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Enterprise Center plans culinary incubator in W. Philly

Enterprise Center plans culinary incubator in W. Philly

Source: Philadelphia Business Journal
Date: August 16, 2010
Byline: Natalie Kostelni

The Enterprise Center is hopeful it will break ground this fall on a long-planned culinary incubator in which chefs who currently work out of their home kitchens, taste testing their secret chili or oatmeal cookie recipes, will have an official place to cook.

Those who might stir the pot at the Center for Culinary Enterprise range from chefs and bakers to caterers, food-cart vendors and hash slingers looking to move up. It aims to take some of the risk out of a fledgling startup. The goal of the center is to be an engine for creating food-related jobs and businesses.

The $5 million center would be housed in a vacant supermarket at 48th and Spruce streets in West Philadelphia bought two years ago by the Enterprise Center. The building totals 12,500 square feet and will be expanded by 1,500 square feet. It recently got $1.5 million in federal grants to put toward the center and is in the process of closing on other funding sources.

“If all goes well, we will break ground this fall,” said Greg Heller, managing director of economic growth and community revitalization at the organization. The project is expected to be finished in a year.

The idea of the Center for Culinary Enterprises was floated seven years ago and explored by the Enterprise Center. The culinary center would allow entrepreneurial foodies access to a fully equipped kitchen that would contain commercial-grade refrigerators, walk-in freezers, ovens for mass production, long steel-top preparation tables and the like.

It would be maintained as a licensed commercial kitchen and not only help advance the local food industry but also give those with a culinary talent an outlet to begin building a business.

The incubator will have several components that aim to hit multiple facets of creating, selling and working in an environment revolving around food and food production with hopes that it’s a recipe for success.
“Commercial kitchen space is a big part of the puzzle but not all of it,” he said. “We’re coming out of it with a different angle with a business acceleration model, and we will have those using the incubator interacting with those who have business development experience.”

The center will have three commercial kitchens. Tenants can rent kitchen and freezer space by the hour to produce items that can then be marketed for sale. As a commercially licensed kitchen it must meet state and other local health and safety ordinances — often an expensive, tedious hurdle for emerging chefs. A commercially licensed kitchen allows food prepared in the space to be sold to the public.

It will also have what is referred to as an “eKitchen multimedia learning center,” which is an interactive classroom and demonstration kitchen. Health and nutrition workshops as well as business development programs will be offered.

The facility will have a full-service restaurant called Little Louie’s BBQ. Neighborhood high school juniors and seniors will be trained in a range of restaurant and hospitality jobs while receiving classroom instruction and paid on-the-job experience. Items created in the culinary incubator will be sold in a 2,600-square-foot café, which has been pre-leased by the owner. The Walnut Hill Mini-Farm located eight blocks away, where youths can plant and grow food and sell it to local markets, the Restaurant School and other outlets that want fresh, locally grown produce, will be incorporated into the center.


West Philadelphia: The Plan of The Center for Culinary Enterprise

West Philadelphia: The Plan of The Center for Culinary Enterprise

Source: Philadelphia Neighborhoods
Date: June 29, 2010
Byline: Kimberly Wood and Ashley Myers

As you walk south on 48thStreet, just passed Spruce, you’ll see a decrepit and vacant grocery store with a big sign in the window that says, “Coming Soon! Center for Culinary Enterprises.”

This dilapidated building is one of The Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation’s (TEC-CDC) next big projects. It’s called The Center for Culinary Enterprises and will be Philadelphia’s first food business incubator.

TEC-CDC plans on turning the approximately 13,000 square foot building into a fully functional business incubator with an eKitchen, a full-service restaurant, retail space for local food businesses and three shared-use commercial kitchens for rent to those in the community.

“This project is a perfect example of the new green economy,” said Greg Heller, a managing director at TEC-CDC. “A big part of sustainability has to do with secure local food systems and growing local businesses, keeping your dollars in general and especially your food dollars local in the community.”

he TEC-CDC believes there is a huge need for a place like this in West Philadelphia. In the Philadelphia region, the food industry alone generates over $15 billion annually. Jobs related to food or the food industry make up almost 10 percent of the city’s economy.

In West Philadelphia 31.5 percent of individuals are living below the poverty level. This is approximately five percent higher than the city’s over all percentage. The unemployment rate in the West Philadelphia neighborhood is 50.4 percent. TEC-CDC hopes that their Center for Culinary Enterprises will help change the face of food consumption in West Philadelphia while creating jobs.

The first component of the Center for Culinary Enterprises is an eKitchen Multimedia Learning Center. This will be a classroom, demonstration kitchen, public computer lab and an electronic resource library. This section of the center will cater mainly to entrepreneurs interested in starting their own food business. However, it is not limited to them.

The eKitchen is also important because it will provide members of the community with access to information on important health issues and nutrition advice.

The side of the building facing 48th Street will be turned into a full service restaurant called Little Louie’s BBQ. The restaurant will not only give jobs to youth in the neighborhood but also train them in restaurant and hospitality management.

TEC-CDC would like to have around 100 Philadelphia high school students participate yearly. The restaurant will also provide six new permanent jobs in the neighborhood. TEC-CDC has already hired a full time manager for the restaurant who will be part of the project for at least two years.

Members of the neighboring community associations want the business district surrounding the Culinary Enterprise Center to become a focal point that people are proud of based on how it looks and what it offers. Little Louie’s will provide neighbors with a new place to eat as well as a façade people will enjoy looking at.

Next to the barbecue will be two retail spaces. Both have been rented by the owner of Kaffa Crossing, a popular Ethiopian coffee shop on 45th and Chestnut.

The three shared-use commercial kitchens in the middle of the Center for Culinary Enterprises will not only educate food entrepreneurs but will also give space to those already in the food business who are looking to expand.

The idea comes from the problem that many food entrepreneurs face: they are running informal businesses out of their homes. The kitchens will be open 24 hours a days, 7 days a week with flexible rent to those interested.

Two of the kitchens will each be 340 square feet while the larger one, mainly for baking, will be 978 square feet. TEC-CDC decided to dedicate more space to the baking kitchen after surveying the community and learning that about 70% of their potential clients were creating baked goods.

The business district at 48th and Spruce streets rests on the border separating the Garden Court and Walnut Hill communities. Both the Garden Court Community Association and the Walnut Hill Community Association have been very active in revitalizing the area and getting the old supermarket turned into something beneficial to the area.

“It does not look like there have been any changes in the business district and physically there really haven’t been many,” said Mark Mendenhall of the Garden Court Community Association. “There is always this trickle of things going on around the business district that eventually we’re hoping will end up taking hold.”

TEC-CDC plans to break ground on the project this September, and hopes to be open for business within a year.

“From a community development standpoint, we think it’s really going to transform this corridor and the folks from the neighboring community associations seem to be pretty excited about it.,“ said Heller. To learn more about the potential clients of The Center for Culinary Enterprise, read this related article.


The Future Is Now

Source: Philadelphia City Paper
Date: December 16, 2009
Byline: Nathaniel Popkin

The Future is Now

In 1959, planner extraordinaire Edmund Bacon imagined that in 50 years, “no part of Philadelphia is ugly or depressed.” What does the next half-century have in store?

On the first morning of December, milky light streaks the city and the day gets going. I’m on top of Drexel University’s new Millennium Hall, a 17-story residence designed by Erdy McHenry Architecture and structural engineer Cecil Balmond as a model integrating engineering and architecture. The tower, which stands on the rise of 34th Street, is wedged midblock on a small site that previously housed university tennis courts. Clad in offset stainless-steel panels and rotating to manipulate sunlight and views of the city, Millennium Hall seems to move. From the south, the panels give it the appearance of a tall, powerful woman whose skirts shimmer against the wind.

Another effect of the building’s elliptical rotation is to deliver skyline views to every residence, a gift extended and multiplied in the penthouse lounge. Here is the remarkable and unusual vista; on a ponderously clear morning like this one, nearly everything is illuminated — from Overbrook High School to John Penn’s Solitude mansion. In between, on the gridiron: the great stand of Center City towers, Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in the far distance, the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, the old-school skyline of University City, the rich brown brick and castle tops of West Philly. In the immediate foreground: a marvelous, multilayered web — three passenger trains and a freight train, pedestrians crossing the new Drexel Park, automobile traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway, West River (Martin Luther King) Drive, the Spring Garden Bridge. Here is the transparent, god’s-eye view of people moving through time and space, the real life evocation of city planner Edmund Bacon’s original vision for the “simultaneous movement systems” of Market East.

From here, indeed, it is hard to resist thinking like a god of the city, rearranging and replacing things as I see fit (re-erecting the half-tumbled Drexel Shaft just below might be my first act of magic). Alas, no one has such power, not even Ed Bacon at the height of his career. This quite misunderstood point punctuates a new, rather illuminating book just out from Penn Press — Imagining Philadelphia: Edmund Bacon and the Future of the City. Smartly edited by Drexel historian Scott Gabriel Knowles, the book is the first to assess the ideas and impact of Philadelphia’s legendary city planner, who died in 2005.

Imagining Philadelphia is a series of essays-as-dialog by Knowles, Gregory Heller, Guian McKee and Harris Steinberg (with an afterword by Eugenie Birch), arranged as responses to an article written by Bacon, “Philadelphia in the Year 2009.” Bacon’s 1959 essay was published in Greater Philadelphia Magazine as “Tomorrow: A Fair Can Pace It.” The fair refers to the 1976 World’s Fair and Bicentennial, the fair that would never come to be. The heart of this book is Knowles’ carefully knit story of the fair’s unraveling, and what that tells us about the limits of a master planner. Ultimately, like all of us, the author wonders, “Where are we now as visionaries?”

A Salesman of Ideas
In 1959, a world’s fair must have felt blisteringly possible, and even necessary. In a fair, as Knowles explains, Bacon sought, and thought he had found, a natural extension of his efforts “to liberate William Penn’s grid from over a century of industrial-age clutter and to make the city simultaneously auto-, pedestrian-, and investment-friendly.” Bacon had been a student of world’s fairs; he lectured on their impact on host cities and their role as progenitors of urban change. So in advancing the idea of a world’s fair, nothing less than the future of the city was at stake. Philadelphia would be its leading American example, “the key prestige city of the country.”

“What could be more natural,” he reasoned, “than to establish, as a national policy, the idea that the United States will receive the world in Philadelphia in 1976, and that the location of the Exposition will be downtown Philadelphia? In this way the reconsideration of the ideas of 1776 will occur in the place where they were originally formulated, and the world will determine, by observation, that the vision of [the American display at the 1958 World’s Fair in] Brussels was not a dream, but a driving force that led to the actual reconstruction of Philadelphia as an unmatched expression of the vitality of American technology and culture.”

Having orchestrated the remarkably successful 1947 Better Philadelphia exhibit, with its 30-foot, manipulable model of Center City, Bacon had come to realize the value in producing a tangible icon of the possible city: It gave people a sense of wonder, control and participation in determining the future. Bacon, as Gregory Heller notes in his Imagining Philadelphia essay, “believed that an effective planner had to sell his ideas actively in a persuasive way.” That’s the key to understanding Bacon’s impact, according to Heller, president of the Ed Bacon Foundation and author of a forthcoming biography. Bacon, he says in an interview, was “not purely a planner — he was a planner and implementer. He was a salesman of ideas.”

Bacon surely wanted to show off. By 1959, the redevelopment of Society Hill, Independence Mall, Penn Center and Eastwick in Southwest Philadelphia — all projects Bacon had conceived or influenced — were complete or under way. A new urban model (though not without detractors and not without significant compromises) was emerging. Now to complete it: “The form of the city then [in 2009] will be set by the nature of the ideas we generate now.”

But Bacon knew his vision would fall short without significant support from the federal government. A world’s fair would provide the political cover and financing to build the rest of his dream: Market East as the center of a region-wide, integrated transit system; a circuit of expressways around Center City; Chestnut Street as the world’s classiest pedestrian promenade dazzled by “open-sided electric cars with striped awnings”; and to decisively reverse white flight and suburbanization.

From 1976, Bacon looks confidently ahead. “By the year 2009,” he imagines, “no part of Philadelphia is ugly or depressed.”

He Ripped Its Heart Out
From the 17th floor of Millennium Hall, right on top of Bacon’s imagined 1976 World’s Fair riverside amusement center, this is just how the city appears. Fifty years of neighborhood dissolution is invisible, the one-in-four rate of poverty silent, addiction and desperation smothered by the glass. Bacon wrote convincingly of designing for people in place, but he often reverted to thinking of the city as I see it here, as a chessboard. “His favored solutions [to problems of poverty] and his understanding of the city itself,” writes Guian McKee, a University of Virginia historian, in Imagining Philadelphia, “relied on a model of physical determinism: the idea that manipulation and improvement of the built environment of homes, streets, commercial areas, and open spaces could strongly influence, or even control, social and economic outcomes. … The problem was not that Edmund Bacon cared only about design: it was that he believed far too deeply in its power.”

The power is evident in his network of Society Hill alleys. These are graceful, carefully proportioned spaces that caress, delight and surprise. Modern architecture is employed skillfully, certainly proudly, but the overall sense, one of the great pleasures of Philadelphia, is of being in infinite time, in an organic city. The opposite is of course true — and it speaks to the deep ambiguities of Bacon’s approach. His plan for Society Hill was hoisted upon a hot, cluttered, pulsing neighborhood, perhaps what had once been the most dynamic of the early republic. He ripped its heart out to make it beautiful, so that wealthy people would feel comfortable moving back to the city.

“[W]hat did Bacon ultimately want to motivate Philadelphians to do?” asks Christopher Klemek, a George Washington University historian and co-founder of Poor Richard’s tour service, in a 2007 assessment of Bacon in Context magazine. “Nothing short of reviving the heart of the old Quaker City, reinvigorating Philadelphia’s stagnating downtown. … Yet that goal was deceptively simple, for Bacon thereby asked his contemporaries to buck a powerful national trend, not to abandon a great American city, but instead to relinquish their suburban dreams.”

Heller notes that Bacon employed a well-to-do Society Hill woman, Connie Fraley, to market the neighborhood. He would bring prospective buyers from the Main Line to her apartment so they could imagine living there. But, says Heller, “She hated what happened to the neighborhood.”

For this reason, Klemek, author of the forthcoming Urbanism as Reform (University of Chicago Press), is broadly critical of Bacon as a designer, calling his major downtown projects very possibly “the least interesting sites in contemporary Philadelphia. In every direction from Center City,” he writes in 2007, “it is the areas just beyond Bacon’s reach, precisely the areas he didn’t touch, that exhibit the most viability and attractiveness today.”

But McKee and Knowles, particularly, caution us against assigning undue power (and therefore blame) to Ed Bacon. That, too, is one of the most striking ambiguities of Bacon’s legacy. Despite his reputation and despite the myth of the master planner, Bacon wasn’t ever very powerful. He wasn’t an ally of reform mayors Joseph Clark and Richardson Dilworth, and was often out-maneuvered by the city’s strong development coordinator, William Rafsky, Clark’s closest adviser. Later, he was confronted by a swell of neighborhood-based activism.

Planners, indeed, were often left powerless. As Arcadia University historian Peter Siskind, who is at work on a book called Landscapes of Liberalism (Penn Press), says, “Private housing developers and corporations usually dictated development. Even when government did play an important role, those creating public policy often dismissed or only selectively listened to the professional planners. A lot of fascinating plans were produced during the 1950s and 1960s that were ignored because they were out of step with the market realities and political priorities of the times.”

The Question of 1959
Which brings us back to the question of 1959 — or 2009, or 2059: Where are we now as visionaries? Today, the most striking vision comes from ambitious institutions of education and medicine, and from media and design innovators. Yet, in no small way, we rely on ourselves, a fragmented pulse of neighborhood dreamers, of do-it-yourselfers. Heller is one. As a managing director at The Enterprise Center, he’s building the Center for Culinary Enterprises, a food-industry incubator in an abandoned supermarket in West Philadelphia.

But, as Knowles goes on to ask, “Is it desirable or even possible to employ … far-reaching visions?”

“This is actually where Bacon’s legacy is strongest,” says McKee. “Wherever he had an opening, he set out a vision of a city that could be different and better (or so he claimed), and in the end he managed to get at least some of it built, and in fact some of it was better. Ideas do matter in getting people to at least consider a future that can transcend the limitations of the past. To be willing to think big and not be defeated going in. The constraints will continue to be real, and not all of it will work, but some of it might, and in fact probably will — because Philadelphia, for all its problems, has real strengths, too.”

Interestingly, Ed Bacon, the salesman, didn’t consider himself a visionary. “Visionaries don’t get to see their ideas built,” he said in 1988.

And, as Heller notes, “When I knew Bacon in his final years, he was thrilled by Philadelphia’s progress. Essentially, many of the concepts that he predicted in his ‘A Fair Can Pace It’ article are occurring, though decades delayed.”

Perhaps Bacon’s was the confident stance of 1959, when — despite the loss of notable factories like Philco and Rohm and Haas — this city manufactured the world’s most powerful computer, when its port handled the most in-bound cargo in the nation, when it remained an economic giant. All the smart planner had to do, it seemed, was seize the opportunity.

Then, as the 1960s took hold, gradual economic change became an unraveling. Racial tension and discontentment and broad democratic protest mounted. Bacon — and his fair — were essentially drowned out. Fifty years on, we inhabit the sediment of that prolonged storm. Gone is a powerful, concentrated private sector (and its tax revenue); gone is the possibility of a single, compelling government vision.

Harris Steinberg, director of PennPraxis, the University of Pennsylvania School of Design agency charged with synthesizing often discordant dreams into a “civic vision” for the Delaware Waterfront, concludes Imagining Philadelphia with his own prayer for the city, the reflective “Philadelphia in the Year 2059″: “The civic engagement process was often loud, raucous, and not always polite,” he writes. “Yet, through the haze of conflicting opinions and, at times, bellicose voices, we were able to arrive at common ground.”

Now, PennPraxis’ plan is the city’s official blueprint for the development of the waterfront. But the experience made Steinberg reticent to pronounce a single, unifying vision for the city. In an interview, he says, “I struggled with the whole idea of a 50-year vision, and thought of the city as I do my children and what I would hope for them. Therefore, it’s about a vital, functioning, welcoming, innovative, healthy city — and less about a physical vision. … It’s focused on the sum total of its parts rather than a big, sexy idea …. That’s why I end with [William] Penn’s Prayer for Philadelphia.If we’re not articulating the issues and working toward solving the problems, we risk irrelevance and extinction.”

Bacon, I think, would have admired Steinberg’s immense savvy, determination and idealism. Both men, of strikingly different temperament and fueled by opposite strategic impulses, have tried to hoist the city forward.

Yet, I also wonder if Bacon, the salesman, might push Steinberg to nail down a single, deeply resonant, perhaps even sexy idea — a torch to light the way forward. In “Philadelphia in the Year 2009,” Bacon writes, “I have tried to show … that a strong idea has a life of its own, and can become a dominant factor if it is clear enough, and if the leadership is stimulated to action.”

So, looking forward with Bacon eyes, what idea might we find?

The Sum of the City
Let’s return to Millennium Hall, Drexel’s new high-rise dormitory. The building isn’t at all perfect, particularly in the way it seems to loom over the soft, quiet streets of eastern Powelton Village. It feels a bit like a Martian waiting, just waiting, for the right moment to snatch the unsuspecting college professor from his study. But a building that can be a Martian and also, from another angle, a strapping woman, is not merely a building. It is a work of interpretive sculpture.

To set a useful contrast, just walk to the next corner. Towers Hall is a perfectly adequate, functional and not entirely unattractive 15-story dormitory. That’s all. It need not — it really can’t — do anything else. We might say Towers Hall represents the belief that a building, or a city, works best when assigned a clear function. Such a belief emerged from the same Modernist impulse that produced Ed Bacon.

Millennium Hall, of course, is also a dormitory. But already, it’s three other things, four if you count the extraordinary and delightful gift of the penthouse view. The architects, on their Web site, say that because its design integrates — privileges, even — the role of engineering, the building is also meant as a conceptual monument to “the fundamental pedagogy of Drexel’s historical roots.” Because it expands the range and possibility for structural rotation, it’s a learning model. By ably, and interestingly, contrasting with the 19th-century city around it, it exposes, rather than diminishes, what’s special about the neighborhood. As such, it peels itself away to reveal and frame the surrounding streetscape. Finally, and not surprisingly, it is green, designed to maximize solar gain in winter and to cool itself in summer. In sum: It lives, it performs.

It therefore commands our interest.

The city we inhabit today isn’t much like Millennium Hall. It works sometimes, and for certain people, quite wonderfully (and for others very poorly). That’s obviously no longer enough. No, the city of tomorrow, of 2019 or 2029 or 2059, will likewise be a city that performs. Here’s an idea that borrows from, but transcends, Edmund Bacon’s instinct to extract value from a world’s fair. Sure, the city that performs is functionally efficient, delightful, inspiring and beautiful. But in much larger part, it requires us to ask a fundamental question about the power of the city to transform the human condition (and the power of people to transform the city): Is the sum of Philadelphia greater than its parts?

We’ll know we’ve landed in the future, in the city that performs, when we can confidently respond, yes.


Ed Bacon’s call for a post-oil economy

Source: Plan Philly
Date: March 17, 2009
Byline: Thomas J. Walsh

Ed Bacon’s call for a post-oil economy

Greg Heller, a planner with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, knew what former city planning director Ed Bacon had to say about himself, and about others. Bacon was hardly shy about sharing his opinions, and tended to oversell himself.

That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway. But Heller, who is close to finishing a draft of a Bacon biography, a multi-year effort scheduled to be published by the Urban Land Institute, says the late Mr. Bacon also undersold himself, to an equal degree.

“When I started, all I knew was Ed’s side of the stories, which are fascinating,” Heller said the other day. “They were also totally inaccurate. The real story is much more interesting. My goal is to get out the story of what he actually did.”

Remarkably, given what’s going on now, economically and ecologically, one of the things Bacon actually did was agree with his “Design of Cities” publisher to write a book about what he called the “post-petroleum” world, and the role cities would play in smoothing that transition. This was in 1973, when Middle East oil embargoes ushered in the energy crisis later in that decade.

“It was timely to a certain extent, but Ed was way ahead of his time in terms of working out ways of doing something about it,” Heller recently told PlanPhilly.

Timely then, but perhaps more so today: Bacon’s “post-petroleum” book was started 35 years before a symposium and exhibit at Penn last fall, entitled, “Re-imagining Cities: Urban Design After the Age of Oil.”

What’s more, Heller says that years later, inspired by reaction to a 1987 speech he gave in Kyoto, Japan, Bacon himself proposed such a conference, but on a global scale. He enlisted willing participants on the spot, in typical Bacon fashion.

But the 1980s were not kind to Ed Bacon’s ideas or visions. After a decade of work, the “post-petroleum” book fizzled. The global conference on alternatives to oil never happened.

The Bacon stimulus package

In addition to his detailed biography (working title: “Edmund Bacon: Biography of a Visionary Planner”), Heller recently contributed a chapter to a University of Pennsylvania Press book due out this coming autumn, based on a long-forgotten article Bacon penned for Greater Philadelphia Magazine.

Scott Knowles, an assistant professor of modern urban history at Drexel University, was researching material for an article he was writing in 2006 about early Cold War civil defense planning when he stumbled, “in one of those moments historians treasure,” upon the original version of Bacon’s magazine article.

Its title: “Philadelphia in the Year 2009.”

Knowles, who moved to Philly in 2005, admits that at the time, he was only familiar with the latter-day version of Bacon’s reputation — the crotchety naysayer of Laurie Olin’s Independence Mall makeover, the unlikely champion of Love Park skateboarders, etc.. (Perhaps not surprisingly, Knowles found no evidence that Bacon gave the time of day to useless Federal safety measures in the event of nuclear holocaust.)

But he started copying the magazine piece and sharing it with colleagues, all of whom told him they found it fascinating. In the meantime, Knowles started to learn more about the man who ran the city’s Planning Commission from 1949 through 1970.

“This article was a pretty elaborate, fanciful vision of quasi-utopian Philadelphia in 2009,” Knowles said. “I thought, ‘This could really spark some conversation,’ and when the (2007) mayoral race came, there was quite a bit of discussion about planning, and I was surprised by that.”

He took the idea to his editor, and soon Knowles was himself an editor — of a volume that will re-print the original Bacon piece, along with chapters by various planning professionals that “could contextualize the essay.”

The working title of the book is “Imagining Philadelphia: Edmund Bacon and the City of the Future.” It includes an afterward by development and sustainability expert Eugenie Birch, a director of the Penn Institute for Urban Research.

Catalytic converter

Knowles says Bacon’s formula in the article is that “the combination of wise, forward-looking planning, with public spirit behind it, a rallied populace and Federal funding can do just about anything, especially if there is something to rally around, a catalytic moment.”

For Bacon, that catalyst would be a World’s Fair in the Bicentennial year of 1976, in the birthplace of the nation. The fair would be so transformative that Philadelphians of 2009 would look back and say, ‘That was the moment’ when the transformation occurred, Bacon reckoned.

In his 1959 article, Bacon wrote that “Philadelphia, among the cities of the nation, now enjoys perhaps top place in recognition for its achievements over the past few years.” This was in no small part due to the Better Philadelphia Exhibition of 1947, he argued, which he helped to stage within the Gimbels department store on East Market Street.

This was not simply Bacon’s famous healthy ego talking — he is still the only city planner to ever grace the cover of Time magazine, Heller reminds us. And the pool-table sized, three-dimensional model of a futuristic Philadelphia — a centerpiece of the expo which could be flipped over, on an axel, for before-and-after views (a major wow-factor in ’47) — was shipped off for use by the U.S. government at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.

“The great need is for a new, clear, concrete objective,” Bacon wrote, “set for [a] manageable time in the future, which establishes new, strong ideas and which acts as a continuing stimulant to sustain civic activity. Such an objective is available, ready-made, only waiting to be used, in the form of the 1976 Philadelphia World’s Fair.”

He describes such a fair in some detail, and one cannot help but pause at one particular paragraph, a prediction which had not come to fruition in 1976, and that only now is getting serious attention: “The Delaware River Marina will be a magnet for visitors, with its historical ships and marine museum, aquarium, swimming pool and restaurants. It will be the point of departure for the launches that take visitors to the Navy Yard for trips through aircraft carriers and cruisers, and for a stop at Old Fort Mifflin.”

Harris Steinberg, executive director of PennPraxis, the clinical arm of the Penn School of Design and PlanPhilly’s parent organization, is writing a chapter for Knowles’ book on “Philadelphia in the Year 2059.” Given Bacon’s knack for time-space conceptual theory and his belief in bold projection, it’s a natural subject to include.

“What’s interesting is how he used the Bicentennial as the fulcrum for this much more widespread planning,” Steinberg said. “We know those days are over — Bacon was writing mainly before the 1960s started to really happen, when Federal funding was something to be counted on. It was the beginning of the ‘Mad Men’ era, and he was at the height of his power. The world was his oyster; but that oyster was starting to disappear fast.”

Several times in the article, Bacon speaks of the power of a “stimulus.” It’s a bit ironic in two ways. First, of course, is the dominant story of the actual year 2009, the here-and-now, featuring an America receiving a Federal stimulus package in the hundreds of billions of dollars, with urban advocates clamoring for infrastructure repair and rebuilding. But more to the point, what he referred to as stimuli would have been the actual results of targeted funds, not the money itself. His assumption was that the plans would be already sketched out, if not fine-tuned. That city officials would be onboard, and contracts signed. That, in requesting Federal money, the groundwork would be “shovel-ready” as a matter of course.

Wrote Bacon: “Seen within this framework, the Fair should inspire the Federal government to lend special support to see to it that the main features of the downtown plan are actually completed by 1976, and completed at a high level of engineering and design, as a part of its world strategy.”

He called it a “world strategy.” These days, it’s known as the “global economy.”

‘Institutional memory’

Despite his extraordinary vision, Bacon was also well known for a lack of political savvy. For a guy from Texas unfamiliar with Bacon lore until recently, Knowles wonders what he could have accomplished if things were different in that regard.

He is writing about it in a chapter called, “Staying Too Long at the Fair: Philadelphia Planning and the Debacle of ’76,” directly addressing this piece of urban history. Knowles also is writing the preface.

The Federal funding never came, of course, done in by the late Mayor Frank Rizzo and other pressures, Knowles said, as the idealism of urban renewal dimmed. “The dream of the Bicentennial expo was subsumed by the social, cultural, political and economic turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s,” Steinberg added.

As far as projecting the Philadelphia of 2059, Steinberg said his chapter is not so much a vision as “a hope.”

“It’s about finding the way to make smart choices and rise above the politics and practices that we’ve devolved into over the past 40 years, that keep us stuck,” he said. “It’s about the hope for the triumph of a progressive process for decision-making in the built environment.”

Steinberg hopes that what has transpired with the recent PennPraxis Delaware River waterfront plans can serve as a model for “deliberative, open and transparent” processes and which “places sound planning and urban design principles, not individual gain, at the leading edge of decision-making.”

“A lot of the work of the next generation of planners will be sort of stripping away some of the mistakes that were made,” Knowles said. “The situating of the city, with its parks and between two rivers — it’s hard to mess that up, and yet we have.”

Another chapter is being authored by Guian McKee, a planning historian at the University of Virginia. McKee is exploring Bacon’s relationship with the rest of Philadelphia’s city government in those years, in particular the Redevelopment Authority, which he said yielded much more power than people realized. The chapter is tentatively titled, “A Utopian, A Utopianist, or Whatever the Heck it is: Edmund Bacon and the Complexity of the City.”

Knowles said that he’ll be interested to see reaction from readers on certain disagreements between his writers, particularly Heller and McKee. “One thing they do agree on is that he wasn’t as powerful as the legend makes him out to be,” Knowles said. “He was not the Robert Moses of Philadelphia.”

Yet the thing about Bacon, Heller said, is that much of what he planned did come to be, and plenty of what he predicted came true, in some form or another, the “East Market Street Transportation Center” not least among them. Even among the things that did not come to pass — such as the Schuylkill River Park, currently in the works — much of what he planned now seems obvious, he said.

“These were just dreams in 1959,” Heller said. “They are much less remarkable in retrospect. Once these things are part of the urban framework, we forget that there was a time when they were not there. And there was very little public support for some of this.”

“He truly was a visionary in the sense of a guy who did not allow disciplinary boundaries to confine his thinking,” Knowles said. Trained as an architect, he was riveted in his work by physical space. And though “like many of his era he was romanticized by the automobile,” his mind was broad enough to foretell certain finite characteristics of cars.

Particularly valuable about the 1959 article is that it allows present day thinkers to put forth observations, getting further at the truth of Bacon’s influence and his environment, Heller and Knowles said.

“I teach a course on the history of Philadelphia, and to be honest with you, it has always been, up until I did this research, very heavily tilted toward the 18th and 19th centuries,” said Knowles. “There’s not a lot written about post-war Philadelphia.”

He doesn’t have to remind Heller, who has found it surprisingly difficult to put living color into what is a thoroughly modern history lesson — about one of the city’s most colorful characters and one of its brightest lights.

“Philadelphia doesn’t have a very good institutional memory,” Heller said. “I think that’s a very dangerous thing for a city.”


Reformers’ Roundtable SEPTA funding fight

Source: Metro
Date: June 25, 2007
Byline: Josh Cornfield

Reformers’ Roundtable SEPTA funding fight

  • Steven T. Wray, Economy League of Greater Philadelphia
  • Gregory Heller, urban planner
  • Marc Stier, Neighborhood Networks, transportation activist
  • Dewitt Brown,

PENNSYLVANIA. The state’s fiscal year officially begins Saturday, but some lawmakers in Harrisburg promise not to pass the state’s budget until dedicated funding is found for SEPTA and other public transportation systems.

Both houses of the General Assembly are debating whether to provide the extra money.

The fight for SEPTA and other public transportation systems comes down to a clash between urban and rural lawmakers with fares and service cuts for local commuters hanging in the balance.

Are Harrisburg lawmakers doing the right thing in threatening not to pass a state budget until dedicated funding for public transportation is found?

Steven Wray: Yes. As the state’s most important instrument for administering public policy, passing a budget without dedicated funding for public transportation would represent signing off on a policy that threatens to damage its economy, something no one would consider sound public policy.

Gregory Heller: I can’t say whether this tactic will work. However, I am encouraged that some lawmakers recognize the severity of Pennsylvania’s transit funding crisis, and are willing to take strong steps towards securing true dedicated funding for transit — like many major transit systems already have.

Marc Stier: Yes, SEPTA and the 38 transit agencies in the Commonwealth are critical to the economy of the whole state. If public transit collapses, so will state revenues. It would be irresponsible to pass a state budget without a solution for transit.

DeWitt Brown: Absolutely. Not only is it good for the environment, a good system of public transportation is crucial to the economic health of our region. If SEPTA raises its fares as planned, the fare increase will cost both the city and the greater Philadelphia region thousands of jobs.

What needs to be done to convince rural lawmakers that dedicated funding is necessary?

SW: Many rural legislators already understand that dedicated funding is necessary to fund transit. The legislature must come to terms with the severity of Pennsylvania’s statewide transportation crisis and realize that much-needed road and bridge projects will be funded only as part of a package with transit.

GH: Dispel the false arguments. Many believe SEPTA wastes money. Audits have shown otherwise. Many believe those who don’t use transit shouldn’t have to support it. Yet highways and gasoline are heavily subsidized, and transit takes thousands of cars off the road.

MS: First, they need to understand that all forms of transit, including their own roads and bridges, are heavily subsidized by taxpayers, including those of us in Philadelphia. Second, they need to recognize that the economy of the whole state will be in trouble if SEPTA is decimated.

DB: The solution is not convincing rural lawmakers. I doubt their interests will ever be aligned with cities. Further, they represent a minority who’s support is not necessary to secure funding. To the extent we do not have dedicated funding, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of urban and suburban representatives. We must force suburban and urban representatives to make public transportation a top priority. If they won’t, we need to elect new representatives.

What do you see as the biggest problem if dedicated funding isn’t found for SEPTA and other public transportation systems?

SW: The proposed service cuts of 20 percent would have the biggest impact. Transit service would be less convenient and predictable, and many workers would have a harder time finding and getting to jobs, making Philadelphia and its region a less attractive place to live and work.

GH: SEPTA has 300 million annual riders, supporting 18 percent of Philadelphia’s commuters. Many will have a harder time traveling, others will opt to drive, adding to our already congested highways. Perhaps most significant, raised fares and cut service will hurt our regional economy and competitiveness.

MS: The first to feel the pain of drastically reduced service and increased fares will be the working poor, senior citizens, and school children. Commuters will face crowded buses, trains, and highways. Soon all of us would be suffer from regional economic decline.

DB: If dedicated funding is not identified, SEPTA will continue to act on an ad-hoc basis. This type of decision making has allowed other cities to purchase Philadelphia’s public transit infrastructure and remove it from our city. For instance, if you want to catch a ride on a Philadelphia trolley, you’re better off traveling to San Francisco. Dedicated funding will allow SEPTA to implement a long-term transit plan that identifies key assets, like our trolley system, and insure such assets are not only protected, but also developed.


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