A recent Philadelphia Magazine article touts developer Ron Robin as the genius who "gets things done". While the article points to some of his shortcomings, I think it spends too much time supporting his successes with inaccuracies than it does explaining why Rubin is exactly what is wrong with Philadelphia. Rubin himself says the key to success in his field is "not falling in love with the bricks". I was happy to see that the article pointed this out, but disappointed that it wasn't the overall theme.
Unfortunately in a city like Philadelphia, still recovering from the architectural losses of the mid 20th century (Independence Mall, I-95, Dock Street, to name just a few) we don't have the luxury of ignoring the bricks. In places like New York and DC and cities where land is so valuable that fast food chains build vertically, the past can easily be forgotten with the constant change development brings. But in cities like Philadelphia, this practice is deadly. Let's face it, land is plentiful in Center City. You might not think so to look at the skyline from Citizens Bank Park, but view an aerial map of the city's heart and you'll see it's littered with surface parking lots, scarring reminders of each developer or city planner that wasn't in love with the bricks.
Now it's true, it is probably ill advised for a successful developer to be an historical philanthropist, but in a city so indebted to our history and so renowned for our past architectural masterpieces it is irresponsible for a developer to not at least have a minimal respect for the bricks. It is also irresponsible for the people to allow it. I find it amusing, albeit sad, that historians will fight tooth and nail to save a 50 year old house on Washington Square while letting a significant portion of our skyline and a massive chunk of urban landscape be completely eliminated for the Pennsylvania Convention Center. As much as I love Philadelphia, more than anything I would like to see change in this town is our defeatist mindset that restricts us to engaging solely in fights we feel we can win. It is this lack of will that allows developers like Ron Rubin to walk all over us, replacing Center City's eclectic grit and historic fabric with parasitic parking lots and suburban developments.
The vast wasteland of Market East, the Disney Hole, and controlling most of the ugliest parts of Center City with no immediate plan for what to do with any of them are just a few of his shortcomings. Philadelphia needs less developers who hoard property and wait decades for markets that never come and more eccentric visionaries willing to take risks, investors who understand that while they may not care about the bricks: residents, occupants, and visitors - all equaling revenue - do.
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