Saturday, July 30, 2011

Things are Looking Up on Chestnut Street

Well, at least literally.

John Buck Co. of Chicago plans on break ground in September on the 35 storey Buck Tower apartments on the site of the Sidney Hillman Medical Center.

Although Hartshorne Plunckard Architecture's glass tower pales in comparison to the diagonally positioned midcentury clinic, it will be an exciting contribution to our skyline in a time of economic uncertainty.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Barely Human: SPHINC Executive Director Claudia Sherrod

This article is a little long, but very important. Thanks so much to NakedPhilly for taking the time and energy to let everybody know about this nonsense. And thank you Ms. Sherrod for pointing out exactly what's wrong with Philadelphia.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Race to Race Street

I went down to the new Race Street Pier just after it opened and I have to admit, it's beautiful. Unfortunately I went back there last weekend and it's a ghost town.

This is why I'm leery of rebranding the Reading Viaduct as Manhattan Highline's southern sister. It's a lot of money to throw at an iffy location.

I hope that the Race Street Pier invites development because that's exactly what it needs to succeed. As it stands it's a destination attraction with a bad destination.

Additionally, as I understand it, the "wood" used in its construction will all but last forever. After seeing the reconstruction of Jeanette's Pier in Nags Head, NC, this bizarre material is my only complaint in the design of Race Street Pier.

It looks like plastic. And when it comes to Philadelphia's most famous art - graffiti - traditional wood is probably a lot cheaper to replace than whatever this stuff is.

Apparently the pier has been recently adorned with "Melissa Joan Hart" in unimpressive white pen. As much as I loved Sabrina the Teenage Witch, I want to meet the hipster that decided to brand our newest landmark with this tag.

Who's Stealing Who?

If you don't know what the Barnes Museum is, you've probably heard about the litigated sideshow that led to its anticipated relocation.

In short, here's what happened:

Rich guy had a lot of art. Rich guy put the art in a big house. Rich guy died. Rich guy's will said the art couldn't move.

Simple, right?

Well the will that didn't account for inflation, allow the museum to profit, or predict that the internet would be a better investment than railroads. So there we were. A big house was full of priceless art that no one could see.

Whether or not you agree with the legal outcome allowing the art to be moved to a new museum on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the hearing is over. But on the Main Line, wealth and old money don't like to take "no" for an answer and have little sympathy for the cash strapped burdens of its neighbors to the east.

Although tax payers invested millions in a new museum under the court ordered decision that the art be moved, the Friends of the Barnes Foundation are back in court, and its costing us money.

You don't have to be an art buff for this to piss you off.

The Barnes collection is astounding. With more Cezannes than Paris, people should be fighting over this. But the fight should be over.

What these activists fail to recognize is the threshold of Barnes' will. Long-term wills often come with an expiration date. I could put a billion dollars in a trust, freeze my head, and ask to be reanimated in 2000 years, but technology and money don't guarantee anything.

Under the governance of Barnes' will, the museum is not sustainable in its current location. Even with grants and donations, following the technicalities of a decades old and hastily drawn will, eventually this art would find itself locked away in an abandoned mansion.

Give Respect, Get Respect

You've been there. What Philadelphian hasn't driven, walked, or biked through our city and thought, "get off your phone and watch the road"? Well the city has decided to do something about it.

Unfortunately this campaign started off on a vague foot, implying that police wouldn't only be targeting texting drivers and cyclists abusing the sidewalk, but also pedestrians cluelessly twittering away.

As much as I'd like to see that clumsy oaf Googling directions that lead him into oncoming traffic hauled off to City Hall and placed in the stocks, that kind of nanniness gives our historically macho men-in-blue a license to harass.

I'm too young to remember Frank Rizzo, but any more legislation aimed at saving me from my own stupidity is going to have me hightailing it back to the Libertarian hills of my motherland.

But I digress. "Give Respect, Get Respect" is a decency campaign aimed at enforcing commonly flouted laws that already exist but are regularly ignored, such as driving your car amid a frenzy of texts or riding your bike on the sidewalk.

Be careful what you wish for. Though they may be half assed, we got our bike lanes. Now we have to use them.

I have to give it to City Hall this time though. Making our city more livable by enforcing our existing laws is a step in the right direction. My only hope is that this is a first step.

Unfortunately Mayor Nutter recently tweeted that we already have a litter campaign, referring to the self-enforced Unlitter Us campaign. The city's reluctance to actively target litterbugs as part of this campaign is mind boggling. I guess I should just be happy that the Mayor wasn't tweeting-and-walking.

Obviously, Mayor Nutter, "mrwrightnow1" meant we need a littering campaign that works.

Bike Lanes or Lip Service

Bicyclists fought for them, motorists honked for them, and people like me - who cycle for recreation and drive on that occasional trip to Ikea - didn't really think much about them one way or another.

But from the sidewalk to the road to Google maps, you can't help but see them everywhere. They're here. In a dense city with a unusual obsession with the car, Philadelphians have their bike lanes.

Well, sort of.

What we have is the city's reaction to law suits, accidents, activists, and challenges from dense cities in the Pacific Northwest.

Look around. Most of these newly painted bike lanes are little more than adjusted curb space. Lanes for cabs and angry commuters to abuse. Time will tell if our substantial mileage lives up to the hype.

It's true, Philadelphia doesn't have a lot of room to spare. Even compared to Manhattan, our streets are narrow and our sidewalks are narrower.

And while many bike lanes in Seattle and Portland bear a striking resemblance to the white lines being laid down all over Center City, we have something they don't: a generally pissed-off-at-the-world population willing to mow down hipsters first, deal with the consequences later.

Without any barriers between me and GPS driven SUVs, I'll still be walking my bike to the Schuylkill River Trail.

Portland, OR, a densely populated and pedestrian friendly city, installed bike-specific stoplights allowing cyclists a head start, as well as green paint to designate the specificity of its bike lanes.