Thursday, January 30, 2014

NREA's Girard Square

Since Mayor Richardson Dilworth's massive overhaul of Society Hill, Philadelphia's Center City has seen a number of hackneyed projects by urban planners, but private development has been left to grow organically. In recent years, developers have taken to emerging neighborhoods to implement master plans, some more successful than others, but from Passyunk Square to the Piazza, they've left a lasting impact.

It seems counterintuitive that developers take to the netherregions of the city to invest, but in cities like Philadelphia, those neighborhoods are home to vast tracts of affordable property and less community involvement. Most visibly, these neighborhoods offer architects the opportunity to practice and fine tune their craft, for better (the Piazza) or worse (the Piazza).

The time may have come for this creative planning to find its way to Center City. Unlike New York or Chicago, Philadelphia's proper core hasn't been exhausted. Contrary to logic, the untapped localles surrounding City Hall have always been risky. It's taken developers a long time to come to trust Center City's real estate market well enough to know we don't have a U-Haul parked in front of our apartments, ready to bolt at any moment.

In Philadelphia, we do things backwards. We're cautious. Just as developers have chosen Graduate Hospital and University City to invest, Center City developers have tiptoed around our major thoroughfares. With the exception of a few large residential projects on West Market Street, likely driven by their proximity to highways and corporate Philadelphia, it's hard to look at the should-be prime real estate of Market East and not ask, "how bad are they going to let this get?"

PREIT has tentative plans to subdivide its Kmart location and offer smaller retail. It's true, the pass-through anchor store is unusal, and in a successsful mall, PREIT's plan would make sense both financially and architecturally. But with a third floor all but vacant, what retailers will fill these smaller spaces?

Despite the Gallery's reputation, change may be coming to Market East. One of Center City's most successful changes is just around the corner. Midtown Village was a cohesive plan that transformed a forelorn stretch of Center City's Gayborhood overnight, and it's quickly spilling over to Chestnut Street. Some have even compared it to Passyunk Square and the Piazza.

NREA has joined a local developer, and owns the primary stake in Girard Square, the block bound by 11th and 12th, and Market and Chestnut, the block that makes the Gallery at Market East look like a beacon of retail success. NREA recently released a pair of renderings of a redesigned Girard Square that doesn't just redefine Market East, it redefines this part of Center City.

Bringing Chestnut Street's failed pedestrian promenade to the middle of a block where it belongs, NREA combines the success of the Piazza and numerous University City developments, and drops it two blocks from City Hall.

The key to Girard Squares success lies in NREA's proposed residential towers. Despite its proximity to Midtown Village, Center City has proven itself fickle. Without in-house residents for the development's retail and entertainment venues, a Girard Square pedestrian promenade could be a bigger disaster than the Gallery.

Still, the rendering provides some excitingly hopeful eyecandy. Midtown Village is growing with urban newbies, the kind of 30 somethings that grace the cast of Happy Endings and The New Girl, the kind that spend happy hour at Frankford Hall and Bru. They flocked to the city for the Piazza and Passyunk Square. It only makes sense to offer them a place to imbibe amongst Center City's skyscrapers, with a convenient elevator ride home.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Philadelphia's Williamsburg, thanks, but no thanks, Gawker

Gawker contributor, Max Reed joined BuzzFeed's so-called staff in his complete misunderstanding of the word "definitive," with his "definitive" map of Hip America. He also used the "collective knowledge of Gawker readers" to out-smug the collective staff of Gawker.

With hints of "Six Borough" narcissism, Reed surveyed readers to map out "your city's Williamsburg." 

In case you don't know, Williamsburg is a Brooklyn neighborhood populated by tedious, soul sucking, irony cling-ons, mostly from anywhere but New York. Many who've deluded  themselves into thinking $2000 a month (from their parents) and a view of the New York skyline (in the reflection from the organic soda machine across the street) is the American aspiration. And, as Reed proves, they believe that all Americans who aren't lucky enough to live amongst this death of culture are desperately biting our nails, waiting to hear about it.

If you care, or are just morbidly curious, Gawker dubbed Northern Liberties and Fishtown Philadelphia's Williamsburg. Yay, and/or no shit. 

Thank you, Reed. I'm sure everyone from Cape Town to Edmonton, Alberta (yes, he provided a spreadsheet) is as grateful as I am that Gawker took time out of its busy talking-about-New York schedule to tell me, and the rest of the world, for that matter (hello, Pensacola!), where I can go to pretend I'm as lucky (cough, douchey) as you.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Barely Human: The Pennsauken Fried Chicken Jacker

Maybe it's the Polar Vortex, or maybe it's just Philadelphia. But move over, Mayfair Swiss Cheese Pervert, there's a new whack job in town: The Pennsauken Fried Chicken Jacker.

The 34 year old New Jersey resident was arrested this morning after crashing his Toyota into the Crown Fried Chicken at 5th and Lehigh, then getting out of his car, disrobing, and...pleasuring himself.

You can watch the video at, which is obviously NSFW. He was drunk, and arrested for an obvious DUI, but I have a hunch something else was in his system. Angel dust, bath salts? I guess Florida is on a winter hiatus and we've taken the reigns.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Another Comcast Rant

So, what is up with the Comcast Innovation & Technology Center?

The question sounds absurd. I mean, this is Philadelphia. What Comcast says, happens, right? But it's Philadelphia, where three floors aren't erected without neighborhood meetings, protests, and a flyer in Philadelphia Magazine.

So yeah, what's up with that?

The American Commerce Center was proposed without a tenant or a plan, and despite the fact that it was obvious it would never happen, the naysayers came out like an army. How did Comcast push 1121 feet through City Council, NIMBYs, and red tape as old as Ben Franklin with no objection?

Was Comcast working behind the scenes with City Council? It seems unlikely that someone wouldn't have blabbed. With at least ten various renderings of Comcast Center circulating before a final one was approved, a 2014 groundbreaking seems unlikely for an even taller building.

Did Comcast just assume it owns the skyline, that this design would go forward with no resistance? Where are the shadow nuts?

Was Comcast working with Foster for the past year on this specific design? After all, if they expect to break ground in 2014, more than just a few renderings must be complete. That would have been a pricy risk to assume those final plans would be approved. And if they aren't finalized, we have to wonder about the quality of a 1000 foot skyscraper that takes the next six months to engineer.

Maybe this was one of Foster's shelved designs, or a cleaned up version of something that never happened. Did Foster recycle something?

Questions to ponder. However the answers to all are likely "Comcast."

The truth is Comcast virtually owns Philadelphia, City Council, and our skyline. Perhaps neighbors know a fight would be futile. Still, it's disheartening to watch residents come out against casinos and shadows with such furor, rally against local developers like Carl Dranoff and Toll Brothers, even protest corner bars and three story row homes a few feet too high, but when it comes to Comcast, concerned citizens bow to our overlord.

Meanwhile Comcast is preparing to bundle electricity with its cable and telephone packages and is attempting to purchase TimeWarner Cable, which aside from Verizon is its last paralleled competitor.

New jobs are great, but at what cost? How many industries does Comcast plan to acquire before the corporation is synonymous with the United States government?

Comcast's new building, the Innovation & Technology Center is a new symbol of Comcast's innovation. But Comcast's never been known as a company that innovates. Comcast's creative abilities are (broadly speaking) limited to acquisitions and creatively evading anti-trust suits. What will be innovated at the CITC? Will they be leasing 20% of the skyscraper to potential future acquisitions?

All of this returns to what Comcast and Verizon will do to the internet. Net Neutrality was originally one of those rare ideals above partisan politics. It was embraced by the Republican party, supported by President Bush, and preserved laissez faire capitalism in perhaps the one and only place it worked: online.

Today's internet is a barely recognizable descendant of its clunky, dial up ancestors. Eons of generations evolved within a matter of twenty five years, aided by the fact that any virtual company was equally accessible to the world.

Dot coms had to be great to survive, and countless thriving companies came and went. Remember CompuServe,, and Friendster? It was the Gilded Age of technology, a true revolution. The 1990s and early 2000s saw our generation's Vanderbilts rise and fall. New companies would emerge, crash, or get purchased by more successful competitors.

It was risky and challenging, but what kept technology evolving, moving forward, was a level playing field available to anyone with a laptop and an internet connection.

Until now ISPs were never really part of that game. They competed with each other offering faster speeds and connections, but Comcast and Verizon never competed with the content they provided until they started buying up that content.

Despite the insane conflict of interest in companies like Comcast owning NBCUniversal, politics allowed it. Comcast is playing Risk, running some of the nations most powerful television networks, offering access to that content, and spending just as much time in Washington making sure they can continue to get away with it.

When Comcast's pledge to support Net Neutrality expires at the end of the decade, we're going to see a very different internet. One that squashes anyone who dares to register a URL. Lawmakers have allowed the internet to be socialized, turning it over to a few very powerful individuals. What was once a free world of 1s and 0s, tomorrow's internet will be a Soviet wasteland of rationed memory and oppressed ideas.

Queue the theme from Tron.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Center City's Kmart to Close

Market East is about to face another blow, or perhaps an opportunity. Although a massive vacancy at the Gallery can hardly be considered an opportunity when most of the street between 8th and 12th and underutilized or downright vacant.

Sears Holdings announced that it will be closing their Kmart location at the Gallery at Market East. While "good riddance" has been echoed through the snottier parts of Center City, Kmart isn't just one of the Gallery's anchor stores, it anchors it in the middle.

It was bad enough when Strawbridge's closed, leaving the mall with no fine department store, but Kmart sits right in the middle. To pass from one side to the other, shoppers will soon need to pass through the bottom floor.

PREIT appears to have no plans for the vacant space despite rumors of everything from a Bloomingdales to a casino. Say what you will about Kmart, but without a grocery store or big box chain in Center City, it was a convenient place to buy reasonably priced kitty litter and Diet Coke.

Comcast Quadruple Play

While Comcast plans it's new Innovative & Technology Center at 18th and Arch, they continue to innovate what they innovate best: new ways to suck money out of their customers, and force those who aren't customers to surrender their checking accounts.

Philebrity posited what the United States has been thinking for decades, "Comcast is somehow not a monopoly." Technically they aren't. Cable and internet are still, for some reason, not utilities.

They need to tread lightly into their next venture because they're venturing into just that.

What's left in your wallet?

Comcast plans to up their Triple Play to a Quadruple Play - in Philadelphia first, of course - by bundling electricity with phone, internet, and cable.

Will this be the straw that send's Comcast's camel plummeting into the sinkhole it deserves, or will offering electricity lower your electric bill as they claim? Sadly I'd pay PECO twice what Comcast offers just to avoid the sphincter quivering act of writing "Comcast" in my checkbook more than once a month.

Considering I have to routinely call Comcast to dispute my mysteriously fluctuating flat-rate internet bill, I can't imagine how Comcast's creative billing will take advantage of a fluctuating electric bill most users don't really understand.

Is the State's Drastic New Smoking Ban that Drastic?

Facebook et al. has been buzzing with the "drastic" Pennsylvania smoking ban making its way through the state as Senate Bill 80 and House Bill 1485.

While the ban extends to casinos and private clubs like SugarHouse and Voyeur, additional restrictions include bars and outdoor patios. However, the state's and city's previous smoking restrictions were not synonymous. When both banned smoking in most public places a few years ago, Philadelphia went a little further than the state. Technically, despite a handful of exemptions, most of Philadelphia's bars and outdoor patios that allow smoking are technically breaking the law.

Following the initial ban, the city hired about twenty five agents to randomly visit establishments, particularly dive bars, and issue fines. The agents were laid off or reassigned due to budget cuts, and due to the fact that most businesses were adhering to the law.

Fear not, smokers, much of this bill just brings the state up to the same standards Philadelphia has been held to for years. Businesses that already scoff at the law probably won't stop. If known "smoke easies" like Locust Bar and McGlichey's put an end to smoking, demand will find another place.

Even if the unthinkable happens, e-cig vapor shops are popping up around town offering a safer alternative to carcinogenic cigarettes. Vape up.

Mayor Jim Kenney?

Councilman Jim Kenney is fast becoming the coolest member of City Council. He helped bring drag queens back to Philadelphia's Mummers Parade, he introduced a bill that would make Philadelphia one of, if not the most LGBT friendly city in the country, and after Chick-fil-A's president, Dan Cathy said of gay marriage, "I think we are inviting God's judgment," Kenney wrote him a letter and said, literally, "take a hike and take your intolerance with you."

Seriously. Read the letter. This man is amazing.

But Councilman Kenney isn't solely an LGBT advocate, he's an advocate for reason despite politics. He plans to introduce a bill that would eliminate the city's mandatory arrest for marijuana possession, reducing it to the equivalent of a bloated parking ticket. More importantly, his "Small Amount of Marijuana" fine wouldn't destroy the lives of minors acting like kids, saddling them with an arrest on their record.

Whether or not Kenney wants to run for mayor remains to be scene, and given his recent behavior, he might be too good for the office. The best thing about him is he speaks for what's right, whether it's popular or politically "smart." After all, politicians don't really go after the pot vote because pot heads don't wake up to vote. He's introducing the bill because it makes sense.

Philadelphia Live! Casino

Have you ever looked at a map of South Philadelphia's Stadium District and wondered what its gridded streetscape would look like if the grid was actually developed? Have you driven past the prairies of parking lots east of Broad Street and wished the city didn't seem to end a few blocks south of Oregon Avenue? What if the burgeoning Navy Yard office complexes were woven into the urban fabric of South Philadelphia?

Despite the Stadium District's ample parking and convenient location, right next to I-76, I-95, and the Walt Whitman Bridge, many people - politcos mainly - complain about its relationship with the city. So much so that proposals have been pitched to relocate the Phillies stadium above the railroad tracks north of 30th Street Station and even leveling much of Callowhill and dropping it right above Chinatown.

For what? A better view of the skyline? Let's face it, we're not Pittsburgh, but we don't want to be. We're a major city, a huge city, and dare I say, a World Class city. Sure we have a lot of vacant land, but we don't have a lot of stadium sized vacant land, at least not offering an overwhelming view of the skyline.

One of the cases made whenever a politician suggests relocating the stadium is the foot traffic that could benefit Center City businesses. But in University City or Callowhill, a stadium wouldn't put baseball fans downtown much easier than it does where it is on South Broad. The city would still be saddled with rebuilding a neighborhood of attractions surrounding the stadium, and the view from the Stadium District is actually pretty phenomenal for a city this big.

Instead of bringing the stadiums to the city, which is thankfully a dead idea, the city could be brought to the Stadium District.

Well, that might happen.

Cordish Company

The Cordish Company that operates Live! Casino & Hotel has asked for the city's second casino license at 900 Packer Avenue. While casino proposals have been made for Market East and North Broad's Inquirer Building, both burdened with reasonable neighborhood opposition, the Stadium District has routinely been the "duh" location for the city's second casino.

It's a no-neighbors, already-an-entertainment district, and its blocks and blocks of surface parking lots that isolate the Navy Yard from the city are begging for development, and business.

Unlike SugarHouse's empty promise of a hotel on the waterfront, Live!'s casino within the Stadium District doesn't just have the economic motivation to actually build a hotel, but the existing stadium traffic make non-casino entertainment and retail a no-brainer.

The only head-scratcher is the state's distance restriction on its casinos. It makes sense outside Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. We don't want to turn a struggling coal town into Branson, MO with slot machines. But Pennsylvania has proven time and time again that it doesn't really understand Philadelphia. Since the casino debacle begin, many have wondered why the state didn't initially put both casinos - or more - in the Stadium District in the first place.

Comcast vs American Commerce Center

Curbed posed a fun question to its readers on Tuesday: "Which Skyscraper Proposed for 18th & Arch is Better For Philly?"

It's a fun conversation starter for architecture nerds, particularly since those are likely the only who remember the proposed American Commerce Center. Liberty Property Trust did a fine job showing off Kohn Penderson Fox's American Commerce Center to the city, but it was always just a building with a theoretical For Rent sign on it. Comcast's Innovation & Technology Center isn't just a building. If it's built, it comes with its own jobs and businesses. 

The answer is obvious: the building most likely to succeed.

American Commerce Center - Kohn Penderson Fox

Architecturally, American Commerce Center complemented the city's existing architecture. It was tall, but it wasn't bold. That's good, but it's not great.

The CITC is new, at least for Philadelphia's skyline. Foster combines his early industrial towers with his newer glass curtains, giving our city something you'd expect to see in London or Hong Kong. The CITC doesn't blend and that's bound to stir up controversy, but breaking convention challenges the status quo, and Philadelphians are no stranger to a rut.

Comcast Innovation & Technology Center - Norman Robert Foster
What's more interesting about the comparison between the ACC and the CITC isn't their designs, or even the likelihood that either would be built, but the city's overall reaction. Despite the fact that the ACC had a slim chance of being erected, it endured a storm of public protest from neighbors.

The CITC seems to have been approved before it left the drafting table. There is no neighboring outcry about shadows. Comcast doesn't even seem interested in releasing varying designs, whereas their original tower was redesigned at least ten times before being finalized.

It's curious how Comcast managed to evade the city's routine community intervention, neighborhood organizations that demand a lot more from much smaller projects. Comcast seems confident that construction of this building, and only this building, will begin this summer. Surprisingly, it seems like Comcast might be right.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Comcast: Subtelty is Dead

Philebrity pointed out a curious disclosure ignored by every recent article regarding Comcast's $1.2B expansion, and in doing so, may have inadvertently shown why most local news outlets have opted to ignore the not so subtle timing between Comcast's press release and a denied appeal to save Net Neutrality.

Obviously, Comcast owns NBCUniversal, so local NBC affiliates aren't going to bite the hand that feeds them. 

However, Comcast's partner in this new skyscraper is Liberty Property Trust, run by William P. Hankowsky.  

Hankowsky is a major owner of - you guessed it - Philadelphia Inquirer/Philadelphia Daily News/
And now that Comcast is en route to owning the goddamn internet, did the state pat them on the back and offer a humble, "good job, guys"? 

No, the state and city are giving Comcast $40M towards construction.
That's like giving food stamps to Donald Trump. No, it's like giving your soul to Lord Voldemort. Which you won't be able to watch, because you bought Comcast's Basic Internet Package.


Just a reminder, people. The end of Net Neutrality means only one thing: Your ISP can charge you more for what it arbitrarily deems "premium content." Comcast is celebrating with a $1.2B skyscraper because they will soon be allowed to charge you more for sites like Facebook and BuzzFeed based on nothing more than the fact that you want them.

The DC Eye

Everyone in DC has their pants in a twist over this 175 foot tall Ferris wheel on the Potomac. Of course like everything "in" DC, it's not actually in the District of Columbia, so residents really don't get a say.
Still, many are complaining about the impact the National Harbor attraction will have on the skyline. 

What skyline? Amirite? 

Okay, DC kind of has a monumental, European-esque (i.e. Socialist) skyline, but National Harbor, the massive, attraction just outside the Beltway, across the Potomac from Old Town Alexandria, is far from anything resembling a city.

Of course the funny thing is, it's only 175 feet, roughly 15 floors, or as tall as the 20th tallest building in Rhode Island. It's really is just a big Ferris wheel. As Cracked pointed out a few years ago, second rate, copycat structures from around the world can make your city look like an attention whore.

Citing space needle ripoffs from New Zealand to Texas, Cracked would suggest that the Beltway's attempt to augment the region's image by replicating a stunted incarnation of the London Eye - which is two and a half times as high - doesn't so much distinguish a skyline as it makes it look like a poser. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Comcast Celebrates the Death of the Internet with a Billion Dollar Skyscraper

If you live in Philadelphia, or even know someone here, your Facebook newsfeed is already full of posts from BizJournals to to Philadelphia Magazine about Comcast's $1.2B expansion by renowned architect, Norman Robert Foster.

It's exciting. At over 1100 feet it won't just be the tallest building in Philadelphia, it will be the tallest building in the United States outside New York and Chicago. It will bring more than 6000 construction jobs and even more permanent jobs to the region.

Norman Robert Foster's Bob Fernandez echoed local concerns that Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal might pull jobs to New York and Los Angeles. Obviously this expansion is hopeful, right?

Well, buried beneath the glossy renderings and excited tweets is another story. Unfortunately it's not covered in glitter and cats, or whatever gets the internet excited. Miley Cyrus? It's saddled with beltwayease, politico mumbo-jumbo, and lengthy dialogue that most don't bother to read.

I'm talking about the death of Net Neutrality and the conveniently timed $1.2B announcement by a company that stands to exponentially profit from the demise of an open internet.

Sadly, most people don't know what Net Neutrality is, yet its existence ensures that we are free to explore what has become our greatest communicative resource: the internet. And without it, the World Wide Web is about to get narrow.

Just yesterday a court struck down an appeal against a Verizon lawsuit that would change the rules, and throw out Net Neutrality. As a result, Netflix stock plummeted.

Why? Because this is the internet without Net Neutrality:

For decades we've been forced to purchase cable bundles full of nonsense channels like HSN and Oxygen just to get CNN and ESPN. That's the internet without Net Neutrality. While the most notable restrictions would be on sites that require higher bandwidth like Hulu and Netflix, Comcast and Verizon would be free to exclude websites with which they have no vested interest, or charge more for them.

To make it simple, think of it this way:

You purchase Comcast's Basic Internet Package, which includes basic search engines, email, and news sites that don't contain streaming videos. You go to CNN and click on a video. A pop up displays on your screen that reads, "You must subscribe to Xfinity Permium to view this story, please call..."

Worse, companies would be free to restrict access to sites like YouTube and Flickr simply because they're owned by your service provider's competition.

Cable companies do it all the time. The demise of Net Neutrality means internet service providers can profit more by providing less, which is why it's so fitting, convenient, and not so surprising that Comcast decided to celebrate the defeat of a free internet with a $1.2B skyscraper.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Angst or Art?

In the Jetsonian world of BuzzFeed and Instagram, new, "groundbreaking" artists are a daily occurrence. When pulling something out of your ass (or your vagina) passes for art, it's hard to determine which statement-oriented artists will become the Andy Warhol's of our time and which will be lost in The Cloud.

Of course a lacquered turd mounted in a here-today-gone-tomorrow gallery is nothing new, the internet just gets it to us faster, and on to Tosh.0 where it likely belongs. On one hand, the web gets art to people who exist outside the elite world of self designated experts who tell us what's good to compensate for their own lack of talent.

I'm a huge proponent of making art accessible to the masses. That sounds like it should be a given, but only because you're reading a blog. The art community can be ruthlessly closed-door and exclusionary. I'm talking of those who run art, not those who make it.

Unfortunately, breaking down the walls of our hallowed halls of culture doesn't just redefine art for a new generation, it also opens it up to the hackneyed, adolescent crisis-culture that confuses memes with a message.

Steve Rosenfield

Steve Rosenfield's photography was mentioned on BuzzFeed today. I say "mentioned," not "featured," because BuzzFeed has a wide trench between its well crafted journalism and its user content. Steve Rosenfield falls into the latter.

I'm not going to claim to be an uninformed web surfer who simply doesn't like what he sees. I studied art for seven years, was raised in a dark room, and follow three generations of artists and photographers and my father is an accomplished author. I'm also not some bourgeoisie douchebag who thinks that art should be defined, and reserved, for the rich.

The problem with Rosenfield's photography isn't that it's bad. His images are good. Part of the problem is the wealth of technology available to the average eye. In short, it's impossible to take a bad picture. That makes it easy for all of us to make beautiful prints to pass out as Christmas presents, but it also makes the field of photography infinitely more competitive.

But Rosenfield is also trying to send a message with his work, and that message is too literal to mean anything profound. His medium is simple, portraying subjects with an insecurity scrawled across a part of their body. With themes as common as "DAMAGED GOODS" and "DUMB BLONDE," Rosenfield's attempt to paint pictures of judgment and double standards falls on its face as a nihilistic imbalance. If he accomplishes anything, it isn't his goal, but portrays a generation - most of his subjects appear to be in their 20s - desperately trying to seek a false sense of pride in back-door-brags like "MAN WHORE" and "ALIENATED," i.e. "special."

While Rosenfield seems to be asking why his generation is so troubled, perhaps his work does serve a purpose, by asking why his generation seeks their fifteen minutes on BuzzFeed broadcasting their perceived faults.

I'm gay, I'm insecure about my age and my hairline, and I'm not quite sure I'm following my passion, but I've never, even at my worst, been as insecure as Rosenfield's (very attractive) subjects. His work sends a message as literal as those of his models, and that's not that they're troubled, it's that they, and his work, have very skewed narcissism. If Rosenfield's project has any message, it's that it's hot to be troubled.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Barely Human: The Swiss Cheese Pervert

Philadelphia's latest resident weirdo is a bit...cheesy. Yep, move over naked bus man and my dear friend I've dubbed Ruby, there's a new crazy in town and he's cruising around Mayfair offering women cash to watch him stick his dong through a slice of Swiss.

Named the "Swiss Cheese Pervert," he's earned his place among Philadelphia's historic laundry list of disturbed whack jobs. In fact, I don't have any questions. It's just Philadelphia. Okay, I do have one question. How small is his penis if his erect member can comfortably f**k a slice of Swiss cheese?

For real though, this man is a criminal and harassing neighbors. If you see him call the police, as soon as you're done laughing.

Detroit - a New Kind of City

BuzzFeed posted an amazing article today written by a kid who decided to stick around Detroit after college and invest. Drew Philip paints a unique insider's look at America's lost city, a place that's captured our fascination for its blight, decline, and unrivalled corruption, and show's us why Detroit might not be as lost as it seems to those who criticize from their desks in New York and San Francisco, too afraid or disinterested to actually venture to Motor City.

It's a long read, well worth it, and I'll let it speak for itself. Philip shows us the ups and downs of his adopted city, and the beauty found in its grit. But perhaps the most interesting question his article posits is in the way he asks what we all ask of Detroit: What's next?

While the city is far from experiencing any sort of renaissance, the media's love affair with it has driven outpriced refugees from boomtowns around the country to explore Detroit's bargain basement real estate. Companies are even looking to Detroit for its affordable talent from nearby universities.

Drew Philip -

But Philip describes a new city. Did New York, San Francisco, and DC actually win the war on poverty, crime, and blight, or did they trade their ills for new ones? The urban success stories in America are false beacons of aspiration. Crime has been relocated to the boroughs and suburbs, a middle class can't exist, and those who don't make six figures are relegated to places like Oakland and indentured to rent, unable to enjoy the exciting cities they chose. There comes a point in many who question, "Why am I here?" If you've been pushed to Queens you might as well live in Pittsburgh.

Detroit, a blank slate, is in the unique position to become a new kind of city, and that's what has happened amongst those who weathered its worst. While a slow creep of transplants downtown have brought their Whole Foods baggage, along with the transformative model that turned Manhattan into Disney World right down to the price tag, the most collateral of damage in Detroit has created a post apocalyptic city that looks like anything but Thunderdome. Out of lawlessness, an organic sense of civic responsibility reigns over neighborhoods that the city no longer services. Once densely packed turn of the century homes now sparsely dot the city's blocks, in their place are orchards, wheat fields, and chicken coups.

As the city contemplates the unprecedented "right sizing," an effort to abandon neighborhoods beyond downtown and shrink the city's limits, those forgotten neighborhoods are modeling a new kind of American city that's worth a second look.

Why I Bought a House in Detroit for $500

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Day the Archives Burned

Schmuck Dynasty's irrelevance boiled over everyone's rage pot shortly before we broke the internet, and we missed a bit of legitimate stories amid a War on Christmas more mythical than Santa Claus. It's a shame because what happened on the evening of December 6th in Franklin County, NC is unforgivable, and completely absent from the instantaneous and non-stop newsfeed of the modern world of journalism.

After a clerk in Franklin County discovered boxes upon boxes of documents dating as far back as 1840, the one government employee actually excited about a mundane government job recognized the wealth of information - and history - locked away in the Franklin County Court House.

The local historical society rallied a team of volunteers to pour through the priceless artifacts. And they were doing just fine until they did exactly what common sense told them to do. They contacted the North Carolina Department of Archives.

The Department of Archives, which is charged with exactly what the department's name suggests, did the exact opposite. After seizing the documents from the group of historians and volunteers, they put the boxes back in the basement for months. Then on December 6th, a Friday after the government had closed for the weekend, the Department of Archives with police in tow, set each and every box of history ablaze.

A month later, not a single explanation has been offered, which has led the few who bothered to report on the burning to speculate that the material may have contained sensitive, Civil War era material that could potentially wag a finger and some of the South's more prominent families, which would make the lost documents ever more intriguing. And then Emperor Nero burned the Library of Alexandria.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Is Philadelphia's Chinatown Struggling?

The Atlantic Cities article by Bonnie Tsui brings to light the alarming rate at which America's Chinatowns are changing. Although she only really looks at three cities, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, she makes some good points. But those points were better made fifty years ago.

Immigrants arriving today arrive with more mobility and many may not even prefer the gritty streets of Philadelphia's Chinatown. As we saw with our own Greektown, when gentrification hits an ethnic enclave full of gainfully employed residents, many embrace the change. Though we still refer to the 9th Street Market as the Italian Market, it's no longer exclusively Italian and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The immigrants who arrived from Greece and Italy a century ago are now successful Americans, not struggling immigrants. That's a good thing. That's why every American came here.

Tsui's article doesn't just miss the mark when it comes to the need for affordable housing, or lack of need, she doesn't even seem to understand the history of Philadelphia's Chinatown. I can't speak for her reference to New York or Boston, but Philadelphia's Chinatown is historically bound by Race and Vine, and 9th and 11th.

Beyond that zone was Market East, Franklin Square, the Furnished Room District, and Callowhill. For half of the last century, Chinatown was boxed in by Market East Station, the Vine Street Expressway, and the Convention Center, an era when Chinatown truly faced its most ruthless and callous transformation, not at the behest of pricy loft dwellers, but the city itself was attempting to eradicate a neighborhood it felt didn't deserve to exist.

Through much effort and the formation of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, Chinatown residents managed to save its historic core, but that core is still bound by history.

The Atlantic City's misunderstanding of Philadelphia's Chinatown

The only luxury apartment buildings in Chinatown are 1010 Race, 1010 Arch, and the Pearl, and the Pearl is very diverse in both its residents and retail. For the past few years the PCDC, and apparently whoever drew the map for Tsui's article, has been trying to rebrand Callowhill as Chinatown North.

That's fine, in fact it's great.

But if you want to claim that gentrification is pushing out Chinese immigrants, you can only consider the part of Chinatown that historically housed immigrants. Callowhill, or Chinatown North, never did. Considering Callowhill is not historically part of Chinatown, you could even make the opposite argument, that Philadelphia's historic Chinatown is not only winning the war against gentrification, but actually growing.

Interestingly, Tsui even mentions our Chinatown's deplorable lack of greenspace and the dire need for parks on behalf of its residents. While the Callowhill Neighborhood Association has been advocating for the conversion of the Reading Viaduct into a park, who's been the park's most vocal adversary? The PCDC.

Eastern Tower wouldn't be on the table in a gentrifying Chinatown.

The hard truth is that property values rise and Center City is getting pricier. While the city provides its share of affordable housing, even in Chinatown, it can't subsidize zones based on ethnicity. That's dangerously close to segregation. In fact it's almost the definition of segregation. 

If the PCDC wants to extend the traditional boundaries of Chinatown all the way to Spring Garden, that's fantastic. The real estate is there and available, but it's available for anyone willing to buy. Philadelphia's historic Chinatown is far from a poster child for gentrification, in fact, our Chinatown is one of the strongest in the country.