Long time readers will remember the long distance skyline contests, in which readers submitted photos of the Philly Skyline from as far as Boyertown and West Chester,
the Pine Barrens and Quakertown. Rob from York emailed recently saying that, on the clearest of clear days and in the event that it's open, the Fire Tower on
top of Mount Penn in Reading provides a dista-vista from about 58 miles.
The picture here is from even farther, about 70 miles, but could be considered cheating since it's from a helicopter. I still haven't figured out how to take a clear,
perfectly focused picture through glass a thousand or more feet in the air, but there it is. I took this from a chopper somewhere over the Turnpike, looking southwest
across half of New Jersey. A special thanks to my pilot for the ride and for being a Philly Skyline fan.
Here are a couple more recent Philly Skyline efforts for your desktop consumption . . .
This last one below is the first photo I've taken of the amazing Love Letter public art project being spearheaded by the Mural Arts Program and artist Steve
Powers (with support from Pew, Septa, Zoe Strauss and lots of others). It began while I was away over the summer and is still being installed, but it's something so
simple to beautify an otherwise not-all-beautiful ride on the el. Kudos to all parties - this might be my favorite thing the MAP has done. Steve Powers' blog is HERE. A nice New York Times article about the project is HERE.
"Open your eyes, I see the sunrise."
Journey to Recover the Future:
Now with photos!
Finally, as promised: a set of photos that help to flesh out Nathaniel's summer travels in Italy -- Turin and Venice, specifically -- and how they inspired him to rethink
Philadelphia. The parallels in Turino are especially eye opening, but it's the non-touristy part of Venice that comes alive as the future of Philadelphia's Navy Yard. It's the
perfect companion imagery to go with the three-part Possible City essay archived just below this post and HERE.
To launch the essay of 30 photos, please click HERE.
The Possible City:
Journey to Recover the Future
Author's note: The subject of this long piece is the interconnectedness of travel and imagining cities. One takes a journey; he also, at the same time, finds a new
route home. I didn't know what was going on Out West when I wrote this, but it is not insignificant that it, too, is about expanding vision. Brad is wise to expand his as far
he can, and likely someday it will to be to all of our benefit. For the time being, I present a different journey, one that, indeed, made me see with great clarity what lies
right at our feet. NRP
Editor's note: It is indeed serendipitous that Popkin's epic essay is travel-oriented; it's also coincidental that he informed me of it before sending it to me -- but
after I already knew my own travels had taken me in a different direction. That's life. On with Popkin and The Possible City . . . RBM
* * *
by Nathaniel Popkin
September 1, 2009
Part 1. Filadelfia
[In Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Marco Polo and Kublai Khan sit in the Emperor's garden. Polo recounts his journeys across Khan's empire.]
Marco enters a city: he sees someone in a square living a life or an instant that could be his; he could now be in that man's place, if he had stopped in time, long ago; or if,
long ago, at a crossroads, instead of taking one road he had taken the opposite one, and after long wandering he had come to be in the place of that man in the square. By now,
from that real or hypothetical past of his, he is excluded; he cannot stop; he must go on to another city, where another of his pasts await him, or something perhaps that had
been a possible future of his and is now someone else's present. Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches.
"Journeys to relive your past?" was Khan's question at this point, a question which could also have been formulated: "Journey's to recover your future?"
When Calvino wrote Le città invisibili in 1972, cities everywhere were in decline. Venice, Polo's home and the book's foil, had long since devolved into a tourist
icon, but the pace of change from perhaps the most brilliant expression of organic urban form to stilted commodity was accelerating. The city was also deeply decayed.
Meanwhile, Calvino faced what seemed like a future world of endless megalopoli -- "a shapeless dust cloud," observes Marco Polo. "Traveling," says Polo to Kublai Khan, "you
realize that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities . . ." The only differences among them, he says, are the names on the map.
The dual vision of decay and merciless expansion prompted Calvino's meditation. He no longer thought the city livable: so many "dead branches" (such evocative phrasing!), so
many possible futures not achieved, opportunities squandered. Can a tree survive with so much dead weight?
While listening to Polo, Kublai Khan begins to worry. To us, however, it sounds like a familiar question, one so often repeated. In the 1790s, when Philadelphia was the
American capital, it was also the financial, intellectual, and culture center of the nation. Many Philadelphians, ignoring the political winds and the desires of the first
President, wanted to keep it that way. They decided to build, at great public expense, a presidential mansion, at 9th & Market Streets. Surely, if we build it, they will stay.
Both Washington and Adams refused to move in. The capital removed to Washington in 1800. Up to 1808, when the city's strong bid to regain the capital was narrowly lost, the
empty mansion -- that early dead branch -- stood as cruel reminder.
It's possible that futures not achieved are simply failures: a subway system invented but never built; a United Nation's headquarters thwarted; a Piccadilly Circus lost to a
traffic circle; a Bicentennial planned and then abandoned; a shipbuilding deal arranged and then badly bungled. We might also see countless urban mistakes as lost
opportunities. The state-sponsored monolith going up right now at Broad and Cherry (and without a green roof) is only one of many at present.
But Calvino reminds us that all cities are inventions, reflections of desire, the product of choices. The city form, therefore, is not inevitable. Inside those choices, inside
even forests of dead branches, there are possibilities. And so like Marco Polo, we take a journey. To relive the city's past? Perhaps. Like William Penn sometime in the
1660s, I come to Turin, in the Italian Piedmont. He saw a walled city of streets carefully laid out to intersect at right angles. During Penn's short stay there, Turin put a
picture of urban order in his mind. For a future city planner, it was powerful antidote to chaotic London and Paris. When I explain this to the owner of Libreria Peyrot, an
antique bookstore in Piazza Savoia, another customer interrupts, "Ah, yes, Turin engineering."
Well I woke up this morning, it was drizzlin' rain, around the curve come a passenger train . . .
Though I grew up here in the Keystone State, the part I called home for my first 24 years was on the western end. Well, central really, but for
Philadelphia's purposes, anything west of King Of Prussia is western Pennsylvania, and my hometown Tyrone is in the larger Pittsburgh-Appalachian media
market, so we all grew up rooting on the Steelers and Penguins and Pirates and not caring much for the Eagles and Flyers and Phillies. Western
Pennsylvanians, especially those who haven't spent much time there, grow up despising Philadelphia as a corrupt, crime ridden, state draining cesspool
that may as well be in New Jersey -- just like Philadelphians grow up thinking everyone in Pennsyltucky is a fiddle playin', bible thumpin' hayseed.
(This is a broad brush, obviously.)
It wasn't until the summer of 2000 that Philadelphia made sense to me. I'd been here a few times before that, but nothing that would make it seem like a
place I'd go for much more than a concert or laser Floyd, let alone actually moving here to live. The summer previous, '99, I rode Greyhound for 30 days,
from Shippensburg to Vancouver and LA and all points between. That same winter, amidst the millennium madness, I rode Amtrak for 30 days, from Tyrone to
the Everglades, out to San Antone and up to Montréal and back, by way of 30th Street Station, which impressed me as the greatest of all train
stations in the US. (I still believe that.) In summer 2000, after college and trying to figure things out, I decided I'd do some more traveling. Memphis,
DC, Chicago, California and the places between that Greyhound and drivers willing to pick up a hitcher would go. And for one week, Philadelphia.
I've written a number of times about how Summer 2000 changed my perspective. In the course of seven days in Philly, I spent time with my unlicensed tour
guide friends Bekka and Susan, Jared and Hethre, Steve and Afee, Angelia and Moira, and especially Mark and Jen, and by extension Derek and Shai and
Kristy and Eve and Doug. I'm still friends with them all. I came to Philly to get out of Tyrone for a little bit, and wound up seeing three concerts at
the E Centre, riding the ferry to get there . . . we visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum and walked Kelly Drive . . . we went to
Atlantic City on a whim, saw the ocean and actually won some money, which at the time I had very little of . . . we had breakfast in Chestnut Hill and
hiked in the Wissahickon . . . we drank at Sugar Mom's and on South Street and went to Turkey Tuesday at Silk City . . . we got cheesesteaks at
Dalessandro's . . . we blazed one and threw an aerobie on the Parkway, interrupting a Little League game in the process and laughing hysterically about
it . . . and we hiked these Center City streets, from the Liberty Bell to Fitler Square, to the top of City Hall, with a respite in Rittenhouse Square
and a recharge at Crimson Moon (RIP).
In Summer 2000, I was in full travel mode. I'd just finished at Shippensburg, where for the last two years there I wrote a travel column. Philadelphia was
one of the many places I'd hit in my travels over the course of 12 traveling months, but it was the one that stuck.
I was travelin' when I met her now I'm travelin' again. (Waylon.)
In summer 2009, I was in full travel mode. I'd just finished publishing a "farewell to version 2 of Philly Skyline, version 3 will launch when I return".
But a funny thing happened on the way to 3.0 . . . I got bit by the bug. (Well several, if you count the fleas from a motel in Nebraska and the mosquitoes
from Yellowstone and Washington state.) Not just the travel bug, but the great big Western Bug. Summer 2009 changed my perspective . . . again.
I swear to Nutter, I didn't set off on my summer road trip to, as a friend called Inga suggested before I left, find a new place to lay my laptop. But
that's kinda sorta really what happened.
Maybe traveling is like riding a bike. The love of it comes back so fast when you're out, and though you love your home dearly, finding a new one on
the way isn't such a dirty thing. When you're Out West, it's easy to fall under the spell of Out West. The longer I was there, the longer I wanted to stay
and see and do and live Out West.
So uh . . . I guess it's with a significant pang of sadness that I'm announcing here that the Philly Skyline Version 3.0 I'd long promised is not going to
happen. My energy and focus have, unintentionally, shifted. This version of the web site will remain as an archive, and there are still a few loose ends
that absolutely must be tied up before I pack my conestoga wagon and hitch up the oxen. Popkin's got something to say about The End, as well. It won't be
the everyday we're used to, but there are a few more posts and features to go before I turn out the lights.
Welp . . . there it is. It's not you, Philadelphia, it's me. Truly. It is what it is and we'll keep on keepin' on with memories of the good times in our
back pockets until we meet again. I'm already looking forward to it.
Robert Bradley Maule
Proud Philadelphian, 2000-2009.