Author of Ed Bacon biography to speak at Center for Architecture
Source: Flying Kite Media
Date: April 23, 2013
Byline: Greg Meckstroth
William Penn’s vision for a gridded five-square city may have laid the original groundwork for Philadelphia, but it was Edmund Bacon, another urban planner, who shaped much of the city as we know it today.
On May 16, writer Greg Heller will discuss Bacon at the Philadelphia Center for Architecture — he is author of the first biography on this beloved yet controversial figure.
To people outside planning, architecture and urban enthusiast circles, the name “Edmund Bacon” might not ring a bell. And that’s a shame — as director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1949 through 1970, he oversaw the planning and implementation of dozens of redesigned urban spaces, included the restored Society Hill, Penn Center and the shopping center at Market East.
Following his public office tenure, he became well known as an outspoken urban advocate. In 2002, at the age of 92, he skateboarded across LOVE Park to protest the city’s ban on boarding in the park.
In 2005, Bacon passed away at the age of 95, leaving behind a legacy that extended beyond his professional accomplishments.
“When he passed away, there were a lot of interesting articles that came out about his life,” says Heller. “It was clear people perceived him as something more than just a governmental figure. He was a local legend.”
Heller didn’t want the biography to be “totally academic,” acknowledging that despite his iconic status to some, there are many potential readers who are not familiar with Bacon. The biography begins with exploration of Bacon’s significance to modern day Philadelphia. Heller then delves into his two-decade tenure as city planning director, a period of great change in urban areas and significant federal investment.
Heller also paints a personal portrait of a man determined to transform planning ideas into reality in Philadelphia. Heller spent a lot of time with Bacon, and saw his dedication firsthand.
When Heller was in college working on his thesis, he wrote Bacon a letter, hoping to gain insight into his research topic. After interviewing Bacon a few times, Heller was invited to take a year off from college to help the retired planner write his memoirs. Heller agreed.
“After he passed away in 2005, I was approached by a publisher to write this biography,” adds Heller. That was in 2007. Six years later, the book is finished and the legend of Ed Bacon lives on.
6 – 7 p.m. May 16 at the Center for Architecture (1218 Arch Street); free but registration is required. The new book will be available for sale at the event and Heller will sign books after his talk.