Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fergie's Tower

Remember the Fergie Tower? U3 Venture's 30 story tower of Fergie, former member of Kids Incorporated and Wild Orchid? 

Just kidding. 

The Fergie Tower was/is a proposed apartment tower on Walnut Street between 12th and 13th, currently an EZ Lot that surrounds Fergie's Pub.

Goldenberg Group recently purchased the lot from U3 Ventures and plans to move forward with 300 apartments in a $100M project partnering with Houston-based Hines.

At 26 floors, the tower is ambitious, particularly east of Broad. Although it's not unheard of. The St. James on Washington Square is 45 stories with even more units. 

Between NREA's East Market under demolition/construction on the Girard Trust Block, Stantec's MIC Tower behind Lit Brothers, and Chinatown's potential Eastern Tower, things may soon be looking up in the eastern part of Center City.

And why not? Market East is finally offering the shopping it should, Midtown Village is proving itself an entertainment destination for everyone: People want to live in Center City.

Let's just hope Goldenberg doesn't mess with Fergie's classic Irish pub.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

City Hall Employees: You can walk a few blocks

Councilman Jim Kenney, the one member of Philadelphia City Council that the city doesn't unilaterally hate, has found yet another way to get on our good side. 

Remember the recent buzz about the growing number of cars parked atop City Hall's "apron," the concrete plaza surrounding the building?

Kenny has introduced a bill that would ban apron parking with very few exceptions.

Potential Renovations Coming in the New Year

With the successful arrival of Century 21, you might have expected The Gallery at Market East to roll out the holiday cheer. But with the exception of a thermostat set to "summer in Miami," it might as well be an April Wednesday in the halls of the beleaguered mall. 

No decorations, no Santa, the same classical Muzak. It's just not Christmas on Market East.

Well the Daily News has the reason. PREIT has asked kiosk vendors to vacate the Gallery 1 by the end of the year. The potential renovation is likely good news for shoppers. But some retailers are unhappy. It's not guaranteed that all vendors will be asked to return, and some are speculating that PREIT may not want some back.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

West Philadelphia is doing just fine, thanks

What do we do with the old West Philadelphia High School? It's inarguably a beautiful building. Built in the early 1910s, it was part of a movement to deliver better education to America's growing cities. With stone carvings, concrete castings, mosaic tiles, many of these schools throughout the northeast echoed prestigious institutions of higher learning like the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton.

Later waves of educational investment are reflected in the Art Deco architecture of the 1930s and 40s.

But feats of architectural innovation, particularly aging ones, don't translate well in the modern world. The old West Philadelphia High School is massive, riddled with asbestos, and functionally out of date. Following the construction of its replacement, the old school has sat vacant with occasional interest in converting it into apartments, condos, dorms, or entertainment venues. 

One option may be to reopen it to education. But one company recently showed the school's neighbors exactly how to not make that happen: By being complete ass holes.

Pansophic Learning, a Virginia-based K-12 school system, has proposed leasing 90,000 square feet of the building from Strong Place Partners, who intend to convert the rest into apartments. Pansophic wants to provide the neighborhood with the Philadelphia Music and Dance Charter School. As fine as that sounds, they didn't just pitch the idea in the worst way possible, their methodology is perhaps the worst technique for training music and dance: distance learning. 

Pansophic bills itself as an "International Education Company." The word "company" is the first red flag. Commercial education belongs in the realm of undergraduate alternatives: Strayer, ECPI, ITT, DeVry. These organizations aren't useless when it comes to certification programs and business education. But they are second to the educational opportunities found in traditional four year colleges. And they do not belong in K-12.

So why exactly is Pansophic so bad? Well, besides their complete lack of engagement and understanding of the community (which I'll get to in a moment), Pansophic's goal is to deliver education to nations and communities without proper educational resources, in many cases, developing nations. When you're attending a school without basic plumbing and you have no other alternatives - say a brand new high school a block away - Skyping with a teacher in McLean, VA is a step up. But it's hard enough to learn English Literature in a classroom when you're twenty, imagine learning music and dance from a laptop when you're twelve.

Still, the methodology of this corporate school might not be its worst trait. That would be left to either its arrogance or complete cluelessness when it comes to addressing the neighborhood it fancies gracing. Pansophic referred to it as "this blighted part of western University City," claiming its school will "greatly support the resurgence of the community."

Do they mean the community that has been in resurgence for the last decade with improved affordable housing, transit, and a brand new public high school? Are they blinding peddling the canned sales pitch they've used around the globe? Or do they view the "blighted" neighbors as naive enough to spend their hard-earned paychecks on a piss-poor education? 

Maybe they're just one of thousands of companies around the nation that haven't gotten the memo, "Philadelphia isn't as bad as Philadelphians say it is." Thanks, Pansophic, but we're not a big Detroit, we're a small New York.

Ass Holes!

One thing is for sure, a company run by educators should know the definition of "patronization." 

Philadelphia has teachers, good ones. They're underpaid and overworked, and constantly fighting for the resources to do their jobs well. Do we thank them by outsourcing to virtual teachers from Virginia?

Virginia has one of the best public education systems in the country and some of the highest paid teachers. It's no mystery how Panosphic came to be. They're employing the state's surplus of education degrees in cities struggling with broken systems. But they're not the solution, they're the leach. 

West Philadelphia's community won't benefit from a distance learning system. That system only competes with our state funded teachers and schools, making their jobs even harder. Again, the word  "company" should have been the first red flag when it came to Pansophic because that's exactly what it is. They aren't a "charter school," they're a business, and their business model is to compete with Philadelphia's struggling schools and profit from their demise. 

If they were sending teachers too Philadelphia, teachers who would live in Philadelphia, that would be one thing. But that's not how these schools work. They hire low paid class moderators to maintain the peace while students stare at a somewhat interactive, virtual classroom on their laptops. They're masquerading as the savior of neighborhoods with struggling public schools, but they ran afoul in West Philadelphia because it's succeeding on its own. 

I think it would be great if Strong Place Partners leased 90,000 square feet of its space to an educational organization, but only if that organization was dedicated to education first and profit last. But that is not Pansophic. They just want to run your kids through a treadmill of standardized dynamic teaching methodologies, or some other politely worded translation of "low overhead and high profits."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Swell of Mediocrity

A really old article found its way onto my Facebook feed this morning. Given all the stories about police brutality around the country, it's not surprising that this article resurfaced. But when I saw the headline, I had to read it.

That's a bit of a misnomer. Police departments don't actually administer IQ tests, but the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test which is used in various industries. Although shorter than most IQ tests, Wonderlic's questions do in fact mirror those in IQ tests.

What turned out to read more like an Onion article than judicially enforced fact wasn't just an isolated incident fourteen years ago in one city. It still takes place throughout the country.

The case involved Robert Jordan, a police officer candidate who took New London, CT's cognitive ability test in 1996 and, scoring a 33 out of 50, was rejected for scoring too high. New London only chose to interview candidates who scored in the 20s, and the national average is around 21 or 22.

That gives your average police officer an IQ of about 104, or just at the crest of the Bell Curve. The average IQ is 100.

Makes more sense now, eh?

Jordan sued and lost. The city claimed that "smarter" candidates may get bored, and with the costly training process, eliminating the most intellectual curbs officer turnover. In some respects, that makes sense. After all, corporations routinely ignore qualified candidates for similar reasons.

But the flaw is in the bureaucratic misunderstanding of the Intelligence Quotient. IQ tests, and tests like the Wonderlic, don't assess a test taker's accumulated knowledge or educational accumulation, they test for abstract and deductive reasoning, spatial relations, and an understanding of cause and effect scenarios. 

They test a candidate's intellectual potential

When you understand what intelligence tests assess, or what intelligence actually means, cities should be looking for candidates who score much higher than average considering the complex situations officers often find themselves in.

An "intelligence cap" may curb turnover, but only because cities have been using the cap to maintain a swell smack in the middle of the status quo. If "smart" officers leave, they're leaving out of frustration, not because they're bored. 

Cities aren't rejecting "smarter" candidates. They're rejecting candidates who dynamically understand conflict, reason, and logic. Candidates who can quickly assess a complex situation. Candidates who have the capability of understanding how escalating various scenarios may play out. 

Those are the exact candidates police departments need on the force.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Spruce Parker: Beacon of Hope

As the days grow colder, homelessness in Philadelphia becomes painfully more apparent. Holding doors, peddling their stories - legitimate or not - in exchange for change, sleeping atop steam vents to escape the cold of Fairmount Park and our abandoned underground, winter sweeps in and turns a nuisance into a heartbreaking reality for all but the most cynical pedestrians. 

With the closure of the Spruce Parker Hotel at 13th and Spruce, some former residents have found themselves with nowhere to go at the worst possible time. You don't need to interview homeless men and women to see it. You just need to walk around Washington Square West in the early morning and you'll see those who once called the Parker home, or just an occasional warm bed. 

For all the ills that came with the Parker Hotel, it offered a small reprieve for those we'd rather forget.  Some are drug addicts, some of them prostitutes, but for all the homeless, they have found themselves in a very dark world nearly impossible to escape. 

Conservative estimates state that nearly 40,000 of America's homeless are military veterans. In 2013, according to a HUD survey, there were 440 homeless vets living in Philadelphia with more than 1400 in the Commonwealth. The numbers skyrocket in sun-drenched Los Angeles where "Skid Row" appears on Google Maps as if it were simply the Fashion District. 

In Philadelphia, we have no more answers than Los Angeles, Seattle, or Miami. And whether or not we ever understand every single instance of homelessness, we have the means to give back a little more than the food in the back of your pantry. And it doesn't have to be a solely city or state funded effort. With a little good will and a sense of civic pride, Philadelphia has more than 200 rooms awaiting those in need.

U.S.Vets-Phoenix is converting a hotel in Arizona through donations. For $2000, a company or individual can pay for the renovation of one hotel room to be offered as affordable housing for one of the state's homeless veterans.

The Spruce Parker Hotel has never been a desirable venue. At best it will sit vacant for years. At worst, it will be demolished for a parking lot. Why not solicit donations to convert the place into affordable veteran housing? Similar housing exists in Philadelphia, but largely  to provide a place for those in danger of losing what they have, not those who've already lost. 

With the right campaign, the Parker could provide volunteer counseling, medical care, and security in a sober place for rehabilitation. Sure, it could become dorms, apartments, or condos. But there is plenty of land for profitable development to build from scratch. The Parker exists in tact, and doesn't need to be much more than it already is, not for those who need it. Why not turn something with such a dark and nefarious past into a beacon of something greater? Hope.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Philadelphia's First Velodrome?

Okay, first of all, what's a velodrome? Well it's an arena for bicycle racing.

I have to say, from the Rocky Balboa Run to Yoga on the Steps to Paine's Skatepark, I think it's great that America's once unhealthiest and most obese cities is truly investing in exercise. 

Project 250 has proposed a velodrome for South Philadelphia's Stadium District. But unlike Lincoln Financial Field or Citizens Bank Park, the velodrome wouldn't just be a place to host competitions, it would be a place for cycling enthusiasts to learn and practice. 

Unfortunately its public accessibility has placed it in a realm governed by the city's authority over public spaces, landing it on four acres of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park. 

Common sense puts any new South Philadelphia arena on one of the seemingly endless supply of surface lots surrounding the stadiums and the upcoming Live! Casino. 

If the $100M project happens, Project 250 will convert a four acre parking lot across from FDR Park into additional green space. It's a worthy concession but one that doesn't make a lot of sense. If Project 250's velodrome becomes the World Class venue it aims to become, it will require parking, parking that will likely be provided on its four acre parcel within FDR Park. 

Why not share parking at the asphalt prairies that surround the stadiums, and add one more world class gem to our collection of world class stadiums? The district is growing along with the city, and it's become apparent that we don't understand the difference between static and dynamic parking. 

In a neighborhood that should be thinking vertically, Project 250's velodrome needs to find a place inside the city, not across it. And there is plenty of room on the east side of Broad Street.