Thursday, October 8, 2015

Our American Horror Stories

Ryan Murphy's fifth installment of his American Horror Stories, Hotel premiered last night and Vanity Fair writer Richard Lawson summed it up with one perfect word: "trash." He even went as far as to call the (some might say) wildly popular FX anthology "exhausting." Lawson's assessment is spot on, and agreeing with those opinions aren't winning me any favors with my friends, especially gay ones who - like Ryan Murphy - have an affinity for forgotten divas, saturated camp, and anything just north of a senseless spectacle. 

I get it, Murphy. Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates really know how to lay on the theatrics. Only this season, Lange didn't return, opting for something more theatrical...actual theater. In her place, at least in terms of AHS's punch-factor goes, is Lady Gaga. Does Murphy knows his audience or what? 

But Hotel, like every season of AHS since the unnamed and unceremoniously concluded "Murder House," is a train-wreck, one that might be a bit better if it were actually about a train wreck. From its creepy pair of twins to its whacky floor patterns, Murphy borrows heavily from Stanley Kubric's telling of Stephen King's The Shining. That wasn't unexpected given this season's premise. 

On the surface, Murphy's lavish sets, gruesome special effects, and heavily developed characters might seem better suited for film than television. After all, each season is a semi-unique story that screens more like a long movie than a cable television show, and the visuals are on par with anything Baz Luhrmann has brought to the big screen. But digging deeper, each season borrows so heavily from 70s and 80s era horror classics the only unique thing Murphy provides is his overindulgence. 

Since "Murder House," each season has been a loosely tethered series of horrific vignettes, like a Nine Inch Nails video that just won't end. And even that idea is borrowed from the more unique, and often more subtle David Lynch. But Lynch's awkwardly juxtaposed productions tow the line between film and photography, and are sometimes deliberately confusing. Like a night terror, David Lynch stimulates a feeling of dread with his unusual pairings of music, imagery, even laugh tracks, and in the end his less cynical audience is left wondering why they're stuck with a horrific feeling they can't shake. 

Murphy on the other hand exploits the visuals of the more traditional nightmare, and through CGI and pop culture icons, gives a less attuned audience exactly what they want, something they'll quickly forget at the end of each season as they wait in anticipation for his next installment. His audience has become immune to the spectacle like a spoiled kid on Christmas, asking for more because they want more divas, more blood, and more camp; unable to internalize, even unwilling to understand what's in front of them.

I know I sound like a cinema snob, but good writing and direction isn't the same thing as a television show that sells. Just look at how long Two and a Half Men was on the air, and just look at how quickly Twin Peaks was cancelled. But Murphy's technique, his kitschy bait, his lo-fi filter is what makes television his perfect medium. It's hard to imagine AHS even succeeding as a Hulu or Netflix original. Even the crappiest online originals like Hemlock Grove possess an ounce of subtlety and the right kind of humor that makes them binge-watch-worthy. It was hard enough to get through sixty minutes of Hotel, imagine investing a whole afternoon in something so senselessly intense. 

But Murphy does have his talents. Scream Queens is exactly what it promised to be, and perhaps what Murphy should be investing his time in. But he can also write good television. I keep excusing "Murder House" for a reason. When FX green-lit American Horror Story, the series was designed to center around one house, its living residents, dead inhabitants, and a few in between. It was the classic, if over-told haunted house story, and Murphy's campy spin on the traditional haunted house was exactly what this one needed.

Throughout the first season, his characters were meticulously defined, story arcs were spun off in all directions, and any architecture geek would have a hard time not becoming obsessed with that creepily beautiful Los Angeles mansion. But Murphy quickly grew bored - as he has a reputation for doing - and potential story arcs began to be abandoned or carelessly wrapped up. With just a few weeks before the season finale, fans began wondering what the hell was going on, hoping Murphy had something spectacular in store for us.

Then FX announced that "Murder House" would be ending and a new AHS would be relaunched the following season. With just a few episodes left, it seemed impossible for Murphy to wrap up all his loose ends. He never did. And instead of even trying - SPOILER ALERT - he killed off every last resident of "Murder House" and turned the season finale into a camp filled 70s era horror movie that could have been entitled House V.

That's not to say the finale was bad in isolation, at least in terms of the House franchise. It was fun, like Home Alone meets a boardwalk funhouse. But it was completely out of character for the "Murder House" Murphy had seemingly crafted. Did he truly craft anything? Did he have a plan for these loose ends? Or is he just good at setting up the fireworks, incapable of lighting the fuse? Given the seasons that followed, we'll never know. 

The season finale of "Murder House" was a one-off episode loosely tied to prior episodes, a haphazard suture at best. Essentially, he burned his first fans to grab a few more, and to stroke his own ego.


For fans of the artistically macabre, we've been waiting for a long time. Many of us remember that fateful evening in 1990 when David Lynch and Mark Frost brought ABC something that had never been seen on television. In its own way, Twin Peaks was Lynch's take on murder mysteries, soap operas, and small town drama. But unlike AHS, Peaks wasn't rehashing telltale horror that had been exhausted by Tales from the Crypt

It was truly inventive, incomparable to anything anyone had ever seen before, even Lynch fans. It made a lot of people uncomfortable, but also drew in fiercely loyal fans who spent the next 25 years begging David Lynch to tell us what happened in the Black Lodge. In 1992, David Lynch took us more than two decades into the future, with Laura Palmer promising we'd see her again.

For 25 years, David Lynch and Mark Frost steadfastly denied any desire to return to the small northwestern town of Twin Peaks. And then, 25 years after Laura's promise, dual Tweets from Lynch and Frost announced that the gum we like "is about to come back in style." 

While the quote obviously makes no sense to anyone who has never seen Twin Peaks, and still probably doesn't make sense to quite a few fans, Lynch once again displayed a unique way to artistically bridge mediums, this time between television and the Twittersphere. When Season 3 airs on Showtime in 2017, Twin Peaks will have had the longest ever true hiatus. Unlike reboots, or movies like Carrie that picked up long after their original run, Twin Peaks will return with much of its cast in tact, and in real time, more than two decades later. 

When Laura Palmer promised we'd see her again, we didn't have online petitions to save television shows or Netflix to cheaply pick up where directors left off. We were resigned to our imaginations. But some hoped, perhaps in retrospect, that David Lynch was up to something inventive. And perhaps he was. In the last two years, Lynch has created an entirely new art form, one that enlisted the fans and the stars and brought us together through Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to draw us all back into the town we came to love so much. 

That, my friends, is art. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Mystery of the Round Door Rolls

Few things pull me away from architecture, development, and politics, particularly where Philadelphia is concerned. But if you regularly read Philly Bricks, you know one thing that can tear me away is a fine ass automobile.

It's actually kind of ironic. Even though my dad was a mechanic and I grew up in a house full of spare engine parts, I landed in an insanely walkable city and don't own a car. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate engineering, design, and panache. 

If you've never heard of the Round Door Rolls, just take a look...

I challenge any architecture geek to question that this work of art is not a worthy topic of discussion. 

This one-of-a-kind 1925 Rolls Royce, formally known as the Phantom 1 Jonckheere Coupe, is an unrivaled piece of automotive history. But that history is also as bizarre and unique as the car's appearance. 

In 1925, most automobiles still looked like the horseless carriages that they were. At best, stock models looked like small boxy rail cars. The sportiest looked like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang without the wings. 

But for the elite, particularly throughout the Gilded Age of the 1920s, cars were much more than they are today, especially for the 21st Century's wealthiest. 

Today, a bespoke Rolls Royce will get you custom finishes, leather, and chrome. But in the 1920s, bespoke engineering meant something else and it would get you an entirely unique car. The 1925 Phantom 1 was a fine automobile, and plenty of industrialists enjoyed it on its own. But Rolls Royce offered its refined chassis to be redesigned for for a select few. And the Round Door Rolls is inarguably its most unique incarnation. 

The Round Door Rolls began its life as an original Phantom sold to a couple in Detroit, but the couple backed out and it never left England. After that it was shipped to the Raja of Nanpara where it was entrusted to the Belgian coach builder, Jonckheere Carrossiers. This is where the Round Door Rolls became what it is today.

In addition to a new streamlined body, the engine and transmission were swapped out for more power capable of more than 100 miles per hour. 

But like all good Cinderella stories, the Round Door Rolls was never fully appreciated in its time. It continued to change hands throughout the 1940s and 50s until its beat down carcass was finally bought by an American, Max Obie, who covered in six pounds of gold paint and used it in a traveling show. 

In 1991, the Round Door Rolls resurfaced in an international auction where it was bought by an unnamed Japanese collector who put it in storage until it was purchased again by the esteemed Peterson Museum in Los Angeles.

The Round Door Rolls was restored to its former glory, and in 2005 entered into the Concours d' Elegance, a premier auto show for only the best of the best. But because of its unscrupulous past, and namely its long lost documentation, it could never, and will never be named Best in Show. 


Take one more look. This is a piece of art - and history - that deserves and exception.

Philadelphia Magazine: Clueless of Devilish?

Philadelphia Magazine has managed to put itself back into the press again, and not surprisingly, it's once again over its apparent cluelessness when it comes to race. This time the controversy surrounds a recent cover story which, benign enough in its content, was not so in its accompanying cover photo. The photo assigned to "A City Parent's Guide to Schools" showed seven adorable munchkins who looked like they were waiting for the school bus in Eugene, OR, not Philadelphia, or the east coast city for that matter. 

It's hard to tell if the powers behind Philadelphia Magazine are completely clueless or devilishly inventive. The latter wouldn't be unheard of. After all, Philadelphia is home to Urban Outfitters, a company that has managed to capitalistically turn bad press into a science. It's equally hard to imagine how this photograph made it to press without a single word from one employee. 

But the magazine that once published a cover story titled "Being White in Philly'," a story that lived up to the veiled racism you'd expect from the headline, has learned how to spin bad press. After the backlash that followed "Being White...," the magazine ran an editorial of its own story, "Why I Hope You Won't Read 'Being White in Philly'."

At the time I thought it seemed odd that a magazine would run a lengthy op-ed criticizing its own work. I chalked it up to poor form that could have been summarized by an editorial apology. Steven Volk's counter-point was a well-worded critique of a story that should have never been run, and it boosted a bit of the magazine's then-tarnished reputation. But Volk's words were his own, and it wasn't the magazine's apology. 

Then came this month's cover and history subtly began to repeat itself. First the apologies on Twitter directing readers to the magazine's Facebook page for further apologies. Then a redesigned cover photo online. And then - next month - a conveniently timed article about racial bias on the Main Line. Editor Tom McGrath called the timing irony. And perhaps - I hope - that's all it is. Because there's another more devious possibility, one that brings a website lots of clicks and comments, activity that brings in a whole lot of ad revenue. 

Toeing the line is something Urban Outfitters has mastered, and Philadelphia Magazine might be doing the same thing. It's the age-old "ask for forgiveness" strategy. Break the rules, then issue an apology. As long as you don't take it too far no one calls for a boycott, a petition doesn't get started, and advertisers don't flee. 

But in the media, particularly the online press, toeing the line also allows you to cater to two sets of readers while still looking like the "good guy." There are plenty of commenters on right now - and every other media outlet directing readers there - that are criticizing the critics, saying they're tired of talking about race, and exercising their anonymous right to preach bigoted rhetoric. And right now they're working's servers overtime. 

Similar to how sitcoms like Family Guy, American Dad!, and the Simpsons manage to cater to both liberal and conservative audiences by using the literality of satire, the media can say or do one thing, claim they meant the other, and still reap the benefits of both. Only the media isn't satire and Philadelphia Magazine isn't being funny. 

It's certainly unethical, especially in journalism, but online media and the death of print has ushered in a Wild West of Yellow Journalism that knows no scruples. 

From the blogosphere to the Huffington Post, Philadelphia Magazine is enjoying a lot of free press right now for all the wrong reasons. I only hope that those responsible for October's cover photo were simply too clueless to realize how poorly the photo represented Philadelphia's schools. But honestly, is clueless racism any better than overt racism? That photo passed through a lot of hands before it reached the newsstands. Not one person at a magazine under the name of this diverse city bothered to say anything about the photo's lack of representation. To me, that would be enough to clean house. 

Nutter's Blemished Legacy

Back in August, more than a month before Pope Francis's arrival, Will Bunch of Attytood wrote a scathing open letter to Mayor Michael Nutter on regarding his handling of the papal visit. Bunch wasn't the only one critical of Nutter's and the Secret Service's handling of the event. Restauranteur and Philadelphia institution, Stephen Star, claimed the event did more financial damage to Philadelphia than Hurricane Sandy. 

To be fair, we all overestimated the pilgrims' interest in seeing Philadelphia. Some in town for the Papal Mass had spent savings to travel thousands of miles for one sole purpose, and that had nothing to do with our dazzling restaurant scene. As one friend and chef put it, "I guess they weren't here to have dinner in the Gayborhood." She was right, and we all failed to realize the obvious until it was too late. 

But none of this excuses Mayor Nutter's piss-poor ability to do his job. He and City Hall had more than a year to work with the Secret Service and the Vatican to iron out the details. There was no reason a firm plan couldn't have been in place by January when thousands of visitors began booking hotels from Center City to Delaware.

For nearly a year rumors leaked out of City Hall and the media latched on to anything they could find. And for once, the press wasn't sensationalizing. Everyone from the Philadelphia Inquirer to was trying to give their readers, travelers, and expectedly anxious residents exactly what they were asking for. 

And for months, the Office of the Mayor did nothing to answer those questions, offered nothing to quell the growing anxiety. 


When what was expected to be Philadelphia's event of the century, one once projected to draw upwards of two million visitors, uneventfully flopped, did Mayor Nutter take responsibility? Did he accept accountability? Did he apologize to the businesses, waiters, and bartenders that had to eat their weekend earnings, or to the underpaid hotel employees that had to wrangle their way through security to work?


He blamed the press. Specifically he said, "you all scared the shit out of people." 

Not up for reelection, perhaps he just doesn't care about his legacy. But instead of leaving office as a man who tried and humbly failed, his belligerence has proven him no more savory than John Street of Frank Rizzo. The press has been brutal. After all, the only thing worse than blaming your own constituents and strangling your tax paying businesses is strong arming those who write stories about you. And you know what? Mayor Nutter has deserved every critical word written about him. 

For a year we asked, begged, "What do we need to do when Pope Francis gets to town?" And for a year he dodged the question, suggested we were overreacting, and implied we should all get out of town. And when most of us left, business plummeted, and he once again excused himself from his own actions and blamed those of us who simply wanted to know if we were free to stick around. 

Mayor Nutter came into office as a soft-spoken reprieve from the loud-mouthed John Street, but his time in office has clearly warn on him. Once a visible and accessible leader, he has spent his final term in office, and most of the last year dodging the press and hiding behind excuses. His legacy is sealed, and it's not pretty. And the worst part is, he just doesn't seem to care. So don't let the shiny new gates of City Hall hit your ass on the way out. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Can Millennials, Gentrification, and Urbanism Ever Coexist?

In a recent Salary Shark blog, Keller Armstrong would like you to know why you should be afraid of the "Rising Millennial Workforce," at least that's what the title would imply. But if you bother to read her manifesto, particularly her lengthy list of things Millennials "don't," "refuse," and "hate," Why You Should Be Terrified of the Rising Millennial Workforce takes on an unintended meaning. 

It's hard to know where to start; with the oxymoronic phrase "rising Millennial workforce" or her cavalier use of the BuzzFeed buzzword "terrified?" Her article is clearly directed at those she believes should fear Millennials, presumably those of us in our late 30s and early 40s, but by the end of her rant she ends up proving Generation X's security in the workplace.  

What's most unfortunate about Armstrong's article is that she plays up the unfair stereotype of her generation, a stigma the media hasn't been shy about exploiting, and more than a few in the "selfie generation" are eager to embrace. Yet in the end, Armstrong doesn't offer anything uniquely Millennial, she only rehashes the mantra of any post-collegiate 20-something since the Baby Boomers began graduating. 

Between her assertions that those in her camp don't take life too seriously, prefer t-shirts to suits, and a collective disdain for cubicles, the only thing distinctly Millennial about Armstrong's article is a fifty point listicle, as if anyone under 30 can't comprehend journalism that doesn't culminate in a "definitive" or "ultimate" "list to end all lists."  

Whether or not Armstrong's poor form and recycled anti-corporate idealism speaks for her audience, her blind rhetoric isn't entirely embraced by her generation. 

In Holly Otterbein's recent article, The Death of Gentrification Guilt, she puts together a manifesto of her own, one that speaks to a different camp of Millennials. The headline may be a bit misleading. Otterbein in no way suggest that gentrification is excused from guilt. Otterbein turns the tables on the selfishness of her own "me generation" and exposes the hypocrisy and unfettered disregard of those Armstrong claims should be feared, perhaps even spelling out more accurately exactly why we should be terrified of Millennials, at least those in Armstrong's camp.

In a poignant, balanced, and most importantly, necessary article, Otterbein takes us to gentrification's Ground Zero, at least 2015's. The defunct Edward W. Bok Technical School and its pop-up summer spectacle, Le Bok Fin, has managed to drum up more polarized anxiety than a hipster on a unicycle in New Kensington. 

The South Philadelphia venue with sweeping views of the skyline has become this summer's anti-gentrification cause du jour, but through no fault of Philadelphians new or old, it exists. Bok Technical was shuttered several years ago due to state budget cuts, something the city has been struggling with for decades. But smartly, Otterbein doesn't criticize Le Bok Fin. Like anyone who experienced the view, she reveled in it. But to anyone who's known Philadelphia for more than a decade, she met Le Bok Fin with a familiar sense of unease. As she put it, the New Philadelphians atop the Bok Technical School "were fiddling while Rome burned."

Le Bok Fin is just another in a long line of gentrification gestures, a poster child that represents what's right to this city to some, and what's wrong with it to others. But it's also a chrysalis, and like Newbold or the Divine Lorraine, we're not yet sure that the butterfly won't turn out to be a moth. 

Otterbein's fiddling analogy is apt, and not just for Le Bok Fin or the evolution of South Philadelphia, but also for many in her generation. The press can't get enough of Millennials, but what comes from the source is often found on Reddit, Tumblr, and buried in YouTube comments. This anonymous voice has left us unfairly suspect of an entire generation, even if the anonymity should be expected of a generation raised online. Armstrong and Otterbein both share a uniquely earnest insight into their people, and their opposing positions demonstrate a rift between those who deplore their superficiality and those who embrace it. 

To delve into the psychology of those Armstrong believes "have technology on (their) side," is to understand a sense of self that doesn't exist in the mirror, but in meticulously perfected selfies on Instagram hash-tagged "wokeuplikethis." Armstrong's arm of Millennials don't recognize their own face-value, they see what they want others to see through a filter. And through their conflicting need for both validation and anonymity, Otterbein shows just how tricky it is to shoehorn them into an urban environment and exactly why they're failing on anything positive gentrification had left. 

As seasoned urbanites roam the sidewalks with blinders, self-aware but without concern, New Philadelphians, particularly Millennials, struggle with the opposite, unaware and overly concerned. These are the antitheses of urbanism.

Showcasing the unique advantage of her generation, Otterbein didn't shy from citing the small blog of Kayla Conklin, Conkin's first post in fact. Rather than trudging through the virtual pages of, Otterbein went to the source, one that went viral on a local level. 

Conklin attemped to legitimize the woes of gentrification and the ills of its cohorts, but it backfired. To the New Philadelphians she was criticizing, her bad press was merely attention. And as insignificant as that attention was, her antagonists took to Twitter with near sociopathic levels.

Many of the reactions to Conklin's post demonstrated an unrivaled lack of empathy. Their exclusively reactionary agenda would almost sound like Republican rhetoric if those anonymously screaming from Twitter weren't arrogantly masturbating to every critical word Conklin had to say about them. 

Delving deeper into the skewed agenda of this faction of Millennials and New Philadelphians, Otterbein cites floods of 311 calls about faded bike lanes and blocked sidewalks, even one politician who admitted receiving more calls about beer gardens than schools. 

But for all that Otterbein exposes of her peers, she falls into the trappings of her own generation by referring to New Philadelphians as "urbanists, through and through." One thing all Millennials - and New Philadelphians - seem to agree on is that good urbanism is about beer gardens and bike lanes. 

Let's get one thing straight right now. Beer gardens and bike lanes are superficial tokens of urbanism. They are the nice-to-haves of a successful city, and it's not surprising that the selfie generation would confuse what looks like a successful city with a city that works

Cities are complex organisms made up of traffic jams, happy hours, homelessness, unemployment, poverty, excess, and above all, diversity. In even the best democratic cities in the world, beer gardens and bike lanes are kind of the Yoko Ono of urban planning. They're new, different, and distracting. And part of you wonders how long they'll last.

No city can be Babylon without dictator, which is why larger cities tend to wade through the discourse, indulge in corruption, and land somewhere around the status quo. With more than a million residents to appease, Philadelphia can never be one person's utopia. That's the harsh reality of urbanism, and diversity. 

Unless you were reared in a major American city, true urbanism is a tough pill to swallow. It took me a good twenty years to understand that Philadelphia - or any other major city I've lived in - will never be the Renaissance Paradise I see through my rosy glasses. 

But Millennials and New Philadelphians aren't there yet. When the papal visit left the streets of Center City a pedestrian's dream, many took to the pavement to enjoy the bizarre anomaly and have already begun petitioning the city to clear the streets again next summer. Like a lot of things Millennials, New Philadelphians, and gentrification advocates have brought to the table, it's a fun idea. And like other urban tokenisms, it ignores the harsh reality of urban diversity. 

Does such a disruption really benefit Philadelphians, or just those digitally vocal enough to sign an online petition? The selfishness of a generation and those who have yet understand a working city is apparent in a narcissism that echoes: "If I think it's a great idea, everyone else must." Online petitions become the, "I want it, I want it, I want it!" tantrums that make it all happen, and Millennials get their Babylon forgetting why the city fell.

True urbanism is about confronting the mucked up reality that our cities are an organized chaotic mess of ideals, microcosms of Americana, in which compromise is the only path to success. Despite the urban caricature, true urbanists are empathetic and compromising, even if we spend a lot of time complaining. Urbanism isn't sustained by two dimensional tokens that work in New Hope or Cape May or through selfish dictation on behalf of a vocal minority. It's in understanding that true urbanism doesn't strive for a utopia, but revels in the grit.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Let's Get Something Straight

Mrs. Fifteen Minutes that just won't end, Kim Davis, found herself in the public spotlight again this week, this time over an alleged meeting between the Kentucky County Clerk and Pope Francis, a meeting that the Vatican has since confirmed. 

Let's get one thing straight, the Pope met a lot of people last week. While some in the media might lead you to believe the two met in the War Room to discuss the ethics of drone warfare, this tete-a-tete that some have been peddling as a "secret" meeting was no more subversive or significant than his meeting with Mark - Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch - Walhberg. 

The "meeting" was likely a 30 second interaction amongst hundreds, perhaps thousands of "meetings" with pop culture figures and media whores that Pope Francis may or may not have ever even heard of before last week. Likely orchestrated between politicians and the press, Davis was thrown into a long line of meet-n-greets to drum up some energy in an "Event of the Century" that became a newsroom snooze-fest. 

And what about that journalistic gem trending on the Twittersphere wherein Pope Francis endorsed Kim Davis's right to bar same-sex couples from marrying? Well, that's not even close to accurate. First of all, he did not specify a single account. In fact, he said, "I do not recall all specific cases of conscientious objection." 

And that is exactly what he was referring to: conscientious objection. For any reporter too bored to look up the meaning, conscientious objection is what allows the Amish to sidestep military service and social security. It simply means that one can bow out or refuse to engage in service they deem objectionable. In Davis's case, that right ends with her resignation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Philadelphia is showing off a little bit, and that's fantastic

With just a few days before the arrival of Pope Francis, Philadelphia is already another place. Say what you will about the laughable abundance of port-o-potties, Philadelphia looks phenomenal. 

I decided to take the long way home from the gym this evening to pass through City Hall and Dilworth Park. Long burnt out bulbs in the bizarre orbs illuminating the building's corridors have been replaced, casting a bright light on every priceless work of Victorian Gothic craft adorning the grand building. City Hall's gates are up, at least the pair flanking Dilworth Park. The fountains remain on, despite the passage of Labor Day. Even City Hall's north apron, once packed with cars, is free of clutter.

Along North Broad Street, a tall stained glass window has been installed inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center's rarely used main entrance, and it seems to be finally seeing the usage it had always intended, almost as if the expansion is finally receiving its grand opening.

But more than anything that can be said for Philadelphia's recent transformation are the lights. The bright, white, glorious lights!

The dingy yellow street lamps, the dimly lit light posts that I can only assume were dully designed to detract moths, have been replaced by extremely bright LEDs and bright white lampposts. 

After twelves years in Philadelphia, this is the first evening I've managed to recapture some of the excitement of being in a city entirely new, and so much of that is because the evening streets don't look like the urban battlefields of the early 1990s. Last week, and for the last twenty years (or more), the sidewalks were awash in a foreboding sepia tone that cried, "these streets aren't safe." For years I had to inform visitors from back home, "trust me, this neighborhood is safer than Georgetown. It's just the lights. They trick you." 

For the last few months, Philadelphia has been checking off a long overdo to-do list and the end result of so many seemingly mundane improvements is staggering. Tonight's Philadelphia might be for the tourists, but next week it's for us. 

But this is bigger than just a cleaner, brighter city we'll enjoy long after the Papal Pilgrims have left. The city we see tonight is a living postcard that the world will see over the next few years. Unlike the last Papal Visit in 1979, one that saw hundreds of photographs, perhaps thousands, we live in the digital age. Images of this new Philadelphia will be immortalized on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, literally millions of photographs, online, and immediately available. 

Pope Francis won't be in Philadelphia for four more days, but already his followers have begun flooding in. Step outside and take a look. Tourists are everywhere, standing in awe, marveling at our architecture and history, and in doing so, reminding us just how marvelous and awesome our city truly is.

Images and places the world knows by heart, iconic monuments and monoliths like Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, and the Washington Monument are the stuff of 99 cent post cards right now because this week, this 300 year old city is something new, something the world has forgotten and most have never seen. 

Beyond Philadelphia's history - a City Hall clock tower that is, by the way, 250 meters taller than Big Ben and not much newer - tourists are witnessing a city that is building. On my walk to work, my lunch break, and walking home I saw dozens of visitors pointing up in awe at Comcast's Innovation and Technology Center impressively under construction. Around the corner, 1919 Market is rising. The future sites of the W Hotel and the SLS International have been fenced off signaling something new is in the works. East Market installed its crane at 12th and Market, the hub of Philadelphia's hotels.  Those who arrived by train or walked to the Schuylkill River saw the FMC Tower well under way and a University City skyline that looks less like the urban suburb it once was, and more like the extension of Center City it's becoming. 

No one is getting what they expected, and perhaps this is the one aptly timed moment where Philadelphia's tiresome national and international reputation will be its salvation. Those attempting to grab a glimpse of the Pope in New York or Washington, D.C. will be getting the New York and D.C. they're accustomed to seeing on television. But those visiting Philadelphia will be getting a city they only thought they knew, one they weren't prepared for, and one they will continue to talk about for months. 

Despite the headaches leading up to this week - mostly frustrations to those of us who live here - Philadelphia has done something very right: we're showing off. We're finally, after decades of Negadelphian rhetoric, bragging to the world about the things that make this city right. 

As annoying as the parking nightmares, traffic jams, shunted subways, and general mobs of people may be, it is but one weekend that stands to change the way the world views Philadelphia, and when we come back from whatever shore town we flee to this weekend, we might find ourselves living in a city with the World Class reputation it once owned and has always deserved.