Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lighting Up Market East

Has Mary Tracy, Executive Director of SCRUB (The Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight), ever been to Market East? I often wonder. This is the woman who said of the first serious discussions to improve the decaying corridor in over two decades, "they're talking about taking what could be a really majestic area and totally stigmatizing it with honky-tonk junk."

You would think the last time she walked Market Street from 8th to 12th was 1776 because even since the early 19th Century, Market East has been stigmatized with "honky-tonk junk." It is what it is, and it's how it's succeeded in the past. It's also the street that inspired a nation of Market Streets and Main Streets as the main commercial corridor. What she calls "honky-tonk junk" is what pays a city's bills.

But where is this majestic potential that Mary Tracy envisions? She and SCRUB have only ever played a contrarian thorn, but never offered an alternative solution. Like a lot of Philadelphia's dreamers, I can see a lot in a little. If we couldn't, we'd live in San Francisco or Boston or some boutique city that has already figured out what SCRUB refuses to accept: progress costs money.

But where is the potential in Market East? Is it in the two story Girard Block with its giant McDonald's inspired roof? Is it in the dead Colorforms adorning the vacant Value Plus? No, the potential, while obvious to many may be ironic to SCRUB, is in the blank canvas that is The Gallery.

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Market East's "majestic" 10th and Market, one of a few corners SCRUB routinely ignores in their plight to preserve this stagnant corridor. Why? Because any attention paid to this intersection would prompt the rational opinion: Sure, light it up!
Take a tour.

Illuminated by Hard Rock Cafe's neon guitar and Sole Food's scrolling news feed,
Market East succeeds at 12th. While those who think Philadelphia can't sell anything that doesn't have a Liberty Bell on it refuse to accept that Market East's brightly lit corridor of consumerism will carry our tourists from their hotel to Independence Mall, those with a basic understanding of Economics 101 see the ugly mid-century architectural abortions along Market Street being used to capture billions of tourist dollars along their trek to our historic hot spots.

SCRUB claims to fight for a cleaner Philadelphia, billing themselves as an anti-blight organization, but I can't think of a single instance in which it has done anything to fight urban blight, only stifle capitalism. Have they ever cleared a block of vacant row homes or launched a campaign to clear trash from vacant lots?

Advertisements aren't blight. They pay for things like sidewalks and trees. Ultimately they can even pay to develop light rails and renovate historic city-owned buildings. But the primary focus of this group is to attack corporate investment in our city. Then they assume that taxes will pay for our dreamers' visions, while our taxes barely keep our libraries and pools open.

Unless SCRUB has found the secret wardrobe to a world of unlimited public funds, I think we're better off following the model that saved so many other cities' decaying retail corridor. If Mary Tracy knows something that other cities don't, show me the flute playing goat-man from Narnia and I'll shut up.

She doesn't.
And if SCRUB's interest lied in removing blight, they would be compromising with City Council on a way to attract business - revenue - to Market East.

Instead, they bullheadedly refuse to accept the basic rules of capitalism under the misguided delusion that this city has one and only one thing to offer: "People are coming to our city to visit the historic areas; that's our brand." -Mary Tracy, Executive Director of S.C.R.U.B.

I'm sorry, SCRUB, but I think we're a little better than that. Maybe you can't envision a better Market East, but I sure can. And it's time to turn the lights back on.

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