Friday, April 15, 2016

Blatstein's Odyssey

Despite being panned by every check and balance laid in front of a building before being granted approval, Blatstein's towering domino is headed for its last stop: the Zoning Board. Inga Saffron had some choice words for the man she once advised in his much lauded Piazza at Schmidt's, and rightfully so. Every step of the man's quest to build this monstrosity at Broad and Washington has been backed up by his Piazza to claim, "I know what I'm doing." Yet he continuously fails to mention that were it not for Inga Saffron, Erdy-McHenry, and an uninvolved builder, the Piazza at Schmidt's would be a strip-mall, and Northern Liberties wouldn't be what it is.

The worst part about this ordeal isn't that this building is ugly or out of scale, or even the developmental anarchy Saffron outs in her article. It's that these five acres are integral in connecting Center City and South Philadelphia, and the transformation is being led by Blatstein's unchecked ego. The idiocies in this project are too numerable to mention and it's easy to wonder if the only thing letting it slide through the approval process is the fact that no one can condense the project's flaws into one coherent sentence. 

From its two towers lining the block's smallest streets instead of flanking its proud corner, its Kowloon-esque 1000 units, massive parking podium, to its retail rooftop Tiny Town that doesn't even offer any views, it's really hard to sum up a short and sweet explanation as to why it's so bad without simply saying, "it sucks." 

Broad and Washington

Designed by Cope Linder, well known - and well respected - in Philadelphia, it's quizzical as to how this happened. Cope Linder doesn't have a reputation for being as inventive as Erdy-McHenry, the firm behind Blatstein's Piazza, but they're certainly better than what we see headed for Broad and Washington. Considering Blatstein's smug arrogance aimed at the Design Advocacy Group, city planners, and the neighbors surrounding the block, it's not so hard to imagine how conversations between Cope Linder and their client may have gone down behind closed doors. Perhaps the firm simply threw up their hands and said, "if you want to bankrupt yourself with a money pit that will piss off the city, here it is!"

Unfortunately, were he to simply reinvent the Piazza at Broad and Washington, or bring something on par with NREA's East Market to the table, he'd not just be building something people want to live - and shop - in, he'd be bridging neighborhoods and driving complimentary development in its wake, exactly what happened in Northern Liberties. 

But this doesn't seem to know what it is. I'm all for height and density, but no one builds something so tall in an established low-rise neighborhood unless they're building low-income the 1960s. The comic book nerd in me can't help but look at this proposal without seeing a Mega City tower in Judge Dredd while my pessimist sees Kibrini Green, and neither is hopeful. If we learned anything from the building boom of the Bush era, it's that too many residential units can break a city. Miami is still struggling to fill its apartments and the average rent in Chicago is now lower than Philadelphia. We survived, and now thrive, because we didn't "pull a Blatstein" in 2005. 

But does Blatstein really want to put 1000 units at Broad and Washington? There's so much wrong with this project, and so many parties complaining, we really need to step back to see exactly what's happening here. Even an egomaniac like Blatstein must know that he'll never fill these towers, that his Tiny Town is a gamble, and a bad one. The only component that seems financially feasible, despite its impact on the surrounding communities, is the project's parking podium and big box retail spaces. And that, kids, is the bait-and-switch we'll likely see shortly after ground is broken. 

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