Sunday, April 28, 2013

Embracing the Vine Street Expressway

Parks are wonderful urban assets. William Penn's city was built around them. They clean the air and provide recreation and leisure space. Some of the city's most desirable addresses crowd around these spaces, which is why parks are the most common go to idea for addressing our urban woes.

The towering condos around Rittenhouse and Washington Square make it easy to forget that Fairmount Park, Centennial Park, and the Philadelphia Zoo share zip codes with some of the city's worst slums. Parks are great, but they don't grow great neighborhoods. Great addresses and great parks are mutually exclusive.

Looking at that reality calls into question the recent push to convert industrial relics and transportation causeways into park space. Cap the Vine Street Expressway, and make it a park. Cap I-95, and make it a park. Open up the Reading Viaduct, and make it a park. The latter is probably the most conceivable strictly because the structure is already built and unused.

Some of the more absurd proposals have even called to convert Logan Square's unused rail tunnels into a subterranean and quasi enclosed park.

The Vine Street Expressway in particular doesn't realistically stand to benefit from this canned response, particularly the stretch east of Broad, the stretch that most adversely impacts the streetscape. West of Broad, much of it is barely noticeable from the sidewalk. Built before the eastern leg of the Vine Street Expressway, the western side has had more time to evolve and prime real estate forced the city to make it more friendly to the surrounding cultural institutions.

East of Broad, the Vine Street Expressway is a concrete river disrespectfully detaching Callowhill from Chinatown and very few strides have been made to improve the relationship between these two neighborhoods. But the truth is this relationship has always been poor. This post industrial corridor has been the city's dumping ground for necessary evils.

Viaducts, highway chasms, and rail tunnels keep the logistics of development tricky. Narrow lots along Vine Street's southern lane don't offer the land needed for high volume urban projects, and the streetscape isn't pleasant enough for row homes. Capping the expressway and converting it into a park might change this, but the cash isn't there to take that risk.

What so few consider is Vine Street is what it's always been: a major urban corridor. Instead of trying to hide centuries of use as a crosstown ferry only to take on the Sisyphean task of transforming this urban landscape into a quaint parkway, embrace what Vine Street was, is, and let's face it, always will be. Instead of covering up this engineering feat, make it a focal point of this neighborhood. Turn it into an art installation, illuminate it in blue LEDs, and treat it like you would a river.

Don't stop there. Let's have fun with this. Nearby residents avoid Vine Street because it's little more than parking lots, which means they're less likely to care what developers want to do with it. Let's make it an architectural playground. Eliminate any height restrictions. I'm obviously daydreaming here, but imagine a Vine Street Expressway lined with skyscrapers rivaling West Market Street. Instead of an eyesore we want to hide with a bunch of narrow parks, it looks a lot more like Sheikh Zayed Road.

While transforming Vine Street into a little Dubai is a conceptual daydream, Philadelphians could stand to occasionally stray from our provincial ideal that suggests addressing every problem with parks, scaled development, and taxes, particularly when those ideals come packaged in master plans eyeballing the middle of the 21st Century instead of tomorrow.

Let's look at what we can do with the Vine Street Expressway now, what developers and architects would do with it if we let them play, and how private money could tackle this obstacle.

Eagles Going Green

The Eagles might not be the most popular team in the NFL, but its 11,000 solar panels and 14 wind turbines have made it the greenest. I'm actually surprised this hasn't garnered more press. This is a huge deal, one that cities known for their green ideals have only dreamed of.

Eagles President Don Smolenski calls the turbines the "eye candy," while the solar panels are the real power. But that isn't the only way Lincoln Financial Field is the future stadium that we should be bragging about.

Here are some of the stats listed by Sandy Bauers on
  • 30% of the stadium's power is generated by the turbines
  • 99.8% of the stadium's waste is recycled
  • Fryer oil is converted into biodiesel and reused in house
  • Food waste is composted
  • Since February 8th, 720,000 kilowatts of power has been generated
They aren't done yet. They are looking into innovations designed to capture rainwater to flush toilets and water the fields.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Roaring Twenties and a New America

Whenever someone lists The Great Gatsby as their one and only favorite book on Facebook you know they haven't read a book since middle school. It's no wonder. Between The Thorn Birds and Jane Eyre, it's the most entertaining book most of us have ever been forced to read.

I've been obsessed with The Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties since I was a kid. My grandparents' home is a living gallery of portraits and photographs of another time and place, an era when the children of the Industrial Revolution danced and drank with unfettered regard, erecting shrines to their own narcissism, and ushering in a new era of art and architecture that remains to be rivaled.

A temporary experiment in excess, the Roaring Twenties had a threshold. No capitalistic walkabout can continue without end, a reality we are once again faced with today. Any man can fly without wings, but the higher you fly, the farther you fall. Our American culture will never experience the decadence of the Roaring Twenties because we will forever know that it culminates in a Great Depression.

That knowledge will never change our fascination with the blind ambition of an era responsible for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, jazz, modern architecture, and fostered an enlightened culture that questioned the convention of their ancestors, fueling the fire of a blazing trail towards true freedom for all Americans.

The Roaring Twenties were nothing if not reckless, but that carefree abandonment of our antiquated social structure questioned more than Prohibition. The children of the era trotted the globe in search of stimulation, experimenting with everything from religion to sexuality, bringing home not just art but cultural ideals and a renewed sense of tolerance.

Blaming the era's carelessness on the Great Depression is too easy and two dimensional. Very few cultures can survive on static values, and a capitalistic democracy needs to evolve to thrive. The fire started when America was founded, and these eras of extreme wealth fan the flames of great change.

Politics muck up the importance of these eras. Conservatives laud the laissez faire capitalistic approach that creates these wealthy bubbles, while liberals criticize these brief periods of excess that ironically fuel many of their own causes.

Without a bunch of bored rich kids burning through their trust funds, would our nation's decision makers be asking "why not?" on topics like marriage equality and universal healthcare? Probably not, at least not so soon. 

Like the flappers of the Roaring Twenties, our own hipsters and scenesters are quickly deconstructing the social structure of our ancestors, one which was firmly established after the Great Depression. And in a clear case of history repeating itself we spent the better part of our early 21st Century making a mess of things, and in the aftermath, like the 1950's and 1960's, are streamlining the mess, mainstreaming our new ideals, and creating a freer more accessible America.

And with that, Baz Luhrmann's, The Great Gatsby...

Reading Terminal's Forgotten Foods

Ever wondered what a Prussian muffin or tripe soup tastes like? Ever had a hankering for fried catfish and waffles?

Today, from 10 to 4, Reading Terminal Market will be treating guests to a taste of Philadelphia...a century ago.

Try some Teaberry Ice Cream, back when sweets weren't packed with corn syrup and candy tasted a lot like Tums.

Don't worry about obligating yourself to a meal of the foods forgotten, most are portioned for fun tastings.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dance Party at the Pen: A Masquerade

When I first visited Eastern State Penitentiary the summer after I graduated from high school I thought, "what a great place for a party." Almost twenty years later, it has happened...again. Back by popular demand, Eastern State is hosting Dance Party at the Pen: A Masquerade with an early  bird flashlight tour.

Find yourself amid dancing and drinking in the dark and dusty corridors of this decrepit landmark amid ghoulish Venetian party masked revelers. Get your tickets early, and only online. I've got mine.

2013 Sketch Showdown

Ever doodle your dream city on a cocktail napkin? Maybe it'll win you a prize. Check out the AIA Philadelphia Associate Committee's 2013 Sketch Showdown.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Rise and Fall of the Ephemeral City

Eight years ago, at the height of America's Roaring "Aughts," Joel Kotkin of Metropolis Magazine wove and eloquent essay or words deconstructing the relevance of our nation's great and not so great cities. Recently, Google managed to lead me back to this article, and revisiting the article through the glasses of 2013 says more about the smug arrogance of idealism that led us where we are than anything Kotkin could have prepared for us.

While his article waxes and wanes between insight and speculation, he's clearly schooled in an understanding urban development, at least in theory. In short, industry and Detroit will die, San Francisco will become a cultural epicenter for wealthy singles and gays, and Philadelphia and Cleveland will try and fail.

A novel idea in 2005, much has since been said about the "boutique city" model that drove the economy in cities like San Francisco for much of the early 21st century. In fact, the article brought back beer soaked memories of pseudo intellectual conversations with hipsters at Dirty Frank's shortly after my move to Philadelphia.

Kotkin alludes to the notion that the model was designed to fail, if not in the article itself, but in the fact that he dubs these cities ephemeral. Major cities cannot sustain themselves on art galleries and high end cocktails. Not solely because that audience doesn't often breed, but simply because a population can only have brunch but so many times.

Basically, there are only so many douchebags to go around.

That's not to say the model can't work. It does and has. Small towns like New Hope and Ojai, CA serve their regions as islands of upscale boutiques offering little more than culture. Smaller communities can thrive as cultural hubs devoid of any economic diversity simply because they're manageable.

Fortunately this two dimensional approach is better at creating theme parks than cities. Major cities need diversity to thrive, and diversity is what makes a city interesting. Kotkin frequently notes San Francisco in his article, and perhaps he did this knowing what it had in store. If the city isn't yet struggling with the fallout of economic homogeneity, it soon will.

I'll admit much of my real time relationship with San Francisco comes from Facebook, but the daily comments from San Franciscans are highly indicative of a city in denial. While Philadelphians are posting pictures of everything from trips to Eastern State Penitentiary to comments about daily interactions with our uniquely colorful population, San Franciscans are posting pictures of brunch and cocktails followed by lengthy rhetoric about how great San Francisco is without so much as a picture of the one thing that actually makes it so great, it's geography.

It knows its' fate, and it's not a new one. The city itself was founded on instant gratification and self indulgence, starting with the Gold Rush and culminating in the Sexual Revolution, an ideal that lingers mostly in the smug ramblings of the yuppies that killed it.

I don't want to turn this into my own smug "San Franciscans Suck" rambling, and the truth is it's not the only city that went down this path. When I first moved to Portland in 1999, the most common question any Portlander asked was, "why did you move here?" It was a valid question at the time. It was a damp, gray, depressing town with a poor job market and slow witted pale people. A few short years later Portland capitalized on the trend of the Ephemeral City, catering to poor hipsters draining their trust funds.

It was a farce, and Portland is now struggling to cope with a population of 35 year old degree hoarders with no job experience and empty trust funds.

Perhaps the worst characteristic of these ephemeral cities is the social cluelessness caused by their deliberately constructed cultural isolation. It's ironic that these cities often view themselves as cultural oases while their liberal trailblazing required outsourcing the diversity that once made these cities interesting. What's worse, ten years later, their population is so out of touch with their own causes that they labor under the delusion that the rest of the country wishes they could be so lucky.

The truth is the rest of the country doesn't take them seriously. While most Americans might treat San Francisco as the butt of a South Park joke, the larger and perhaps subconscious reason Americans laugh at San Francisco is because they visit, interact with its citizens, and realize immediately that it isn't a real city. It's 900,000 people struggling to make rent, quoting Harvey Milk, and blowing smoke up their own asses.

Although Kotkin doesn't delve too deep into an analysis of post industrial cities like Cleveland and Philadelphia, he does reference them, and not so glowingly. While we continue to struggle with many of the same issues we struggled with in 2005, I'd be curious to hear his take on Philadelphia's current state.

He wrote that Center City isn't large enough to carry the city, a fact that remains true to this day. But that's simplistic. The notable fact is that Philadelphia saw an enormous influx of middle class residents, families, and new business, and the trend has continued since 2005.

It's no doubt Philadelphia would have gladly taken the building boom cities like Chicago and Miami enjoyed in 2005, but NIMBYs and old Philadelphian cynicism played a vital role, knowingly or not, in keeping Philadelphia from getting carried away. The 2005 building boom didn't just erect a lot of skyscrapers across the country, it redefined cities.

Philadelphia continues to attract the rich, the poor, and everyone in between. Cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh weathered the collapse of manufacturing and outsourcing, and survived. More importantly, they retained their identity. Likewise, Philadelphia's philosophy remains unchanged, appreciating socioeconomic diversity, and recognizing that a city needs it to live.

Philadelphians are still Philadelphians and always will be. Cultural movements will come and go, continuing to make us a greater nation. But in the end, new to the city or born and raised, we Philadelphians live our lives by many of the same human principles laid out by our nation's first urban pioneers. Philadelphia will continue to struggle with poverty and crime, but we will never suffocate at the hands of our own arrogance.

History Lost in a New West Market

The Friends of the Boyd brought to light a significant building slated to be demolished as part of the closure of West Market's Porno Palace Row. Unfortunately this strip's notorious reputation caused most people to turn a blind eye to the actual buildings, even the historical community.

As older Philadelphians move out and newer ones move in, many are beginning to forget the dramatic transformation that took place on West Market Street following Broad Street Station's closure. It's easy to look at West Market's skyscrapers and assume it's always been our Central Business District.

In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. Albeit close to our cushy Rittenhouse Square, West Market came to life as a gritty corridor lining the "Chinese Wall" carrying Broad Street Station's passengers in and out of the city. It's truly evolved as much as any part of the city, at one time serving the train station with hotels, followed by a bevy of theaters, and eventually, following the station's demolition, a growing Central Business District.

However that growth has taken more than fifty years. Our city's first modern high rises crowded around City Hall and slowly expanded westward. For much of the second half of the twentieth century, the westernmost part of Center City's West Market was lined with many of the same flop houses and theaters that lined the Chinese Wall.

The ambitious endeavor of branding a new business center peaked when the city allowed for the construction of Liberty Place, followed by several other skyscrapers surpassing William Penn's hat. But after that, the corridor faced the same struggles as many other new city centers. With office space amply accommodated in one central location, the remaining properties struggled with an identity crisis, begging the question, "What do we do after five?"

Only recently have developers taken the chance of attempting to redefine a district that is about as exciting and livable as downtown Los Angeles. Luckily they realized that the density of Philadelphia proved that to be false, and new apartments and condos are springing to life along West Market.

While it's great that the real estate on West Market is becoming more diverse and staying awake after the rush hour ends, the impression many hold of West Market is as a work in progress, with real estate not defining our skyline simply waiting to be replaced by a glass cube. That notion is burdened by the fact that so few Philadephians know the history of this street and why these old buildings exist.

It's hard to say when Philadelphia's West Market "Red Light District" emerged. Many will tell you the 70s simply because the heyday of disco and debauchery is a worthy scapegoat for anything catering to sex and drugs. The truth is it's probably rooted much earlier in the flop houses that lined the Chinese Wall, a gritty blight that kept rent low and real estate undesirable.

The city has hosted many pockets of deviance, West Market Street, the Tenderloin and Chinatown, Franklin Square, and although you can uncover various stories talking to older Philadelphians who remember another Philadelphia, very little is ever documented of these districts in any city. They try to hide from the public eye, and likewise, the public eye simply doesn't want to see them.

Demolishing the Chinese Wall was as much an unofficial crusade on the part of the city to eradicate West Market's sleazy reputation as the construction of the Convention Center and the Market East rail lines. And the best way to make people forget about these less than reputable businesses is to wipe them from the face of the city.

It's no mystery why little history is preserved in these pockets or even documented. What's most unfortunate in these redevelopment efforts is the collateral damage that comes in a blind loss of architectural infrastructure.

The seasoned Philadelphian eye sees 2132 Market Street and sees a porn palace, ignoring the carved friezes that adorn its façade. It will likely meet fate with the wrecking ball, and that isn't necessarily the worst thing that could happen.

West Market is finally coming to life with residents and shoppers creating their own new neighborhood. While these dens of inequity deserve a place in the history of our city, much of that history is in how they find themselves constantly searching for the next little pocket to hide. The real shame is in how we demonize a building because of its tenants, erasing it physically and replacing it with a parking lot simply to quell the anxiety of its neighbors.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

1919 Market...again

Philadelphia Real Estate blog snapped a picture of a rendering of a(nother) proposal for 1919 Market Street. Numerous proposals for this site have been floated since the lot was cleared for a twin tower to the Blue Cross Blue Shield building next door.

It's not incredibly exciting, and given the number of proposals for this site, I know better than to get excited about a rendering. Still, the porn palaces have been demolished and the number of residents on West Market continues to grow. This might be the most realistic proposal for 1919 we've seen.

Of all the renderings I've seen for 1919 Market, the most architecturally interesting comes from a blog called RICHVILLAMODERN. I can't find much on the site's owner or the artist who drafted the rendering. The design is simply called "New Office Building," a forty story office tower that would preserve much of the lot as a park and public plaza while seven stories hug 19th Street, with the bulk of the tower hovering above.

Likely conceptual, the somewhat Brutalist office tower reflects the philosophy of New York's Seagram Building. After height restricts required New York's high rises to employ setbacks in their design to reduce shadows, Mies van der Rohe chose to circumvent the restrictions by refusing to maximize the space of the lot and set his skyscraper behind a plaza rather than on the sidewalk itself.

Innovation Drexel

While Drexel's Innovation Neighborhood plans are largely conceptual, the renderings are nevertheless mind blowing. The ambitious collection of designs and strategies remind me a lot of Portland's South Waterfront neighborhood, not just architecturally, but in the fact that the ideas don't stop at isolated towers and infill, but attempt to terraform an entirely new neighborhood.

Unlike Portland's South Waterfront, however, the neighborhood Drexel is conceptually terraforming isn't vacant land, and any attempt to move forward with a number of these projects is likely to come at the resistance of a West Philadelphia neighborhood that includes more than those affiliated with the university and new Philadelphians.

Take a look at just one of the many renderings Drexel has been floating around. So redesigned is the neighborhood, it's one of the few renderings I could even place on a map, mainly because a lone Furness building is the only existing structure that seems to remain.

In a city with less red tape and history, this might be seen as an imminent plan. But such drastic change in Philadelphia might take a little longer. Still, it's fascinating to imagine a "downtown University City" that rivals our own Center City, and looks an awful lot like Vancouver, BC.

Highrise at 38th and Chestnut

BLT Architects' and Radnor Property Group's high rise at 38th and Chestnut is replacing two historic row homes owned by the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral and thus won't win any praise from preservationists, but the ambitious undertaking and redevelopment of a major University City intersection is a significant cog in the West Philadelphia neighborhood's recent building boom which is redefining the skyline west of the Schuylkill River.

Ground breaking is expected to take place in September, with residents moving in by 2015.

Edgewater Expansion

Raelen Properties has proposed a 250 unit high rise as part of its Edgewater property along the Schuylkill River Trail. I'm not sure if there is any weight behind the proposal, but they've provided two renderings on their site.

In addition to the skate park and the ever growing Schuylkill Banks, the sun seems to be shining on the river!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bull **** at Second and Race

Redeveloping Old City's corner of 2nd and Race has been no stranger to resistance. For the past decade neighbors have opposed everything from scaled housing to skyscrapers at 205 Race Street and even at the height of the building boom, nothing happened. 

While NIMBYs rarely employ logic, there's one party in their cause even the most zealous development-phobe could not have predicted: Advertisers.

The latest opposition to the redevelopment of 205 Race Street is Keystone Outdoor Advertising who runs billboards over the site at the Ben Franklin Bridge. 

In a city that produces more lawyers than cockroaches, the project was put on hold after Keystone threatened to sue. 

I have never heard of an advertising company with the audacity or the three pairs of balls required to try halting development over their own perceived visibility rights.

Does Keystone even own the land they advertise on? No. As if that should matter.

In a city that rejected thousands of free benches and trashcans from ClearChannel because they'd be used for advertising, I'm amazed Keystone would pull this stunt, or that the city would entertain them.

I thought it was crap when neighbors stopped a townhouse from being built because it would cover up a mural, but at least that was art.

Here's what Keystone is hoping: a frivolous lawsuit coupled with the NIMBY nonsense already created by neighbors screaming doomsday over a high rise next to a freeway will be enough to keep this lot vacant for another ten years.

Ping Pong Centre

Cesar Pelli's Cira Centre will soon host the world's largest gaming screen when Drexel University professor Dr. Frank Lee uses the building's customized LED lights to play one of the world's first video games, Atari's Pong.

Tetris simulated on the south wall of Cira Centre
If you notice something funky in the lighting scheme lately, Lee has been testing out a number of video games including Space Invaders on the building's façade.

The Pong challenge will take place on April 18th and 24th.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Affordable Housing in Point Breeze

Naked Philly broke news about the revitalization taking place in Point Breeze, an effort intended to help Philadelphians of average means, particularly those living in Point Breeze, with the opportunity to purchase affordable housing.

Well, what happened?

According to the research done by Naked Philly many of these homes, typically priced in the mid-$100,000s, are being snatched up by cash buyers who only technically meet the requirements.

Is that shocking? People with lots of cash are savvy buyers. They've done their own research, recognizing the convenient proximity of Point Breeze to Center City, and scratched their heads wondering what everyone's been wondering for years: Why is this South Philadelphia neighborhood still a pile of shit?

First of all a $150,000 house just below Washington Avenue is affordable. Those victimized by the carpetbaggers snatching up these houses are no victims. They're renters. Renters are always subject to shifts in the real estate market. And while many may not be able to afford a $150,000 home, or compete with cash buyers, anyone painting the revitalization effort as a red herring is conveniently forgetting the neighborhood's very recent history.

I lived I Point Breeze in 2007, in a home my landlord purchased for $20,000. That isn't affordable housing, that's a lottery win. And that was available to the victimized Point Breeze residents for decades. Even though thirty years ago it wasn't uncommon for home buyers to put down 20%, why did the residents of Point Breeze wait for the inevitable gentrification of their neighborhood to stake their claim?

Anyone scratching their head has an insular view of general economics and the real estate market. Point Breeze is practically Center City. It's a twenty minute walk from the city's wealthiest million dollar brownstones. That it's taken this long for developers to invest in this neighborhood is the only mindboggling fact.

Cities change. This was bound to happen. Anyone being "pushed out" had plenty of time to own this neighborhood yet they sat on their hands. The developers and cash buyers moving into Point Breeze are the only ones actively engaged in investing in this neighborhood and they have every right to be there.

The New Italian Market

Helen Urbinas's puff piece on has managed to shove the proverbial stick further up the traditional Philadelphian's ass.

This benign article wasn't mean to spark debate, just fill space, but we all know that down the rabbit hole known as the internet, it takes about three posts on message boards or comments sections before the discussion turns racist.

The proposal and conversation is an irrelevant nonstarter. As far as I know, the only official designation of any neighborhood is its District or Ward.

"The Italian Market" is a website, not a legal demarcation.

People will call it what they call it. Developers attempted to rebrand the Gayborhood as Midtown Village, but people still call it the Gayborhood and will as long as Woody's continues to expand. Chinatown is full of Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, and Thai restaurants but will always be called Chinatown.  

It's real estate mumbo jumbo. Call it whatever you want: Little Mexico, Vietnamesetown, International Village, or The Italian Market. Who cares? As long as they keep selling live chicken and kangaroo meat, I'm happy it's there.

Miami Blocks

Everyone needs a Spring Break, no matter how old you are. Last week I made my way down to South Florida, seeing Fort Lauderdale Beach, Miami, and Key West. In addition to swimming in a crystal blue ocean in March, I was pleasantly surprised by the cities. I'd never been that far south. While it's true much of the region is made up of strip malls and highways, I was pleased to find a lot of history, eclectic architecture, and, particularly in Miami, a whole lot of grit.

Seybold Jewelry Building

Of course asking to see downtown Miami is a lot like asking to see downtown Los Angeles. After scratching their heads wondering where exactly "downtown" is, most locals say, "you want to see that?"

Well, yeah, I do.

Miami-Dade County Courthouse

After some great Cuban food at Latin Café, I spent the afternoon walking the city's Jewelry District. While the area is full of hidden architectural gems, these forgotten relics shadowed by the Brickell condos nearby prove just how lucky Philadelphians are to have so many vested in our historic integrity.

Burdine's Department Store Building, now Macy's

With an economy highly dependent on tourism and leisure, it's easy to forget that Miami proper is a real, working city with a diverse economy. A sprawling suburban landscape full of mansions, yachts, and beachfront condos overshadow the urban core. Unfortunately, like many southern cities, the Miami region is subdivided into smaller cities, allowing the tax revenue generated by wealthy enclaves like Miami Beach to stay in Miami Beach. While the region's population rivals Philadelphia's, the city's population is barely above 400,000 and the contrast between the suburbs and the city is evident its neglected city center.

Old US Post Office and Courthouse

What's also clear is the city's overzealous investment in the early 2000's building boom. Every conversation with a local inevitably turns to "the crash," and it's impossible not to see evidence of the fallout everywhere. The construction surge obviously Manhattanized the wealthier beach communities and suburbs, but it's also apparent that the city itself attempted to capitalize on the boom. Downtown often looks like a construction site a developer walked away from. Gravel lots and construction skeletons are everywhere.

Miami Metromover

The Italianate Old US Post Office and Courthouse sits vacant, the Art Deco Miami-Dade County Courthouse is behind a chain link fence awaiting restoration, and the city's Federal building is surrounded by concrete barriers and cracked sidewalks filled with weeds. It becomes very apparent why newer, car dependent cities like Houston and Phoenix routinely annex their suburbs to consolidate and retain tax revenue in their poorer city centers.

Freedom Tower, Miami's Cuban Immigration Monument, originally the headquarters for The Miami News

Still, with all of its neglect, downtown Miami is a bustling core. The Metromover, a small, elevated train frequently passes overhead carrying riders throughout the city's core. The larger heavy rail Metrorail commuter train shares platforms carrying people from the suburbs and airport and continues to expand due to all time high ridership, a tough feat in red states notoriously opposed to any investment in railroads.

The Bacardi Building, former headquarters of Bacardi

On my last day I decided to drive to Key West. After driving nineteen hours, what's four more?

Key West is another world and full of surprises. I expected a small, island village and resort community with a few historic Victorian and Stick Style bed and breakfasts. Surprisingly it's a real city. Hell, it even has a Home Depot and a Five Guys.

Southernmost House in the Continental US, now the Southernmost Inn Key West

The city's wild nightlife along the island's Duvall Street strip feels a lot like a holiday on South Street, with the Fat Tuesday Spring Break crowd on the street's north end and it's Gayborhood to the south. The island is no stranger to great shopping and even better seafood.

The friend who booked the hotel room declined to mention that we'd be staying at an all male clothing optional hotel across the street from a drag club. Putting my Pennsylvanian modesty aside, I decided, "when in the Keys," and embraced by hippy upbringing...with my clothes on.

The New Orleans House, Key West's all male clothing optional hotel

The drag show at 801 Bourbon Bar across the street was like nothing I'd ever seen at Bob and Barbara's. With all due respect to the Gurls of Philadelphia, lip syncing to a Whitney Houston ballad in a cocktail dress from Contempo Casuals is not drag. These queens were funny, campy, and raunchy, and encompassed everything a drag show should be.

Twenty four hours in Key West is hardly reality. But even back on the mainland, with its abandoned construction sites, strip malls, and grit, one thing I took away was just how happy everyone was to live there. People are polite, even at gas stations, drivers let you merge when you signal, and no one assumes the worst. It is the opposite of the northeast.

No road trip to Florida is complete without a stop at South of the Border.

As much as I love my city, my biggest grief with the Jerseyvania Triangle is our pissed off pessimism. We seek things to complain about, and when we can't find something, we form neighborhood organizations to help.

Between the winters that don't end and our toxic summers, few of us take the time to enjoy ourselves. I've often said that you have to be a bit of a masochist to live in the Northeast, and it's true. It's no stretch to say that 365 days of summer can make one a very, very happy person.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Celebrating Thirty Years of Hype

Let's cut through the bull shit. With the amount of money Philadelphia has spent throwing design contests and hiring firms like Hargreaves Associates to paint us the same pretty renderings Temple architecture students have been churning out for the past three decades, we could not only afford to cap I-95, we could throw the biggest party the world has ever seen at a top notch waterfront concert hall...with enough left over to buy every Philadelphian a used Jetta.

There are no excuses left for this sorry ass piece of prime property or those slum lording over it since the 70s with costly, empty promises.

To every ass hole at the DRWC pocketing the city funds and grant dollars you funnel into these annual empty promises: nut up and build something already or shut the fuck up about it and sell it to someone who will.

Cities smaller and poorer than Philadelphia are doing amazing things on the oil soaked shores of their swamps. Everyone who thinks it should take 30 years to build a fucking park is the reason it takes 30 fucking years to build a park in Philadelphia.