Friday, October 14, 2011

Better Than Nothing?

Hilton Home2 Suites released its rendering for the corporation's second spot on the Pennsylvania Convention Center's Arch Street strip and it begs the question, is something better than nothing?

As the Roaring 2000's brought us back to an era of opulence few remember and architectural experimentation headlined our newspapers, the answer was certainly a resounding "NO". Only in recent history have few chains of hotels attempted to rival the decadence and luxury of the Gilded Age, but for the most part, even historically, hotels do little to serve those who make their homes in the shadows of these businesses.

It makes sense, at least business sense, especially around convention centers, arenas, and corporate hubs. Hotels are in the business of serving those who don't live here, and unless you're one of the few who can't travel without courtesy robes and a plasma screen TV displaying a crackling fire, your hotel room is going to be remembered as little more than a comfortable bed and a convenient location. That's where Hilton Home2 Suites is better than nothing.

In all reality, most cities are filled with nondescript boxes that can be easily sold and rebranded when they change hands. Only in our rosie memories of the past 10 years are buildings like this less than par. While one would undoubtedly prefer the W Hotel's previous proposal for 12th and Arch, one can't guarantee that this robust economy will return anytime soon. One also can't guarantee that a W Hotel at 12th and Arch would be more than an empty edifice in this economy had it been built without a business savvy consideration for its future.

As the decade continues, middle class families are cashing in their frequent flier miles for road trips to the Poconos in the Family Truckster. The trips we remember from our childhood weren't bad, but it wasn't a time that warranted boutique hotels in every neighborhood.

Hotels like Hilton Home2 Suites serve a market, and the fact that the market is there is a very good thing. While you won't be overwhelmed by a new skyscraper across from Reading Terminal, the new hotel will put a few hundred beds in proximity of dozens of local businesses.

Infill isn't evil. Passerbys will still be greeted with groundfloor retail, and when they look up, they will still see the beautiful Reading Terminal Headhouse and the PSFS Tower.

Philadelphia and cities across America were offered a reprise from the architecturally mundane for one of the brief periods that only come along when investors are reckless and banks fail to watch their reserves.

These short timelines of opulence leave us with dazzling wonders of engineering muscle, but they're financed by the dreams of those asleep at the wheel.

Could Hilton Home2 Suites be better? Of course it could. But now that we've awoken from the dream, practical infill will increasingly become the best case scenario. This doesn't mean we should stop campaigning against the status quo, but it does mean that the resources of those who campaign for a better city should go where they are needed.

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