Saturday, December 15, 2012

Temple Rising

Detached from Center City, it's easy to ignore the construction projects taking place at Temple University. While the economy seems to be recovering, the building boom isn't nearly as exciting as it was six or seven years ago. Nonetheless, universities seem to continue building regardless of the economy.
Penn and Drexel continue to transform University City and Temple might be finally catching up with its long forgotten North Philadelphia, where its skyline is beginning to resemble something of a skyline.

What's even more exciting are the development proposals at key North Broad intersections finally becoming reality. The State Office Building is being converted into luxury apartments at Spring Garden and a casino has been proposed for the neighboring Inquirer Building at Callowhill.

Even the Divine Lorraine and the Metropolitan Opera House near Fairmount may soon see new life. As projects inch their way north on Broad Street, we could soon forget that Temple University isn't so far from Center City.

Piatt Associates proposed Cromwell Tower designed by Agoos Lovera would stand 30 stories in the heart of Temple's North Broad campus, further defining North Broad's skyline, and with continuing North Broad improvements, help eliminate the street's detached relationship with Center City.

1601 Vine Street

The Klein Company of Philadelphia has proposed a residential development at 1601 Vine Street, Logan Place, next door to the new Mormon Temple which is preparing to begin construction.

The residential tower, designed by BLTa, would be 26 stories, have 230 apartments, and 25,000 square feet of retail space.

Pig in a Prom Dress?

Whether or not you like Erdy-McHenry Architecture, one thing that can't be denied is that the firm designs interesting buildings and doesn't try to hide their experimental presence.

Their parking garage near Broad and Arch is nearing completion and popular opinion is mixed. With the building's unusual metal curtains draped across the façade, is it a pig in a prom dress or the best way to address a necessary evil?

The architectural merits of parking garages is rarely discussed, and the discussion is a little silly because they typically all look the same. The best thing we usually hope for is some sensible ground floor retail. With construction costs making subterranean parking cost prohibitive, parking garages are everywhere and try their best to hide.

Erdy-McHenry's parking garage won't win any awards, but it's industrial, funky, and weird, and it works just fine amongst several centuries of Center City's eclectic architecture. Often, Erdy-McHenry's designs mix Brutalism and Bauhaus movements, using concrete, metal, and various raw materials with swatches of basic colors thrown in.

Their parking garage easily reflects this signature style, but with the graceful metal curtains signaling their harsh characteristics evolving. More interesting than the parking garage itself is certainly how Erdy-McHenry intends to incorporate their new design experiments into future projects.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

High in the Sky

Once home to Frank Furness's Morris Building, 1441 Chestnut Street has been the site of broken promises since it was demolished following the devastating fire that ultimately destroyed One Meridian Plaza fire across the street from City Hall. Yesterday, a plan was proposed to finally develop the lot.

Previously the site of a Waldorf Astoria proposal, its potential became a dream come true for architecture and skyscraper nerds, myself included. While the city won't earn a Waldord brand, the latest proposal seems promising and equally exciting.

The proposal calls for a $280M hotel, LEED certifications, and fifty stories on the site. In case you're not keeping track, that would make it the fifth tallest building in Philadelphia. In other words, tall.

The building would house two unique Starwoods brands, one possibly a W Hotel. Vine Street Ventures of Dallas plans to develop the property, owned by Brook Lenfest of Philadelphia.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The New Philadelphian

In a recent Philadelphia Magazine article, Patrick Kerkstra seems to have coined the term "New Philadelphian." The New Philadelphian is a growing demographic made up of upper middle class transplants and recent college graduates that call revitalized neighborhoods like Graduate Hospital, Northern Liberties, and Callowhill their home.

Kerkstra focuses on the New Philadelphian's frustration with local politics, their abysmal voter turnout, and the choice to use community organizations, non-profits, and blogs as the way to voice their opinions and enact change.

While their frustration is understandable, that frustration has always been there. It's been responsible for a terminal outlook amongst many native Philadelphians and a large part of that population's acceptance of the status quo. The frustration has been responsible for the career Council Members that continue to exploit their voters, corrupt dynasties, and now, a lack of mutual understanding between those politicians and the growing number of New Philadelphians.

However, the New Philadelphians' reluctance to engage in local politics is as indicative of an American generation as it is the simple fact that they're new to the city. Kerkstra's article deliberately exempts immigrants because they are actively engaged in politics, somewhat successfully, and the only person he interviewed that seemed to truly go up against any local machine is from Dublin.

The rest of those interviewed are involved in neighborhood organizations and non-profits, and while those organizations work with politicians, they aren't the best examples of the democratic process. It's easy to argue your case in a community meeting or a non-profit, but you have little to lose.

Is this what happens when a generation with shelves full of participation trophies enters the real world?

A generation raised in suburban high schools that have never experienced failure are naturally reluctant to go up against career politicians, to be thrust into the local media and answer to the city instead of their peers, and, even if they manage to win, forced to manage an office steeped in a century of corruption, responsible for a fraction of the population that will never think you're doing enough.

Politics puts you in a tough position that requires motivation and strong character, whether you're a good person or not, and New Philadelphians are largely part of a generation of Americans that never really had to try. Failure is hard enough on its own, but it's even harder to face the inevitable fact that most of your friends won't bother to vote. Is it really any mystery that a generation who doesn't vote has chosen to avoid the traditional path to politics?

Not that these watchdogs involved in community organizations and non-profits haven't served their vital roles in the revitalization of our city. They serve a purpose and their actions should be commended.

But City Hall won't change until someone in this growing demographic of idealists is willing to risk public humiliation, criticism, and failure on behalf of their peers. The fact that City Council harbors a bunch of cronies doesn't mean that the system that put them there is broken. In fact it's the only system Philadelphia has to elect our leaders, and opting out won't change that.

Tower Place

Bart Blatstein's revitalized State Office Building has been rebranded as Tower Place apartments. With amenities like complimentary maid service, this North Broad location will rival many of Center City's luxury apartments. No recent renderings of the apartment building have been released so it's unclear how the ground floor plaza will be treated.

Adding foot traffic to North Broad will undoubtedly assist in the successful revitalization of Blatstein's neighboring property, The Inquirer Building.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Insignificant Significance: Dock Street's Ritz 5 Theater

A common concern brought about by the possible demolition of the Church of the Assumption on Spring Garden is that it's highly unlikely that anything as architecturally significant will ever stand on the site again. It's a valid concern. The church is old and simply really, really cool looking.

It's easy to browse the "Then & Now" picture books and recoil in horror over the landmarks we've demolished for freeways, parking lots, and other architectural eyesores. Those books profit on a longing for another time but fail to showcase the progress of time, ignoring countless modern marvels that have replaced poorly built or just plain ugly buildings. In short, not everything built yesterday is good.

Philadelphia sits on a balance between slow development trends and a portfolio of priceless history that allows preservationists the luxury to save buildings that would be lost to booms in New York or Chicago, but also to get a little carried away with regard to what constitutes historical significance.

That awkward situation is already teetering at the Ritz 5 on Dock Street and nothing has even been proposed. Landmark Theaters has only suggested an expansion of its Dock Street location, admitting that it's highly likely nothing will happen. That hasn't stopped Lorna Katz Larson of the Zoning and Historic Preservation Committee from lauding the alleged historical significance of the 1970s theater, citing it as "a very modern response to the historic district."

Landmark Theaters' Ritz 5 on Dock Street

Is it? Or is it just a cheaply built theater from the 1970s? If you can interpret little more than bricks and metal as "a response" then why not interpret a parking lot as a response to the American love affair with the car? The Ritz 5 is as architecturally significant as a Safeway.

Another "response" to Philadelphia's historic district. Is it significant?

When Society Hill was redeveloped in the mid 1900s, preservationists criticized the loss of countless Victorian masterpieces and Colonial history. Dock Street was a thriving, albeit dirty, local resource to the residents of Philadelphia, and although the revitalization of the neighborhood ultimately attracted the wealthy residents of today's Society Hill, the loss of the markets on Dock Street and those accessible on Delaware Avenue before I-95 was not met without protest.

Dock Street was once a thriving market place, entirely razed in the mid 1900s to make way for modern development projects including the Ritz 5.

The Ritz 5 Theater is not a significant landmark. Like the fate of so many Victorian masterpieces, The Ritz 5 is the same inconsiderate aftermath we worry will come from the Church of the Assumption's demolition.

It's easy to imagine the residents of Center City looking across the razed prairies of Society Hill in the 1960s and 70s wondering - much like the neighbors of the Church of the Assumption - when anything as significant would stand there again. Even since the neighborhood's revitalization, only Society Hill Towers stands as a significant testament to midcentury design, and I. M. Pei's apartment project still pales in comparison to the Victorian high rises that once graced Walnut and Chestnut.

Society Hill at the height of demolition

Although Landmark Theater's plans for the Ritz 5, however preliminary, may never find a place in the annals of history, the redevelopment of this insignificant property is an opportunity for Society Hill residents to respect the concerns of their predecessors that shopped the markets and filled the offices of another Society Hill.

More Promises on Market East

With the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust consolidating ownership of the Gallery at Market East and City Council's approval of digital signage at our city's once prominent commercial corridor, a marketing campaign on behalf of the forlorn real estate has begun.

PREIT recently provided a brochure on their website complete with a rendering of a new Gallery at Market East, turning its retail space inside out to compliment its sidewalk. While the retail climate on Market East hasn't progressed, evident in a mind boggling absence of Christmas shoppers, the consolidation of the property has opened up marketing opportunities and is a huge step towards revitalizing the district.

PREIT's rendering of a new Gallery at Market East

Many may look at the Gallery and see a lost cause, but the grim state of affairs isn't that old. While the mall never was and never will be King of Prussia, it was never intended to be. Not even a decade ago, Strawbridge & Clothier anchored a mall full of mid-market retailers such as The Gap, Aldo, Limited, and Guess. And while it may not be an orgy of consumerism, it still serves a practical purpose.

That fact, despite overwhelming negative public opinion, says more about retailers' understanding of Philadelphia's customer market than it does about PREIT's inability to attract those retailers. K-mart continues to profit as the only discount department store catering to a vast amount of Center City residents without cars or Philadelphia residents dependent on public transportation. Target's lack of interest in the Center City market is based solely on the fact that other Targets already exist within the city limits.

Target continues to do business under the delusion that Center City's K-mart is in the same market, when in fact K-mart competes with large Center City drug stores and local hardware and electronics stores. As successful as the discount department store located in South Philadelphia and the Northeast is, corporate Target fails to understand that Philadelphia is a densely populated downtown city.

Of course Philadelphians are the collateral damage of any retailers' ineptitude. Have you ever taken public transportation to Target? It is literally faster to walk to Target than it is to take two buses and a subway. If Market East can attract one successful upscale, or even mid-market retail attraction that puts people on the street and in the mall, smaller retailers dependent on an anchor store will follow.

Market East is home to anchor outlets which compete and feed off each other, and that competition has recently attracted Marshalls. Sure, Burlington Coat Factory and Ross aren't glamorous, but the fact that they profit is proof that consumerism and competition is still viable on Market Street. The same environment can foster the upscale market.

PREIT's marketing campaign is aimed at changing the misunderstood impression held by large national retailers. While locals have known for years that a downtown Target would thrive, the expansion of the Convention Center, the growing success of Reading Terminal Market, a bevy of new hotels, and more apartments being developed north of Market, large retailers like Target will be forced to take another, more comprehensive look at Center City.

The Art and Caricature of Frank Furness

Although Frank Furness is a household name to most Philadelphians, one of the most creative architects of the Victorian Era may also be one of the most underappreciated. Only vaguely adhering to the rigorous design requirements of his time, his deserved recognition is often lost in the history books, often with only a brief mention.

Like most architects of the latter half of the 19th Century, Frank Furness designed more than just his buildings. He pared his work with furniture, crafted woodwork and masonry specific to his buildings and clients.

To the post-war era public, the previous art and architecture movements were a garish homage to the excessive decadence that led to the Great Depression.

Urban planners spent the 1950s razing countless Victorian examples, and Frank Furness's projects took a particularly harsh hit.

Over a century later, Furness and others are finally getting the recognition they never received, even in their lifetimes. A recent wave of renewed interest has provided a place for rogue architects like Frank Furness, Willis Hale, William Decker, and others lost to the academic definition of their time.

The Barra Foundation is currently sponsoring an exhibition on Frank Furness at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, Face & Form: The Art and Caricature of Frank Furness. The exhibition, which runs until January 11th, showcases Furness's talent as more than an architect, but also an artist. The architect's sketchbooks, preserved by his ancestors, are on display for the first time ever.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Last Call for Gritty Philly?

As the blogosphere buzzes with the promise of Avenue of the Arts improvements and a revived Gallery at Market East, Philadelphia's most dedicated architecture and development nerds have taken a peculiar interest in a neon clad corner of Center City, a relic of the days of disco and debauchery that mysteriously lingered into the 21st Century.

The Forum Theater's presence at 23rd and Market Street managed to anger its new neighbors in the luxury condos at the Murano, while standing as little more than wallpaper, virtually unseen by tenured Philadelphians in the surrounding neighborhoods and universities.

The Forum Theater before its closure, under the luxury condo building, The Murano

But why is the closure of the Forum Theater relevant? This little porn palace opened in 1975, an era in Philadelphia's history both reviled and beloved for the same reasons. The grit.

If you're not old enough to remember Center City before Liberty Place pointed its middle finger at William Penn, take a look at the opening of Trading Places or the famous jogging scene in Rocky. Neither montage is the product of poor film quality. The 70s and 80s really were that dirty.

The opening sequence from Trading Places shows another Philadelphia.

The reason the Forum's existence blended into the background for lifelong Philadelphians is simply because, relatively recently, adult bookstores and porn theaters occupied prominent real estate. Before a Marriott occupied a block of Market East, a large theater stood in the shadow of City Hall. As recent as the Convention Center's expansion, two adult bookstores managed to find customers on Arch Street. The Full Moon Saloon's sign branded 13th Street next to a swanky wine bar until only a few years ago.

While a number of seedy bathhouses, theaters, and porn shops can still be found in Center City, either in the shadows of narrow streets in the Gayborhood, or as niche boutiques catering to drunk frat guys on a South Street drinking binge, the tide has clearly turned.

While the pre-90s urban economic climate allowed nearly any business model to modestly profit and urban renewal successes have elevated our storefront expectations, the internet is an equally obvious blame for the Forum's closure. But there are other factors at work.

Imagine a remake of Adventures in Babysitting if you want to see how the new urban experience has influenced our larger cities and who that experience caters to. Elizabeth Shue wouldn't find hookers on the streets of Chicago. She'd find families pushing their strollers through Millennium Park and late night shopping on Michigan Avenue.

The new city has spread across the country. It turned Times Square into a family-friendly Mall of America. And, despite Center City Sips and a humble condo boom, the Forum's closure signals its final arrival in Philadelphia.

The Full Moon Saloon was a strip club on 13th Street. The sign remained next to Vintage wine bar until a few years ago. Danny's adult shop still remains, largely as a novelty boutique.

Of course the closure of these businesses hasn't eradicated the market for smut. Porn still accounts for the vast majority of the internet. The new urban experience is simply a farce, home to hypocrites who plead, "Please, think of the children!" on message boards while flirting with old high school boyfriends on Facebook.

It allows self proclaimed liberals to exercise their prejudices under the guise of responsibility, while patting themselves on the back for being tolerant enough to raise their kids in the Gayborhood. It gives the "socially responsible" enormous power over businesses as unsavory as the Forum, but also as benign as local bars.

The fire of urban renewal was sparked by an eccentric crew of diversity. Artists found cheap spaces to work, gay communities created enclaves of acceptance, and a large population saw a canvas of unappreciated architecture and history. Perhaps the only thing that the first wave of urban pioneers had in common was a blind eye to their neighbors' private lives. That's tolerance.

Signatures, a well known strip club at 13th and Locust, is now home to the upscale daycare center, Nest, and Green Eggs Café.

The Forum's closure was not without its own missteps. The owner is allegedly in debt and the property is simply worth too much to much to justify its presence amongst pricey condos and apartments.

But whether of not you would have ever set foot in a place as insidious as the Forum Theater, it's closure - at least in part - is an indication that the real urban pioneers have reluctantly passed the torch to the suburban refugees standing in line outside Green Eggs Café, a Benetton billboard that equates driving a Prius, donning an Obama button, and having one "gay friend" with tolerance an diversity, applauding themselves for revitalizing their community by closing businesses that cater to those that made the city the uniquely gritty and colorful place that it is...or was.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

We're So Gay

Add Philadelphia to the top of another list. Mark Segal of the Philadelphia Gay News reported on a recent Human Rights Campaign assessment of America's most gay friendly cities. Of 137 cities, only Philadelphia scored a 100 on the base issues. Not New York. Not San Francisco. Only Philadelphia.

I suppose it's not surprising. The city funded the official recognition of the gay district by branding street signs with rainbows. Hell, most online maps either label the neighborhood near 13th and Walnut as the "Gayborhood," or at the very least a Google or Bing map search for the word will take you directly to Washington Square West. 

While New York City often claims the Gay Rights movement started with the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the first notable events actually began at Independence Mall on the 4th of July, four years prior.

And although Mayor Rizzo spent the following decade making "Atilla the Hun look like a faggot" (yes, he said that), the new century has seen Philadelphia host a cast of civic leaders that are not only tolerant, but embrace the gay community, often as advocates. In fact, it's hard to imagine a Philadelphia independent of Pennsylvania that wouldn't support marriage equality.

Philadelphia will soon be home to the nation's first government subsidized, gay-friendly senior living center. The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation broke barriers with its "Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay" campaign, including commercials that aired on national television.

We're gay, Philadelphia. And that's a very, very good thing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Spring Garden's Church of the Assumption

Spring Garden's Church of the Assumption's new owner is seeking to demolish the decaying relic. After changing hands numerous times since it was sold by the Catholic Church, the landmark cathedral has deteriorated due to neglect, nature, and ineptitude.

The saddest point in the site's fate is the inevitability of its demolition and preservationists' reluctance to accept that. Adaptive reuse has a threshold, and retrofitting churches as anything, particularly ones with such unique and unusable architectural elements, is cost prohibitive and often pointless.

Realistically, the Church of the Assumption has been dying a slow death since its previous owners began gutting it in anticipation of its demolition. At this point, any appeal to save the church will at best simply stave off the demolition for a future date.

It's a shame that the Callowhill Neighborhood Association and preservation advocates are so resistant to compromise because a demolition permit does not have to mean the complete demise of a landmark and another surface parking lot. Ironically the same neighborhood full of industrial relics creatively advocating the reuse of the Reading Viaduct has offered little to no outside-the-box solution to save the Church of the Assumption's presence in their neighborhood.

The ruins of Windsor Plantation near Port Gibson, Mississippi stand among park space.

Across Europe, countless churches and castles have been stripped of all but the necessary masonry to serve as parks. Even in the United States, Windsor Plantation near Acorn State University and Port Gibson, Mississippi remains in ruins as a testament to another time. 39 of the original Capitol Building columns stand at the D.C. Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

Our situation offers Spring Garden, Callowhill, and Philadelphia the unique opportunity to conserve the easily maintainable elements of a condemned relic as urban ruins.

Nothing remains of Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire but the masonry that once upheld the structure.

The site could be saved - at least in part - as a park frequently used for art exhibits, outdoor theater space, a concert venue, a beer garden, and private events. If you accept the fact that the Church of the Assumption has reached the point at which it cannot be reused as a habitable structure, the creative uses for the site become endless.

The Sansom by Pearl Apartments

With a national lull in development it's nice to see Philadelphia still rising. And with the shelves fully stocked with condos, it's really nice to see apartment rentals rising. Pearl Apartment's The Sansom is under way at 1605 Sansom Street, replacing an eyesore of a surface lot.

205 Race Street

Back in 2004, when funky little firms like CREI were using up and coming urban neighborhoods as their architectural playground for experimental and pricy designs, Brown-Hill proposed its own avant-garde condo development for a forlorn bucolic meadow at 2nd and Race.

It didn't happen, but the sign promising the redevelopment of this inexplicably vacant lot remained for years, reminding pedestrians that a small group of idiots with nothing but idle time and the arrogance to dictate their irrational opinions really can make a difference.

At a sensibly scaled 9 to 10 stories and respectful ground floor relationship, it was good design; and adjacent to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, a noisy interstate, and a high speed rail line, it was a good opportunity to develop an unlikely location for residences. But in the heyday of financial optimism, it wasn't good enough for the Old City Civic Association and they managed to keep their beloved vacant lot vacant for another eight years.

Well Brown-Hill is back and, in the wake of the financial crisis and a more realistic outlook on construction opportunities, hoping that the OCCA has a new outlook of their own.

Brown-Hill's new design keeps the same interaction with the sidewalk that  it did in it's 2004 design, but proposes and additional six floors. At 198 feet tall it would be the tallest building in Old City. Not that height in any Center City neighborhood is a rational deterrent to development given precedents have been set in much more historically picturesque locations across the city, including Society Hill and Independence Mall. One could even argue that a high rise's presence next to a busy highway insulates the existing real estate from noisy traffic.

We'll find out the fate of the lot tomorrow at the Zoning Board of Adjustment's Hearing.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A New North Broad

Thanks to Fishtown's resident do-goodery, a dynamic entertainment complex was dumbed down to trashy slot barn. Well we've got a second chance, and this time backed by a developer with a proven record of spinning crap into gold. 

Bart Blatstein owns the State Office Building and the Inquirer Building on North Broad, and sees it as the prime spot for a massive venue, a private venture that would rival if not surpass the nearby Pennsylvania Convention Center. That's right, a casino can and should be much more than a casino.

Knee jerk NIMBYism is already calling for the head of anyone supporting this. Why? "We don't need another casino!" They're absolutely right. We don't. These chronic complainers have pointed out that we already have SugarHouse and several casinos in the suburbs. Their point is entirely valid. Our existing casinos struggle, what's the point of building another? 

Here's the point: convention space, theaters, night clubs, restaurants, hotels, and a boatload of other amenities that come with successful casinos. These underhanded dicks have conveniently left all of that out, and here's how they kill all of those resources: 

Convince everyone that Mr. Burns will be sitting in the clock tower skinning puppies while thousands of expectant mother's cash in their unborn child's college funds below. "Please, won't somebody think of the children?!" 

The very reason Philadelphia allowed table games was to entice investors into building something more than a slot barn. SugarHouse tried to offer that, but a group of (vaguely) neighboring ass holes forced the lowest common denominator, then blamed it on the developer! 

Let's not NIMBY this plan down to a crappy little slot barn, or worse, another parcel of vacant buildings. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Barely Human(itarians): Food Not Bombs

It may seem counter-intuitive to criticize a charitable organization, particularly one aimed at feeding the city's many homeless. But that's what makes Food Not Bombs and its informal President so reprehensible. Food Not Bombs doesn't feed the homeless, but rather exploits the homeless in an effort to make loosely related political statements.

Recently the organization has been asked to discontinue its feedings in front of the Family Court Building and 20th and Vine, an action FNB immediately used to slander the city, claiming prioritizing tourism was a soulless act. 

The decision had nothing to do with tourism. The truth of the matter is the city has no way of insuring that the feedings are safe because FNB refuses to get a permit, which they proudly profess on their website:

We refuse to get a permit for our servings; we believe nobody needs permission to share food with those in need.

If you're sitting in your dorm smoking pot, this premise might sound nice enough, but this permit is required for any large gatherings in a public park from protests to family reunions.

The group's motives don't sound quite as idealistic when you consider they admittedly parade the homeless in an effort to protest issues entirely unrelated to hunger, including funding for the police department. 

Most recently the group, along with Occupy Philadelphia, protested the opening of the Barnes Museum. Only they weren't protesting the same drama the museum is accustomed to, they were protesting the gala itself. 

Somehow philanthropy is now sinful. As those who helped bring one of the world's most astonishing museums to the Parkway dined (with the proper permits from the city), the FNB and Occupy Philadelphia illegally fed a line of homeless across the street in an attempt to gross everyone out.

Again, there isn't anything inherently wrong with feeding the homeless, if you are genuinely dedicated to helping the homeless. But 20th and Vine is only equipped to exploit the homeless and there is nothing humane about that. 

There are no public facilities, it is no where near a shelter, and FNB is affiliated with no organizations that attempt to rehabilitate the homeless. FNB feeds them, makes what they perceive to be a point, and then releases them to sleep along the Vine Street Expressway, Sister Cities Park, or the steps of the library. 

FNB is a Homeless Advocacy Group in every sense of the phrase, literally advocating for homelessness. 

Should we just be a city of satiated homeless? Should we snub grant money and donations earmarked for museums and fountains because one group thinks it's better to spent elsewhere? Remember when volunteering or donating to a charitable organization was a good thing? Remember when it was politically correct to be happy? 

We can't help everybody, and we certainly can't help them by dwelling on the fact that the most obvious improvements are going to be those that make the biggest tax payers happy to live here.  

Protesting a fundraiser that helped bring priceless art into the eyes of millions of Philadelphians who would never otherwise see such a space, that is a soulless act. Using the homeless - living people - to make that point, that is barely human. 

There are hundreds of charitable volunteer organizations in the city dedicated to helping the homeless, most of which not only feed them, but offer them the tools to feed themselves. FNB is associated with none of these.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Philly Bully

Welcome to Philadelphia, where the cost of fair business ends in fist fights, loose asbestos, and bottles of urine. At least that's what Philadelphia Building Trades Union would like developers to think. Philadelphia's union muscle has been a notorious thorn in the real estate market since their mid-century heyday, but unwavering support may not be as stable as most perceive. The reality of it all, which is increasingly evident, is that these unions are dealt with as a necessary evil. Developers either try to fly below their radar or are wealthy enough to afford them. However they're dealt with, picket signs and protest are routine.

 But that might be changing. Instead of ignoring the tactics employed by this union, which have included vandalism, slander, and even threats towards relatives, Post Brothers has charged at them head first. Post Brothers seemed content allowing the police to deal with much of the union member's illegal behavior, that is until a call placed to Councilman Kenny led L&I to shut down the site. Apparently some people were suspicious that employees were not being paid fairly. 

Councilman Kenny, I feel that some city employees are overpaid. Where is the investigation on my behalf?

Michael Pestronk of Post Brothers accused Councilman Kenny of spot zoning and caving to political pressure, an accusation that the mayor's office denied. 

Mayor Nutter's office might want to choose teams more wisely. Post Brothers will be going before Judge Leon Tucker with enough surveillance footage, photographs, and falsified propaganda to make anyone teamed up with this union look like they work for the mob.

Post Brothers posted their own side of the story, comparing statistics on their own business practices to the union's. Some of the facts may surprise you. They also posted their surveillance videos and a number of slanderous and threatening fliers distributed throughout the city.  

Here are some facts you may have thought you already knew:

  • 75% of Post Brothers employees reside and pay taxes in Philadelphia.
  • 70% of Building Union's workforce lives outside Philadelphia County, including Delaware and New Jersey

  • 65% of Post Brothers employees are minorities, representative of the city's 55%.
  • 91% of Carpenter Union members are white.

  • Post Brothers employs 2% more union members than the average percentage of building union members employed in Philadelphia.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Strand East

How many frustrated white people does it take to assemble a town with hex keys and mashed potato board? We'll soon find out. The Swedish retailer, IKEA, is building an entire neighborhood in East London. I'm just hoping that the buildings will have names like Linberpank and Krud.

It's called The Strand East. I'm not sure why. I'm not going to bother to Bablefish it. I'm sure it's a nonsensical Scandanavian word. It couldn't possibly, simply mean "strand."

Beyond the absurd imagery that comes from an entire town made out of IKEA furniture, the endless jokes you could make about quality of construction, the most humorous quality might be in the cliched rhetoric that reads straight from the Yupster's Bible (Yes, I combined Hipsters and Yuppies).

As if a town built entirely by the capital of obscure mainstream wasn't enough to appeal to the organic breast milk ice cream eating British trendies, the town will be devoid of cars and operate on hydroelectric power. Its most entertaining feature might be the organically shaped "creative zone intended for creative-minded businesses." In other words the designers had some space left over and didn't know what to do with it so they filled it in with some buzz words.

An open, organically shaped public space? Isn't that the same Rogerian philosophy that gave us all the UFO buildings built in the 60s and 70s? Those circular schools with one hallway that had no beginning or end? I've literally had nightmares about Wynne Hall at Longwood College. 

Every room was "organic" as to allow for "creative and collective debate." You know what they found out? People don't like organic spaces. They like sitting in a row in a square room with a clearly defined front and back. Even in art class. 

You know what you get in one undefined organic "creative space" without a leader? You certainly don't get "creative-minded businesses." You get a crowd of angry, unbathed idiots talking about how great anarchy is. 

Oh, and I almost forgot. This throw back to our bat shit crazy mid-Century attempts to rewrite a concept as old as homo-sapiens - civilization - wouldn't be complete without some completely Jetsonian, quasi-futuristic oddities. 

Like the moving sidewalks and push button kitchen cabinetry the 1950s promised we'd see everywhere by now, The Strand East will remove trash from its units with a series of vacuum tubes a lot like the ones used at your bank's drive through window. Hang on to your animals and small children. Sometimes it's just easier to take out the trash yourself.

The one good thing about IKEAville is it's cheap, and when it melts in the rain, its entire replacement comes in a box designed specifically to fit into your 1988 Saab 900.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Philadelphia's Doing Just Fine

Daniel Stone's Daily Beast article isn't painful to read because it points out Philadelphia's flaws. It isn't annoying because he refers to Urban Outfitters as an "older, legacy" company. It isn't even annoying that his familiarity with Philadelphia is limited to cheesesteaks. 

No, the thing that annoys me about Daniel Stone and the Daily Beast (which makes the Huffington Post look boringly objective) is that he used a single study (conducted by Philadelphia's own Pew) and an apocalyptic photo of our skyline to make Philadelphia sound like it was a recently Utopian reserve now barely clinging to a cliff a few miles above Hell.


I'm not even going to begin to detail the inaccuracies in his assertions. They have all been beautifully summarized in Patricia Kerkstra's Inquirer article, here. You can also find more reliable and inclusive information in the comments section of Stone's article, usually reserved for misinformed rants that sound a lot like the article itself

As pathetic as this article is, there's silver in the muck he's raking. The fact that bloggers like Stone are citing Philadelphia's woes as a way to make them feel better about their free falling investments in cities like New York and Washington means that Philadelphia, even with our problems, has arrived. 

Twenty years ago, pretentious snobs in the Silicone Valley thought that Philadelphia was a little city "somewhere in Pennsylvania." Today our purported plight is national news, leaving us scratching our heads and wondering how this is newsworthy. After all, Philadelphia today is the Bizarro World's opposite of Philadelphia in 1992. And we're humble about that. 

So many other cities are populated with people that love to claim their home is the greatest place in the world. San Franciscans can't get enough of themselves, New York is "the center of the universe," and DC is still a little town on the Potomac bankrolled by the rest of the country full of so much ego it makes Los Angeles look genuine. 

But Philadelphia is a funny place. We know we're dirty, we kind of like it. I find myself defending Philadelphia weekly from blind hatred around the world, usually ceding with, "well, I like the grit." 

We know we're dangerous, we know we're poor, and we know we have nothing to prove (except when it comes to sports). So many other places are just as poor and just as dangerous, yet they profess to be bastions of perfection and idealism. 

We embrace our flaws and maybe that's what pisses people off. We're diverse, truly diverse, and we like it. Other cities like Portland love to tout their liberal ideology of tolerance; but black, white, green, or orange, they're all upper middle class Judeo-Christians that drive Jettas. San Franciscans are free to criticize Philadelphia's socioeconomic diversity as soon as they start carrying Oakland on their shoulders. 

We put up with a lot of shit in Philadelphia, shit that douche bags like Stone could never put up with. Instead of extending us props for being the most tolerant grab bag of DNA in the country, they tell us we're poor, ugly, sick, and teetering on the brink of self-destruction. 

We truly are bad ass. Chicks dig us. Guys want to be us. And the losers at the dork table can't stand that we set the bar for cool. 

Philadelphians aren't dealing with anything we weren't dealing with 20 years ago. In fact we're doing better, but I'm a Philadelphian so I don't need no brag. If you're reading this from you iPad in Griffith Park you can go online and see, like you, we're doing fine in some places and not so fine in others. That's right, Philadelphia is a big city. 

We've got some rich people, some poor people, some smart people, some stupid people. We've got big business and small business, good business and bad business. 

What's more, compared to most major metropolitan areas we fared the recession significantly better for the simple fact that we didn't try to be New York. We weathered the recession because we ignored the balloon. After all, we're too cool to be Park Slope South.

While Miami tries to figure out what to do with their forest of uninhabited skyscrapers and San Francisco smugly ignores the fact that they hid their poor people in the suburbs, Philadelphians are pioneering the revitalization of new neighborhoods and topping global lists for parks, museums, singles, food, and everything in between

Sounds like a death spiral to me, Daniel Stone.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Post Brothers Apartments

While a handful of protesters continue to picket the rehabilitation of the infamous "Graffiti Building" at 12th and Wood, Post Brothers has unveiled a sign of their own.

Today, a giant banner hung from one of the top floors of the long neglected warehouse read "Post Brothers Apartments," signifying development is moving full steam ahead unphased by Philadelphia's Union Muscle.

For months, a rotating collection of Colorform laden signage spouted accusations that Post Brothers were "destroying community standards" to commuters along 12th Street.

I'd personally like to say thank you Post Brothers for investing in MY community's standards.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

City says Divine Lorraine will not be demolished

A "Repair or Demolish" notification posted by L&I delivered a second punch to preservationists following a fire at the Divine Lorraine, abandoned by investors.

Fear not. Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger stated that the notification was a necessary measure allowing the city to enter the building and intervene.

A bill for all repairs made by the city will be sent to the building's owners, Michael Treacy, Jr. and a Dutch group, on top of the $700,000 in back taxes they currently owe.

Meanwhile the city is working with the New York bank that holds the mortgage to find a new owner ready and willing to develop the property.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Art and Craftsmanship

It's hard to say how many well known artists, if any, are capable of the level of craftsmanship carried out by the Masters, not to mention the tradesmen that worked to adorn our historic architecture.

Art wasn't always open to anyone with an idea or a statement, and while the wealthy have and still define art, the practice and its subsequent respect wasn't limited to "the starving artist."

What happened?

Just a century ago we were graced with a stock or artists and architects so talented that the works of Willis Hale and Philadelphia City Hall were perceived eyesores.

But today we praise glass towers for their lack of presence, automotive design that continues to look like a 1989 Ford Taurus, and visual art that refuses to offer a vision beyond its explanation.

Has our culture gotten so smart that we no longer need something interesting to look at, or have we intellectualized the design right out of design?

Whether a way of expressing spiritual enlightenment or national pride, or simply painting us a fox hunting scene, the one thing art historically required of its artists was skill.

The art community's obsession with its artists' messages has grown so strong that it overshadows the art itself.

Art should attract the eye, followed by an understanding of its inspiration. Instead we look for the story first and neglect to realize that we're analyzing a blank canvas.

If many of our modern day artists are masters of anything, it's marketing. The "trained" eyes of the art experts are so blinded by their own wealth that they'd never suspect their beloved artists of being some of the Free World's greatest capitalists.

Art or Copyright Infringement?

Apologizing for an artist's impoverished upbringing, the Philadelphia Museum of Art displays photographs of nothing in the same building that Renaissance masterpieces call home.

Artists offer our elite art community an insight into their humble beginnings and then capitalize on their guilt, exploiting their audiences as much as their subjects, feeding off the same morbid fascination with the ill, disfigured, and poor that keeps TLC on the air.

Talentless snobs may define this as art to help them sleep at night, but they share an obsession for the plight of the downtrodden with the rest of society.

Sadly the art community has become so tainted with an affinity for crap that the very sight of anything painted or sculpted displaying an ounce of craftsmanship or skill is labeled kitsch.

Have we exhausted new ideas? Are we in a creative rut? Or has an elite society fostered an element where hacks aren't subject to the same standards as the schooled and talented?

As much as we love history, critics will continue to reserve their most harsh critiques for historic recreations demanding artistic interpretations like Venturi's Benjamin Franklin house in lieu of The American Philosophical Society.

The gracefully adorned and architecturally respectful Mormon Temple will be dubbed a monumental shrine to a bygone era while we applaud a new Mac store's glass facade.

And paintings of horses that look like horses will be stored in the basement so the Philadelphia Museum of Art can exhibit another collection of snapshots of your next door neighbor's Walmart grill.

The PMA could find its modern art on Etsy and no one would know the difference.