers doing nothing to let us know? That bleached blonde chick in that t-shirt? Ehh, whatever. Here's hoping the Saints can finish out the year's comeback story while Reggie Bush's ears continue to ring from that Sheldon Brown wallop. Yowza.

      More importantly, it's time to focus on the Phillies and the return of competent baseball to Philadelphia. Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater in a mere 30 days, and we're already geared up with our season tickets (Plan C, 1st row, arcade level, holla). We are definitely loving the way the team looks heading into February. Pat Gillick's built up quite a bit of leverage with an extra starter and about 8,000 reserves. Something's got to give, and the way we see it, a blockbuster trade is gonna rid the Phils of major baggage (Lieber) and land us a huge bat. LEZ DO EHT.

    2. PHILLY.COM COMPLAINTS DU JOUR: Gee whiz, guys. As if the "Cops oblige man yelling 'Kill me!'" headline wasn't inappropriate enough, the story came with not only a Flash ad, but a Flash ad with sound that you couldn't turn off. And, apparently for Martin Luther King Day, a choir of black gospel singers belted out "Phil - a - delphi - a" as backing to a song by a Justin Guarini looking fellow about cars for sale in Philly. Brian Tierney, if you're reading this, when you launch the all new philly.com, could you please do away with the Flash ads, be they popup or be they songs you can't turn off? You're a marketing guy -- listen to the people: we don't like this stuff.

    3. STARCHITECTS ON THE LOCAL STAGE: Somehow, this one slipped under the radar. A month ago today in the Philadelphia Business Joural, Piper Lowell ran a piece profiling a handful of players involved behind the face of the changing Philly Skyline, heavy on the Bob Stern (Comcast Center, 10 Rittenhouse, Navy Yard). [PBJ.]

    4. THE CALENDAR BLOWOUT, EVERYTHING MUST GO! This is it, people. Act now or forever regret not purchasing the first ever Philly Skyline calendar. The online ones are all sold out, but there are four left at Conspiracy Showroom (910 N 2nd St, NoLibs, across the street from North Bowl) for the low low price of $7.50 -- that's half off, yo. Buy yourself or your girlfriends a sweater or some earrings while you're at it.

    That'll do for me today, so I'm going to turn it over to Nathaniel Popkin, one of our favorite contributors here at Philly Skyline. A man of our own taste, he loves Philadelphia so much that he's mad, mad enough to have written a book about it. Most recently, his commentary on the Mummers was in last Tuesday's Inquirer.

    Here, Nathaniel prefaces what will be a recurring feature appropriately with his thoughts on the city's urbanistic opportunity.

    –B Love


    That potential — doesn't it still drive us crazy?

    We possess, after all, the prototype American urban form, that is the brick row (commercial or residential) built at moderate scale strung along workaday streets, copied ad naseum in every city besides New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, in every small town from Gettysburg to Richmond, from St. Louis to every two-block-long main street clear across the continent. Let us not forget: these are our squares (and not those of New York), our street names, our grid, our brick patterns, our mullions and tie-backs, our finials and eaves, our cornices and flat roofs and factories (not to mention the actual products of the mills and shops: the iron-work, trolley cars, furniture, etc.) in nearly every inch of the frontier.

    Now one can say it's Los Angeles that since 1950 has taken this claim away from us (and Chicago due to its earlier influence on the upper Midwest). It's Los Angeles that Las Vegas and Charlotte and Atlanta and Houston happily emulate and indeed have together forged the empty American corporate vernacular and all the associated forms of the freeway.

    Which leaves us to our deeply flawed, unjust, ugly, impoverished city, and the vague instinct despite all that to think of it as somehow less American than those other, newer places, and therefore as a representation of our own kind of European dream. This way of thinking, I suspect, is a product of thirty years of GOP marketing and fifty years of suburb-building, which has institutionalized the psychological bias against civic life and a true disdain for things cultured. While nowadays we might have more Vespas running our narrow streets than any place west of Bordeaux, we aren't and never will be as singularly urbane as a European capital. Our streets are and always have been (painfully) self-governing, efficient, practical, and dressed for optimum practical benefit. Our only parade ground came as an afterthought and was built in miniature.

    Yet when I ponder the dimensions of our potential I am drawn to ideas with vaguely European — or international — heritage, the things which build upon our scale and density and intimacy; things which emulate the physical amenities of Paris or Stockholm or Istanbul; things designed to allow us to reflect on and celebrate our urbanism — and to consume it, as a particular flavor on a menu of charming and engaging places. This is the case, in part, because in so many of those cities the production of culture has so thoroughly replaced past industry, the streets themselves cleaned and rearranged to allow for the best and most authentic, and now, too, most fun experience. Witness the new Parisian "beaches" along the banks of the Seine. Philadelphia must — mustn't it? — join this whoring. Mustn't it?

    It's too late too late to ask the question. Many, but no where near all (of even the most important) of our monuments are lit at night, which gives the effect, when one is out at night playing, of living in endless time. Our quay is open, popular, expanding. Kayakers, for goodness sake, paddle the Schuylkill; and there's the right bank tourist clipper, the city toilet, the designs for the Parkway, the sidewalk cafes (1,040 tables in Center City alone), the new landscape of Independence Mall, the expansion of several cultural institutions, the plan for PMA, Penn's eastward plan . . . all of these things make Philadelphia a lovelier and more engaging commodity. Some of them, too, reflect institutional choices to marry survival to an almost religious belief in the urban way.

    But what really is our potential here? We are a deeply impoverished city without the support of European (or Asian) tax and government structures, nor the EU's bias (and huge budget for) cultural economic development. Last week, the recently-lauded PHA (I'm holding my tongue) laid off 350 workers and slashed maintenance and security at its sites because the Bush administration slashed HUD's funding (to 75% of its allocation); Septa, so crucial to the urban way, is borrowing from its capital budget to operate the system; guns are passed (as sticks and crow bars had been) among the kids who run our streets and so more than one of us dies as a result every day of the year. In this context it seems laughable to hooray million-dollar condos while pondering the philosophical implications of the Barnes' move to the Parkway. And yet we must. It's what we have to build on, what, in the best of all possible worlds, gives us power to overcome the inertia of the last fifty years. Our iconoclastic, utilitarian American urbanism — melded to 400 years of vital human ambition — which so successfully ascribes that particular national demand for a single home for each family to a true urban density demands us to keep finding new life for it — lest red state proclivities come to dominate the urban spirit of the 21st century; lest Philadelphia earn a seat next to Detroit and New Orleans.

    Now we must — before more irreversible mistakes are made in the name of political pragmatism, inertia, corruption, and fear; before another opportunity is missed (there have been an infinite stream of these little mistakes, some of which preclude certain streets and neighborhoods from ever becoming interesting places).

    Might we lose our soul? Our native son Adam Gopnik recently posited that this process had already taken place in Manhattan, a place, he says, now without an edgy frontier. I'd say it would take an economic or political explosion to cause such a change in Philadelphia; we ought to fear more a timid and tired response to inertia. We ought to fear more our own proclivity to accept the barely tolerable.

    In that mindset, I would remind us all of Spain, a country strangled for forty years by Franco, stifled politically, economically, and culturally. Only in the 1990s did its cities begin to show signs of life. Even then the villages languished. Now Spain in all of Europe exhibits the most progressive and interesting urbanism, a daring contemporary vernacular architecture which seems to support, not detract from, the traditional form and patterns of life, most notably in marketplaces in Seville and Barcelona. The most conservative place on the continent has taught itself to embrace the daring and the daring, it turns out, is transforming how a people think about themselves and the world.

    My intention, then, is to help Philadelphia be daring — in big and little ways — to support the expansion of the center (as an idea, as a place), connections among places and neighborhoods, as a place of possibility. We, the readers of Philly Skyline, clearly the best informed, with the most insight, aspire for our city something that right now it isn't quite. But we see the potential, maybe now more clearly than ever.

    –Nathaniel Popkin