Heller ’04 Writes First Biography of Architect Edmund Bacon

Source: The Wesleyan Connection
Date: May 13, 2013
Byline: David Low

Gregory Heller ’04 is the author of Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics, and the Building of Modern Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania Press), the first biography of the controversial architect and urban planner. A book launch will be held on Thursday, May 16 at the Center for Architecture in Philadelphia (1218 Arch Street) at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Go to http://hellergreg.ticketleap.com/edbacon/ for more information.

In the mid-20th century, Edmund Bacon worked on shaping urban America as many Americans left cities to pursue life in suburbia. As director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, Bacon forged new approaches to neighborhood development and elevated Philadelphia’s image to the level of great world cities. He oversaw the planning and implementation of dozens of redesigned urban space, including the restored colonial neighborhood of Society Hill, the new office development of Penn Center, and the transit-oriented shopping center of Market East.

Heller traces the career of Bacon’s two-decade tenure as city planning director, which coincided with a transformational period in American planning history. He was a larger-than-life personality, and Heller argues his successes owed as much to his savvy negotiation of city politics and the pragmatic particulars of his vision.

In a recent interview with the Philadelphia Weekly Press, Heller revealed that he became interested in Bacon while completing an internship with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission while he was attending Wesleyan. Heller was able to meet with Bacon, who asked him to write his memoir. Heller took a year off from college to complete it and was then approached by a publisher to write a biography about Bacon. The author wrote his college thesis on Bacon and brought the architect to campus his senior year.

In his introduction, Heller writes: “We study history to understand the past but also to glean lessons for the present and the future. … Despite his shortcomings, Bacon’s ability to bridge the worlds of the visionary and active political actor was rare in 1949 and remains perhaps rarer today.”

Heller is a practitioner in the fields of economic development and urban planning. He is senior advisor at Econsult Solutions, Inc. in Philadelphia. His writing on city planning has appeared in Next American City, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Imagining Philadelphia: Edmund Bacon and the Future of the City, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.