Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014's Best Proposal

Welcome to the New Year, and a new Philadelphia. 2014 gave us marriage equality and decriminalized marijuana. And while our skyline was forever altered prior to the Great Recession, the city is poised for another architectural renaissance that won't just change the way we look at Philadelphia, but how we interact with it.

Sure, Comcast is building the tallest American building outside New York and Chicago. But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and FMC are breaking convention by building tall north of Vine Street and west of the Schuylkill River. Whatever you think of Comcast Center, these other projects are true game changers. They will bridge gaps, extending what we think of Center City beyond its psychological barriers. 

But altering the way we see a city from the interstate is only part of what makes a city. Tall buildings can be purely aesthetic. Ask Los Angeles or Dallas. 

Philadelphia knows better.

Despite new heights being reached north, south, east, and west, the most influential project under development right now is taking place on Market East. NREA's East Market is clearing and rehabbing the Girard Trust Block for a massive mixed use complex bound by 11th and 12th. The project includes shopping, entertainment, restaurants, and a mid rise apartment tower, perhaps two.

In University City this might not seem so exciting. Hell, it wouldn't be unheard of in Conshohocken. But in Center City, developers tend to build up. East Market isn't necessarily tall, at least night in a city where we tend to look vertically. But Center City hasn't attempted a mixed use project on this scale since the Gallery at Market East. And unlike the Gallery, East Market isn't an attempt to offer urbanites suburban woes, it's offering city residents a slice of modern urbanism.

Its storefronts face the sidewalks, and it sacrifices land for even more pedestrianization by slicing the block in half. It's ambitious, but not blindly. It's finally giving Philadelphians what they want on Market East, what they've wanted for fifty years, and what it was a century ago: a shopping hub. 

It's called "Market Street" for a reason.

Sure, I may be gushingly deviating from truly Philadelphian pessimism, but it comes from a realistic place. East Market isn't another Gallery, it's the Gallery-done-right. The only reason it seems risky is because the Gallery is its only analogy. Architecturally, East Market is nothing special. Its modernity is carbon-copy, its tower looks like many built in the early 21st Century. The excitement of its renderings stems from plasma screens and flashy advertisements. But where East Market deviates from large projects past is its sustainability. 

It's engaging, it's smart, and it answers to what residents have been long asking for. It makes Market East feel less an island of poor urban planning and more like an integrated part of Philadelphia. Smart architecture doesn't just exist like Comcast Center or Centre Square, it engages the community and encourages future growth like Dilworth Park or the Piazza. It recognizes the fact that cities aren't just isolated buckets, but pieces of a larger whole. East Market isn't just good urbanism, it begs developers for more.

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