I spend more time downtown than I do in my own neighborhood simply because that's where I work, play and do a lot of business. Over the past few years I've seen Center City change from a place that, in its own way,
reflected the best and worst of Philadelphia, the well-off and the downtrodden, the new and the old into a place that is decidedly reflecting only a vision of the best, the well-off, the new. There's nothing wrong with
that and indeed Center City, up until the past few years, lacked a certain excitement and luster found in the cores of other big cities. However, after last week's Center City District forum at The Union League (an
amazingly *inclusive* choice of venue), it seems that some would rather Center City not display any evidence of the greater city - no rough edges, nothing without gloss - just a sanitized view of the city. I offer that
the sneaker stores and the bistros can co-exist. I offer that big box retail and sidewalk cafes aren't necessarily the magic bullet to enlivening a commercial stretch that has truly had its fortunes tied to the city at
large and like it seen many a great promise evaporate into nothing but a large grassy void.|
No one with Philadelphia's best interests at heart could say that Market East and its environs don't need improvement, major overhaul and The Gallery, being the biggest and most visible symbol of what the area now is, is the most important element. If Chris Rock were a Philadelphian he'd call it "The Mall White People Used To Go To". It seems that much of downtown, which heralded the promise of what The Gallery would bring to Center City, now see it as an embarassment, as a liability, something to deter tourists from and deny the existence of to new Philadelphians. However The Gallery represents a major challenge in the revitalization of Market East - how do you balance the needs of Philadelphians who are accustomed to the mall and make it a destination of their own versus the needs of more well-to-do Philadelphians who by conditioning avoid anything that resembles The Gallery we have today and tourists who expect to find the exact same mall in Center City as they do in any leafy hamlet outside any Beltway in America? It's important for any party taking future action that changes, renews, improves the face of East Market Street to remember that exchanging one profile for another ultimately does not give you what you say you want - a lively, diverse and intriguing streetscape. We already have a 69th Street. We already have a King Of Prussia. Center City would do very well to avoid attempting to imitate either. Center City is the nucleus of the region and should reflect that stature.
The Gallery is in the middle of it all so why don't we take a quick peek at what the fuss is all about?