Short-Term Campaign, Long-Term Gain

(July 2015)

With the Pope on his way and the Democratic National Convention a year away, we’re spending a lot of time talking about the proposed Rite Fence and the mass closings of mass-transit stations.  But, just as we all take some time to spruce up our homes when company comes, we can use the opportunity of preparing for these major events to make some lasting improvements.  I can think of a lot of ways that Philadelphia can use the impetus of the coming of our VIP visitors to make positive change that can be enjoyed by those of us who will be staying for the long term.

I’d love to see some grander projects come to fruition, but our timeline might be too compressed to better bridge I-95 to connect Center City to the riverfront or to transform the Reading Viaduct into a destination park corridor above and below northern Center City east and west of Broad Street.  While it seems that even a Papal visit cannot bring about the miracle of money and resolution necessary to repair the wound I-95 has cut through Philadelphia, it does look like the Rail Park could actually be a reality after the DNC, sometime during the Sanders Administration.  (See what I did there? #FeelTheBern.)

So let’s think a little smaller about things we can accomplish in the next year.


Can we fill in all of the empty Center City tree wells -- then do the same in neighborhoods across the city?  I think that I shall never see a void as depressing as an empty tree well.  It’s not just that the small squares of dirt and weeds look sloppy when they each could be sources of shade and tiny gardens; they are small signs of defeat and abandonment.  Let’s reclaim those plots, green our neighborhoods, and show off the acres of diamonds (or just greenery) that could be found in this city.

Can we remove the cars that park illegally in the median of South Broad Street forever?  We all know that this quaint tradition is ugly, dangerous for drivers and pedestrians, and downright illegal.  Our looking the other way while some enjoy their free (but not authorized) parking shows us to be a city where the little fix is still more important than the big picture.  Let’s stop looking like small-town clowns and start treating one of the city’s most significant thoroughfares like the big-city boulevard it is.

Can we hide the Schuylkill Expressway tunnels at 30th Street Station with some greenery?  While the trails along the Schuylkill River Park are lovely to look at from the west side of the river, the view from the east side looking toward West Philadelphia is a harsh one of exhaust-stained concrete and the constant flow of traffic.  Especially as development north and south of the city’s destination train station continue, it’s time to clean up this view to accentuate the positive.  Let’s use some imaginative lattice work and plantings to make the view of the west bank of the Schuylkill (almost) as enjoyable as the view of the east bank. 

Can we expand weekly sidewalk sweeping to neighborhoods across Philadelphia?  Center City looks cleaner than most neighborhoods because an army of sidewalk sweepers keeps things neat and tidy.  For the relatively small investment of about $18 million in initial equipment costs and $3-5 million more in annual costs, Philadelphia could fund a program that can keep the entire city clean.  Let’s invest in citywide sidewalk cleaning to make all of Philadelphia the city our visitors want to see and the city that we residents deserve.  

Can we repair and restore the fountains alongside the Art Museum steps?  Those of us who recall them when they were active can attest to the visual impact -- and visceral coolness -- of those cascades.  Their absence leaves the Art Museum steps (even with the addition of the Rocky statue) diminished.  Let’s repair of the fountains and restore this icon to its intended splendor.

Can we restore and re-exhibit Red Grooms' Philadelphia Cornucopia and the Penny Franklin Statue?  Red Grooms' Philadelphia Cornucopia is a “sculpto-pictorama” created for the city's tercentennial, highlighting Philadelphia’s 300-year rich history in parade-float-like fashion.  The 2,000-square-foot Cornucopia warrants a proper home where it can be displayed for all to see and enjoy.  Penny Franklin (or Penny Ben or Penny Benny) is a 6-foot acrylic bust of Franklin covered with about 80,000 pennies donated by schoolchildren that once sat in the courtyard of the fire station at Third and Arch Streets. The statue, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the city’s paid Fire Department (Franklin founded the nation’s first fire company) and had a push-button to activate a brief talk on fire prevention, should be seen and heard.  Let’s get these important works highlighting Philadelphia history out of storage and into public view.


What else?  Can we re-open the Franklin Square PATCO Station?  Can we turn the decaying SS United States into a hotel?  Can we get THAT SMELL out of out subway tunnels?  I’m sure each of you has your own ideas for what we could do to improve Philadelphia for our guests -- and our permanent residents -- let me know what’s on your list.

It will be great fun to have the eyes of the world focused on our city and while playing host will not be without effort, we can make that effort pay off for more than the days our visitors will be here.  So let’s get to work making Philadelphia the city we know it SHOULD be.  Good fences might make good neighbors, but what would benefit Philadelphians is improvement that we can enjoy even after our visitors have left town.