Saturday, November 22, 2014

The City Hall Parking Lot

The west portal to City Hall, Dilworth Plaza, has been reinvented as Dilworth Park. Despite critical opinion, the public has spoken: new is better, especially when there's something to do. Now that the fountain has been transformed into an ice skating rink, one flanked by architecture as diverse as this city (take that, Rockefeller Center), it's found itself full of hundreds of tourists and locals enjoying the outdoors, even when it's brutally cold.

But prior to Dilworth's rebirth, you probably avoided its cracked sidewalks and impractical sunken plaza, the one with that piss smell. So you probably also didn't notice all the city employees who've been treating City Hall's north plaza like a suburban Walmart parking lot.

Well, someone took note. And then someone else. And then someone even started a Tumblr page about it.

Of all the quips about the absurdity of draping the city's most monumental feat of engineering with a make-shift parking lot, the best came in the comments section of of all places: "We have the walkability of Paris and the car-centric mentality of Dallas." We sure do, IR, we sure do.

It may seem petty. The city is growing as we speak. We're better accommodating bicyclists, we're keeping subway lines open later, we're even offering the unheard of notion of credit cards at transit stations. Market East is finally recognizing its potential, and will soon be rising. The same can be said for East Chestnut. 

So yeah, crying about a few (twenty) cars dwarfed by City Hall seems a bit silly. But while many Center City residents have long understood that parking is a privilege, not a right, the city that North Broad faces is largely another story. 

You don't even have to go to Vine to find ample parking on North Broad, and its side streets are flanked with additional parking. And when you finally do reach Vine, still a short walk from City Hall, you'll find Center City's dirty little secret (well, not so little, it's derelict parking lots cover acres of developable land.)

Meanwhile the cretins parking on the sidewalk around City Hall as if it's the Oregon Avenue median are pointing their middle finger at anyone who thinks they should be paying for the privilege of walking two blocks. 

Why, why, oh why, does City Hall require the overwhelming majority of new development offer parking spaces for the supposed sake of traffic and parking if City Hall doesn't require their employees to use them?

By the logic that parks City Hall employees on its sidewalks, we should have torn down the Logan Square neighborhood to accommodate employees in the upcoming CITC.

Again, it may seem petty, but it's representative of a bureaucracy that governs some of the greatest walkability in the nation but refuses to encourage it, or even accept it themselves.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Is Little Pete's Worth Saving?

#savelittlepetes is now a thing. 

As the block home to Little Pete's at 17th and Chancellor will likely be rezoned to accommodate a 12 story Hudson Hotel, the diner's days are numbered. 

However, unlike the 50s-era Letto Deli recently demolished at 13th and Chancellor, Little Pete's iconic 17th Street location is only iconic in its interior and signage, all of which could be moved to another location if management chooses to. 

It could even feasibly be reopened on the ground floor of the new hotel. 

But Bob Skiba, the Gayborhood Guru of Hidden City uncovered a bit of history that will be lost with this unassuming parking garage. Like Letto Deli's location on 13th, Little Pete's was once a Dewey's Famous Diner. While Dewey's on 13th tolerated the Gayborhood's largely LGBT clientele as far back as the 1960s, its 17th location barred "a large number of homosexuals...wearing non-conformist clothing."

Civil protests were certainly not unheard of in the 60s, but four years before the famous Stonewall Riots in New York City -  events that typically mark the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement - 150 men and women staged a protest at Dewey's on 17th in 1965.

That same year, another one of the nation's first gay rights rallies was held at Independence Hall. Known as the Annual Reminder, these pickets were held until 1969 when the movement was moved to Christopher Street in New York City to coincided with that year's Stonewall Riots.

While Dewey's is long gone, the location's significance may perhaps be stronger than ever given recent strides in LGBT rights and marriage equality. Philadelphia is home to a lot of "firsts" but I'd be willing to bet that quite a few, even those active in the LGBT rights movement, know just how integral a role the City of Brotherly love has played. 

Even today, despite conservative politics in Harrisburg and throughout the Commonwealth, Philadelphia continues to lead the nation in progressive policies. From Congressman Brian Sims to the ever vigilant Councilman Jim Kenney, both more concerned with doing what's right than playing politics, we continue to be a city that pushes towards the side of acceptance, even if it's unpopular. For the second year in a row, Philadelphia has tied for first place in LGBT equality.

While we have leaders to thank, like State Attorney Kathleen Kane who refused to defend an unconstitutional ban on gay marriage, we also have a loud and opinionated public that refuses to accept injustice even when it may not coincide with their personal beliefs.

Growing up in the South I'm well versed in the hypocrisy of a region known for its "hospitality." It may seem ironic that Philadelphia, a city reputably rude, would also be so tolerant and accepting. Perhaps its because hospitality and politeness are a farce and rarely have anything to do with recognizing what's just. Anyone who's participated in a protest or sit-in knows how true that is. 

And that's exactly why Dewey's Famous on 17th Street may play a role in history, but as a building, isn't deserved of preservation. 

Our rebellious roots were alive and well in 1965. Philadelphia is no stranger to architectural lost, but we've never lost our way. Little Pete's is just a diner and the Hudson Hotel is no one's civil enemy. Philadelphia is still - and will remain - a city that fights for what's right.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Live! Hotel and Casino

It's been a long and contentious road, but the final decision has been made for Philadelphia's second casino. Whether you like gaming or not, if Philadelphia needs another one, the right location was chosen.

As opposed to Center City locations, Live! Hotel and Casino has always been a no brainer. 

The location has always been a no brainer...for all of Philadelphia's casinos. 

But because of state rules that prohibit pairing up competing casinos, each has to be a specific distance from another. In a way it makes sense. If casinos were allowed to compete for a location, Pennsylvania could end up with an Atlantic City without a beach. But the lack of competition also keeps each casino dumbed down to the lowest common denominator.

Nonetheless, the Stadium District is already a growing entertainment zone. Detached from residents and surrounded by freeways and parking lots, the area is free to offer bars, concert venues, and now a casino without annoying any neighbors. 

Whether or not Live!'s hotel materializes, like the component that seems to have been abandoned by SugarHouse, the casino will benefit from adjacent activity. While SugarHouse neither complements nor caters to its neighborhood, in fact it does just the opposite, Live! will be a marketable asset to Philadelphia's burgeoning party strip. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Collateral Damage

In an unfortunate series of events, Philadelphia's Gayborhood neighborhood was delivered several hits in the last month. The former Letto Deli, a unique piece of 50s era Americana, was demolished. iCandy was faced with the suspension of its liquor license. And sadly, it seems, Westbury will be closing.

After a fire broke out in the Spruce Parker Hotel, the city shut it down. The Westbury, a popular gay bar, was caught in the cross fire. Without a second exit, the bar was shut down along with the hotel. 

The city has been looking for a reason to shut down the Parker for years. The hotel is a remnant of a city that no longer exists. Some call it a hostel, others a whore house.

It's by-the-day, -week, and -month rates harken us back to a time when cities were more than Carrie Bradshaw and Co. brunching with their trikes in toe. Cities were places of diversity...ugly, ugly diversity.

To be fair, the Parker has become a venue for prostitutes, drugs abuse, suicide, and other ill repute. But it was also a place for those struggling to make ends meet, newcomers, and rent hikes. The Parker represents the ugly diversity that self ascribed champions of sympathy love to love but refuse to talk about: hardship, crime, and homelessness.

As unfortunate as it is, the Westbury is collateral damage. But the Parker offered something unique: affordable housing in a city that still needs it.

For all that's been said of the Parker, I'd love to see someone rattle off the crime rates at 13th and Spruce relative to any other corner of Center City, even Rittenhouse. The Parker was a flea-bag hotel, sure, but that's all it was. It was as much a place of struggle as it was for insidious activity. 

People only want to see the worst in others.

Liberalism can be a blindly double edged sword. While many who proclaim themselves champions of cause pat themselves on the back for cleaning up their neighborhoods, they've ignored those they've displaced with nowhere to go. We liberals view community gardens as improvements, but turn a blind eye to those who strive for a warm meal from McDonald's.

What sickens me most about the Parker's closure isn't the building's closure, it's the hypocrisy behind the unofficial campaign to eradicate the occasional warm bed for those accustomed to sleeping on the street.

The Gayborhood of all places is Center City's last vestige of cause. We should know better than anyone. When a kid is thrown out of a suburban home for coming out to his parents, the Parker was a bed. Now he or she has a steam vent along Market East. 

Progress isn't measured in the superficiality of new condos and hotels, it's measured in compassion. The Parker may have been a den of inequity, but no one stopped to question why that den existed. Its drug abuse, prostitution, and suicides weren't products of the hotel, they were products of our society. Now that the Parker is gone, those atrocities won't vanish, they'll be relinquished to the streets where they'll be ignored. 

We shouldn't have been campaigning to close the Parker, we should have been campaigning to end the reason the Parker served a need. 

13th and Spruce may find itself with a new hotel, market rate apartments, or a vacant building. But erasing the Parker from Philadelphia did nothing for those who needed it. At best it traded a rare alternative to a homeless shelter for boutique hotel rooms. At worst, those who resided at the Parker will be living on the streets in exchange for an abandoned high-rise. 

Think about that, then pat yourself on the back. As so-called "progress" transforms American cities with upscale apartments and trendy cafes, is it any wonder that homelessness is on the rise?

Broad and Washington

Thanks to kidphilly on, we know a little more about Bart Blatstein's plans for the long dormant "Cirque Hole" at Broad and Washington. 

While many keep calling this "the next Piazza," I suggest we hang that up. This is not the Piazza. The Piazza is relatively detached from the urban experience. It's insular. If the plan for Broad and Washington happens in its entirety, it could be far more urban than the Piazza ever intended to be.

With two towers roughly thirty stories high, Broad and Washington could carry the city's skyline south while drawing upper South Philadelphia neighborhoods into Center City. One can hope it will also inspire improvements in the vastly suburbanized street scape between South Street and Washington Avenue.

At 750 parking spaces, it can provide some much needed parking for the Italian Market and mobile neighbors.

However, with 1600 residential units, the endeavor is ambitious even for Center City, let alone what is technically part of South Philadelphia. Also, in what are hopefully preliminary renderings, Broad and Washington lacks the Piazza's futuristic architecture brought to us by our own Erdy-McHenry. 

Seriously, the Piazza's concrete walls, angular windows, and Piet Mondrian-esque color blocks are straight out of a Battlestar Galactaca flashback. But at Broad and Washington, save a few floors and it would easily blend in King of Prussia. 

But will its most exciting components even happen, or are they simply being used to pitch what will essentially be a big box retailer on a city street? When the Gallery at Market East, a similar concept, was pitched it included two sleek, albeit bland, towers that never emerged. Will the same "we'll get to it someday" be true of Blatstein's Broad and Washington towers?

What the Gallery at Market East was supposed to be.


It seems like the arrest of Philadelphia's Michael Grant, a.k.a. #phillyjesus, has gone viral. Gee,
who knew that would happen?

I'm not really a fan of religion. It doesn't jive with my hippie upbringing. What I am a fan of is a man who managed to recover from two of the most horribly addictive substances - heroin and crack cocaine - and attempts to inspire others to do the same. How he got there isn't relevant. 

While the city's most unfortunate have been lining the streets in growing numbers, as the weather gets colder and less hospitable, so, it seems have our civil servants. Despite those who panhandle for change by holding doors, those who walk through train cars in military fatigues asking for money, Grant entertains and occasionally inspires. 

According to Grant, who frequently poses with visitors, he doesn't ask for money but he does accept "tips." After a free skate at Dilworth Park's new rink, Grant went to the aptly named LOVE Park to do what he does: spread his notion of the gospel and pose for pictures. 

This apparently enraged one Philadelphia police officer, one who, as Grant claims, has had it out for him since his days of crime and drug abuse. Grant was arrested for disorderly conduct and failure to disperse after refusing to leave the park. Handcuffed and escorted to the officer's patrol car, Grant served less than two hours behind bars. 

It's hard to imagine a reasonable arrest, even if what he does is technically illegal. Actors are routinely fined in Hollywood and New York City for illegally impersonating trademarked characters in exchange for "tips." But Jesus Christ isn't a trademark nor is Philadelphia a Hollywood overrun with Batguy and Elmert.

Attorney Charles Gibbs has decided to represent Grant. While Gibbs has made no bones about grandstanding, already using the on-the-nose word, "crucified," I doubt Grant actually faces any enforceable charges.

What's perhaps most offensive is the police officer's tactic. In an era in which one can go from a nobody to an accidental anti-celebrity with the click of a phone, I don't understand why police officers aren't better versed in handling potentially newsworthy situations with the utmost professionalism. 

I'm certainly not saying individuals like Grant should be given a free pass for illegal activity, but when that same activity is ignored in countless others soliciting throughout the city, step back and think, "is it worth it?"

Sunday, November 16, 2014

New York's Dirty Little Secret

Several residents interviewed for Lisa Foderaro's New York Times article, "Tensions Over Park Behavior as Homelessness Rises in New York City," have managed to define utter disregard for humanity.

As homelessness skyrockets, some are asking why, while others are demanding something be done to stop it. What few are actually concerned with are those unfortunately left on the streets. 

If New York's early 21st Century can be summed up by Sex and the City, it's 2014 is starting to get disturbingly Dickensian.

What's most unsettling about the article is its considerable lack of empathy for a very real epidemic. While hoards of transplants followed Carrie Bradshaw to the Big Apple, fueled by an affinity for runny eggs and bottomless mimosas, some of them apparently left their compassion back where they came from.

While one Brooklyn resident said that she felt compassion for the homeless, noting that the shelters may not be "a place that they want to go," that compassion seems lost on others, even Foderaro, who opted to discuss homelessness as a problem while ignoring the problems that lead there. 

Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Homeless Services, Jody Rudin stated that they've talked to the homeless, asking why the shelters are not an attractive option. Without delving into why each individual is homeless, the right questions aren't being asked.

Conducting the same survey a guest receives after three nights at a Hilton isn't going to get to the root of a very complex set of circumstances. And those circumstances differ from homeless person to homeless person, because they're people.

The growing number of homeless in New York and around the country aren't members of a union with a spokesperson. For them, life is anarchy, a distopic nightmare full of untold rape and violence. 

Curfews and citations mean nothing in this lawless world. Before anyone can understand why someone would choose a park bench over a cot in a homeless shelter, the reasons each one of them is homeless needs to be understood. 

Then I would suggest that anyone who thinks homelessness is a "problem" akin to traffic or litter serve two tours in Iraq, watch friends get murdered and several villages burn, then return to a nation full of protestors who want to do the exact same to you. 

That might offer better insight into why some homeless people need much more than a bed and a bowl of soup.

Homelessness is incredibly harsh and too few people want to recognize that reality. Empathizing with something so horrid instills guilt, especially when walking a Welsh Corgi up to a park bench to shoo away a war veteran and enjoy a $5 latte. 

Two decades removed from the New York that now only exists in myths and legends, the city has managed to replace much of its diverse populous with ingrates completely out of touch with the struggles of socioeconomics. Likewise, its government has apparently been replaced with politicians and officials better apt to run Smallville than Metropolis. 

From public urination to drug abuse, the rambling Times article inadvertently exposes a city that sees homelessness as another form of blight. Blight is a problem, homelessness isn't that simple. It is a psychosocial condition that deserves sympathetic consideration. Watch The Fisher King. Read Tomas Young's "Last Letter." 

These are broken people who need help. While so many New Yorkers spend thousands on therapy to coach them through their upper middle class woes, many homeless people need sincerely reparative counseling. Those charged with "solving the problem" need to treat homeless people like the wildly diverse and dynamic anti-community that they are, not like a dysfunctional family with a one-size-fits-all solution.

That, perhaps, may be the entire campaign's most shortsighted flaw. These are not simply people from different backgrounds, races, and religions. They're people who have lost their families, their identity, and their faith. They are more diverse than anything one can fathom. To regard them as annoying would be akin to having a distaste for the universe. It's irrational, which is why so many residents are resigned to an annual donation and shutting their eyes. Understanding something so complex isn't just difficult, it takes you to a dark place.

Next time you turn a blind eye to the homeless person holding your door for change, visit the nightmarish reality they're dealing with all the time.

While New York's outer boroughs have awoken to new life full of community gardens and gastropubs, longtime residents have been priced out of their homes with nowhere to go. The strongest of them will survive New York's brutal winter while the elderly and sick will die on your streets, discarded in an unmarked grave. New residents who've taken their place are patting themselves on the back for improving neighborhoods someone else once called home. 

Others, shellshocked veterans who have been forced to self medicate with drugs and alcohol, are faced with a smugly idealistic public dialogue that knows nothing of the horrors of combat, a dialogue that has shamed many from returning to their families. 

Is it any wonder some homeless men and women trend towards being confrontational? They're stuck in a life you can't possibly imagine, and then you have the audacity to tell them they're not good enough to sleep on a park bench hours after you're in your king size bed.

Has America's once great melting pot become so superficially perfected that its heart has been buried under the pursuit of a utopian ideal that can only be met by discarding those most in need of the simplest sympathy and respect?

In a city that recently offered "ghetto" tours of its most blighted neighborhoods, exploiting its most unfortunate, can it ever recover from its own narcissism? People treat stray animals better. 

Next time you see a homeless person sitting on your park bench, if you don't feel threatened, join them. Share your Panera. Talk to them. They may not know where to find a shelter. They may be too proud to call their family. Offer them a shred of dignity. When the world treats someone like a sewer rat, that simple act of humanity may be exactly what they need.