beautiful day

I rode the Miyata across the north side of the Ben Franklin Bridge today. Here it is at about midspan.Note the ugly black headset has been replaced with a new velo orange sealed cartridge unit. turns out that black lug was actually the top half of a stronglight x14 - an old mountain bike headset. I have no idea how I would have ended up on a bike like this. Also note the plush leather handlebar covers - another excellent velo orange product, and one I highly recommend.


What a week

Not much to say, only what I can spit out how exhausted the week has proved to be.


Wall Street Meltdown

You never know the timing of how these things pan out, but I've suspected that the financial markets have been operating on borrowed time for several years now.  It's not what I know, it's who I read, and I've been following Krugman, Roubini, Duncan Black, and Ritholz for a long time now.  There might be a full blown panic unfolding this week, but I've miscalled this before. 

We'll see how this shakes down to the architecture world, but my first thoughts are very dark indeed about this.  Clients almost always rely on credit markets to finance their construction, and I know that the clients we have now currently at the firm rely on the financial markets for their income.  I'm already hearing from friends from school who are looking for jobs now that the jobs out there have completely dried up.  I've heard of big layoffs at design firms in NYC. This wild ride could mean some frightening shake outs in the architecture job market.

And looking to Philadelphia, what proposals are out there that would be most threatened if the credit markets completely froze?  The American Commerce Center, with its ambitious spire really smells like it's dependent on a healthy office rental market and financing to meet its scale.  Walnut St Capital claims that it has secured its financing for this enormous project, but I'll speculate that enormous projects like this one might be most at risk in a rapid slowdown.


Pedestrian Pushback

Few things upset me these days. Back in 2004, out of school and with my first career oriented job at a little luxury homebuilder called Toll Brothers, I had a lot of stress come out of the ordinary things I did in my life. My commute sucked, 45 minutes, I had no money and i had to keep filling up the gas tank every week. I had no idea what I was doing and I was insecure, so I had an irrational fear of getting called into the office to be told that my hiring was a mistake. Traffic sucked. Stressing about being late to work sucked. Gaining weight because my only lunch options were fast food places in Morrisville.

So fast forward to 2008. I'm happy at my job, I only live 10 minutes away by bike. I don't deal with traffic - actually the thought of being late because I got stuck in traffic feels like something I used to do but have now forgotten about, like watching Thundercats after school or eating Campbell's Soup. Yes, I get pissed when cars cut me off on the streets, but I feel like it's more like a challenge for me to bike faster.

But there is one thing these days that absolutely gets me angry every time - seeing red, thinking about writing my congressman, organizing a protest, shouting match kind of angry. I'm sick of construction sites in the city taking over the sidewalks. It's completely disrespectful to pedestrians, and quite often it's dangerous. The one I most often see is on 2nd street in Queen Village around the block from my house. Punks!

So I'm glad to see pushback like this. Seriously, it's time to make these kinds of conditions unacceptable in this city.


Philadelphia's Budget shortfall.

Is 450 million over 5 years. I didn't realize until now that Philadelphia's yearly budget is on the order of 3.5 billion. and that the biggest chunk of it comes from wage taxes and something called a "net profit tax." I'm intrigued, so I might dig a little more to learn where the money comes from, and where it goes.

Anyway, I read Nutter's speech about this. I love this guy's priorities. He says things that are so measured and judicious, but always has this tone of passion and urgency when talking about these really dry issues.


More bicycle nonsense.

Aaah. I can't stop fussing through the internet, looking for cheap bicycle frames. My very latest obsession is chrome plating old steel frames, documented beautifully and tragically here. This has only distracted me slightly from my other 2008 obsession: the Miyata Team Titanium bicycle I bought this past spring.

I've swapped out a few more components, so I thought I'd document the latest snapshot of my work in progress:
This is where you'll usually find her - in the only spot she will fit on the first floor in my tiny trinity. I actually don't mind the bike as a focal point for the living room - it very well may be the most valuable thing I own.

Here's a craiglist gem - 3ttt Prima 220 handlebars I got from a really nice guy in Chestnut Hill. $30 including the price of Phillycarshare to get there. They're incredibly lightweight. I also found out recently that this no name stem I bought back in April for $35 is actually an old Trek System 1 stem. I think it's a fairly standard issue item.

Also from the man in Chestnut Hill, a Prolink selle italia seat. $35 including phillycarshare. It's very nice. The seatpost I bought from bikeline the very first week I had the frame. I hate it - I've fallen in love with the aesthetic of raw metal, so the black painted aluminum zones on this post gross me out.

The tubing badge - It says "Titanium Miyata exclusive APA Aluminum Pressurized Adhesive." This would be a good time to note that I paid $200 even for the frame, but add $20 for gas and dinner that I bought my friend for going up to check it out with me.

Here's the red lug and aluminum fork. Also, the calipers are old shimano 600 taken from the centurion I had previously cannibalized. By the way, the centurion is doing just fine - I rebuilt it after acquiring the components from the guy in Chestnut Hill.

How do I know this is a 1992 Team Titanium, and not a 1991 Team Titanium? This little logo on the fork matches the one shown in the catalog

The wheelset I bought for this build was a pretty good deal. $135 for Dura ace hubs, 28h in front, 32 in back. Mavic CXP33 rim in back, and some weird no name rim in the front. All it said was "Matrix Heat Treated 700c." It was a charcoal grey, which sucked because the CXP33 is raw aluminum and matches the frame. Nevermind, I replaced it (myself, thank you very much) last weekend with a sun M14A, pseudo aero rim, also raw aluminum and $30. It looks 1000 times better. By the way, I built it after watching the bike tube guys. They're actually pretty entertaining.

And here's the rear rim.

Can't forget the pedals - mks-gr9 platforms. I bought it now on eBay, I think I paid $25.

Finally, I musn't forget the drivetrain, which I'm not super excited about, but it was another craigslist gem. I bought a sora group for $60 with STI shifters, triple crank, and pretty much everything but the bottom bracket. At the time, used sora brake shifters were going for $80 alone, so I think I did okay. Cosmetically, they're not in the best shape, but they shift fine. I do find the triple crank useless. I went up the manayunk wall with my biopace double crank just fine, so I can't imagine I'll find much use for the granny gear in Philly.

So, what's next? The headset looks like crap - it's big, bulky and black. I'd like to switch it out with a new Tange Levin or similar. I really want to get rid of the seat post, but it's an odd size - 25.8mm, which leaves my options really limited for now. And I'd really like to upgrade the drivetrain. The sora stuff feels a little unrefined. And to top it all off, I'm eyeing some beautiful leather trim for the handlebars from Velo Orange, which I'd probably try to match with a Brooks Swallow Saddle.

So far, I've spent close to $600 for all the items. At this point, it feels like I won't be happy until I spend $600 more.


Foxwoods Moving

This philly inquirer story that just broke seems like great news, but of course with these casinos, the devil is in the details. I opposed the two waterfront casino proposals, partly because the idea of gambling in Philadelphia was so transparently conceived as a way to scrape up some revenue and nothing else, and partly because the proposals were both junk for the city. For urbanists, this is now well accepted, but insular car oriented developments are always dead spots. They're the ugly, uninteresting and dangerous. Think Pier 70. Think Dockside. Think the paperboard condos up by the Sugarhouse site. I go to these places when I want to feel bleak and disconnected. It's an ignorant remnant of the twentieth century that big power player developers still try and foist this nonsense on Philadelphia.

Okay, s0 the possibilities that come from this resiting are terrific. I've always had a soft spot for the Gallery. I'm not sure if it was genius or negligent to put a mall over one of the biggest train hubs in the region - frankly it's a little of both. It's actually a good thing to have a mall accessible to center city, I use it and so do a lot of other people. The problem was that as it was developed, the gallery missed opportunities that would have made it great. It's tone deaf as an urban project - no real street presence, and it's got a location that easily would have accommodated much higher density. It could and should have 20 stories of residential or office or both above it.

So I'm hoping that the owners -PREIT and a group of others take this most recent news as an opportunity to do a major reboot of that whole area. I can easily imagine a high end shopping mall with major entertainment infrastructure becoming the seed of a vibrant center city. Face it - right now all the new construction that's happening there is the convention expansion or related to it. And conventions alone won't bring strength to that part of the city.

And maybe Sugarhouse will take this opportunity to stop being wrongheaded and think about locating next to Foxwoods on that big, empty lot. I mean, cities are made for agglomerations.


That last post was as pointless as it was ineffective.


10 posts in August

I'm going to do it.  I guess this one shouldn't count.


Better Parking Policy

It could be coming to Philadelphia, according to this inquirer article.  From every angle, driving is a classic example of what happens when individuals are not responsible for the marginal burden they put on the system.  They rarely pay for their portion of road use, almost always have a free or government subsidized parking, and the cumulative effects of vehicle CO2 emissions are bourn by everyone in the world. 

It's good to see some governments trying to take a proper accounting of the true costs of driving. 

By the way, what is up with the inquirer website ads?  They seem to be slowing down my computer to a crawl.


SEPTA Dune Buggy

This was amusing on my way home from work. Suddenly enormous piles of sand have appeared around the neighborhood of South Street (it think it's related to the streetscape overhaul). This particular pile has spilled over into 4th street, requiring a couple of soon to be striking transit police to guide a bus through it. Oh yes, right through it. What a wild ride it must have been inside!


South Street, from Front to Second

For your Strolling Pleasure...

More Miyata Titanium

Right after the bike race. I broke the law by wading into the Logan Circle Fountain, but on a day as hot as that, who would care?

Notice that I've completed the transfer of components from my old Centurion. I also found a great deal on craigslist: an almost complete Shimano Sora component group (just missing the bottom bracket) for 60 bucks. Currently, the thing is sort of a Frankenstein hybrid - 600 calipers, cranks, and derailleurs; Dura Ace bottom bracket and hubs, some strange "T System 1" quill stem, an unidentifiable headset, narrow Nitto handlebars, and Sora shifters. The rims don't match either, and that's the thing that probably bugs me the most.

Meanwhile, the Centurion languishes in the basement, waiting impatiently for a summer resurrection that may never happen.

So far, I think I have spent around 500 dollars, which is way more than I wanted. I could not resist that frame, and now this bike has become something of a love object. And when you act out of love, any cost can be justified.


Miyata Team Titanium!

The project that has been consuming virtually all of my free time is my new bike:It's a 1992 Team Titanium Miyata. Miyatas are a casual cult bike. They were a Japanese bicycle manufacturer from the 80's and 90's that produced some very well regarded touring cycles. I saw this titanium frame on philadelphia craigslist, and could not resist. Look at that Titanium! Look at that red fork! Had my better judgment prevailed, I never would have bought it. I paid $200, which is sizable compared to my current salary, and I knew well in advance that although these frames were top of the line in their day, there's a good bit of evidence online that the bonded lugs are a weak point of the design.

The upshot is that if it does fail, the one person in the country who specializes in their repair is Harry Havnoonian, who currently runs his shop outside of Philly in Media, PA. I'm trying to carefully follow his instructions for treating the bonds well - 1. keep away from saltwater (not a problem right now) 2. don't mash down on the pedals 3. Make sure to use a rear wheel with a cassette, and not a freewheel. This last item I heard him say on a podcast interview. It makes sense - since the bearings on a freewheel are located further away from the ends of the axle, they put more stress on the bonded dropouts.

But anyway, the ride is beautiful. Titanium certainly has a different feel compared to steel, light and springy. The bike is lighter and more beautiful than any of my previous bicycles to date, except of course, for my strida.

Alright, here's a photograph from my bike ride today - Up to Penn Treaty park and back down via Fishtown and 2nd Street.


New Market Site

I support the Stamper Square proposal, the one proposed for the huge hole where New Market once existed, but I'm very skeptical that it actually will come to fruition. The opposition in the community is formidable, even if it is a minority. But even if it does get approval from the Society Hill Civic Association, I'm not sure their market timing could get much worse. I went to the public presentation at the old Pine Street Church the other night, and the developer said they were expecting to sell condos in the project for $950 a square foot. Is that possible? A million dollars for 1000 SF in Philadelphia? Sounds like this place will likely remain a hole for the next 5 years.


Philadeli is closed forever.

So claims Porky Pig with a yarmulke. For those looking for trends on East South Street, this certainly isn't a good sign. Philadeli, which had been around far longer than I've been showing my scruffy face around South Street, has shut its doors. Inside the old Jewish style deli looks pretty well cleaned out, just a misaligned and empty tastykake shelf is visible in the darkened interior. I used to go there pretty often when I worked at Pearl Art and Craft across the street, the place offered a nice 5 minute break when I was exhausted from being on my feet all day. I remember well Carl Ning discovering and recommending the Matzo Ball soup from the aggressive looking guys from behind the Philadeli Deli counter.

It seems from a couple of comment boards online that a new owner bought the building, and has new ideas for retail to take its place. I'm a little concerned, because if you look at past closures on the street, new stores have failed to materialize or have taken quite a long time. Seems like there's a slow unraveling taking place. A lot of closings in the past few years have been stores I didn't care about or actively disliked, like McDonald's, Tower and the Gap. But I'd much rather have those retailers than an empty storefront. Change is part of the city, and I'll wait to see what this new owner has in mind, but to lose a South Street stalwart like Philadeli makes me feel uneasy.

South Street doesn't get a lot of respect. I think many people consider it to be the trashy past-prime cousin to old city, and events like the 2001 Mardi Gras didn't help it's reputation. But consider that's it's the retail backbone to two wonderfully vibrant neighborhoods - Queen Village and Society Hill - and that many of it's businesses are unique in the city, like Pearl or Bluebond guitars, or Chef's Market. I am worried that I don't hear more voices concerned for it's future.

And who are these TRIAD realty folks? They seem to be everywhere on South Street.


Favorites from the Philadelphia Car Show

A vintage Subaru 360
Beautiful! A white Subaru FF1 - a real salaryman's car.

A Subaru BRAT - much better lines and headlights than the BRATs from the eighties.

A Classic Cord, also notable as the Bruce Wayne car from the animated series.

The Smart Car. Trendy for good reason. It's got reasonable mileage and it's easier to park than anything out there.

The Pontiac Solstice - good proportions and it looks like fun to drive.

The Ford/Airstream Concept Vehicle - finally, my friends might like me! No seriously, I like that this concept challenges the conventions of occupying a vehicle.

And finally, the Dodge Charger. I'm not a big fan of anything big, especially not modern retro American muscle cars. But I like this car's lines. Plus I'm a sucker for Le Creuset Red.
Finally, here's a shot of the main entrance to the Philadelphia Convention Center, which is the beautiful old Train Shed for Reading Railroad. Once the dignified front door to the city via passenger train, it's obsolescence now makes it only occasionally useful as a showroom for the latest automobiles.
There is no irony here, though. The Reading Terminal was rendered obsolete by improvement to the Philadelphia rail system in the 1980's when the Center City Commuter Tunnel unified all the existing train lines. Cars had nothing to do with it's current state.


Explosion in Queen Village

A big house explosion in my neighborhood yesterday. The fire department thinks it may have been gas. No one was hurt, but the house was mostly destroyed, as were several cars on the street. Click here for the news story.

I feel sorry for whoever owns this Volkswagen. I imagine that they were probably very happy to find a parking spot when they left it in front of the house. I know it can take up to half an hour to find a space sometimes in this neighborhood.

What's somewhat interesting is that the condition of the car is probably more shocking than the house. It's unusual to see a car burned melted and smashed parked in the city. But burned and collapsing housing is common enough in this city that I often tune it out.


Onion Flats Open House

Tonight I went to the open house for the Onion Flats by Tim McDonald. I'm really confused by all of the names associated with that company/organization - But they are very good names. Plumbob, Jig, OnionFlats are snappy sounding words, words that are probably up to no good, but are so cute that you forgive them.

The particular Onion Flats I saw tonight was a place rather than a firm - new homes, currently on the market in Fishtown. And they look very sharp. They're designed to appeal to the Dwellhomes crowd, i.e. thoroughly modern but with witty moves and materials here and there to give the whole design a warmth, plus a real effort to incorporate green technologies. In fact, they claim that the house will be the first in Philadelphia to achieve a LEED Homes Gold rating, and high efficiency appliances and a gorgeous grass roof were the most visible manifestations of its sustainability. Bamboo floors and furniture also visibly demonstrated the builder's commitment to green. One of the architects I went with tonight said, it can't be terribly difficult to get some sort of LEED rating in Philadelphia, because from the very start it's going to be a brownfield development within walking distance to public transit. But the fact that it's the first gold means that it's not yet common, so I have to commend them for that.

The house had plenty of wit built in as well - clever interior clerestories and skylights to bring light into the dark urban middle of the house, a very nice steel stair wall that resembled bamboo, and a single step galvanized stair up to that amazing roof deck, with fantastic views of just about everything in greater Philadelphia.

Altogether it was a terrific building. They're asking close to $600K for it, which is pretty steep for fishtown. However, housing product like this (focused on the dwell market) is not easy to find in the city, and seems to be very popular from the success of Dwell and inhabitat.com. Houses like this seem to be satisfying the demands of a young demographic that is on its way to getting more and more passionate about the environment and modern design, while simultaneously moving into a wealthier time of their lives. Assuming the bottom doesn't fall out completely on the Philadelphia real estate market, Tim McDonald and Onion Flats could be in the right place at the right time.


Bikes and Cabs - the Cats and Dogs of Traffic

One of the reasons I love Philadelphia to the point of irrationality is it's inherent bike friendliness. It's not as overtly bike friendly as Palo Alto, with well marked bike lanes amply sized running just about everywhere. But the characteristics of Philly's street grid make for an exhilarating ride because it pretty much puts cyclists on equal footing with vehicles. First, it's mostly flat sloping very gently away from Broad street towards the rivers. Second, the grid in effect populates the city with a ton of intersections - most of them are 4 way stops (ideal for coasting through), but even stoplights can allow the steady paced biker to catch up with fast accelerating cars.

And that's exactly what happened tonight, at the end of my ride to East Falls and back. Cab drivers tend to be some of the most aggressive drivers in the city and there was no exception to that rule tonight. This one guy cut me off at the intersection of sixth and Chestnut - right in front of Independence Hall Dammit! and I would have none of it. I definitely get road rage, and when I do I will do everything in my power to ensure that whoever has incurred my wrath spends the rest of his or her evening feeling like a dumbass. But as a bike rider, I don't have much power compared to internal fucking combustion engines. But this is where the beautiful streets of Philadelphia come to my rescue. The cab driver managed to cut me off one more time as I was about to pass him, but then promptly came to a stop sign and two red lights. With no cars coming, I sailed through.

I'll be honest, going through red lights and stop signs feels like cheating, and I mostly avoid doing that. But if it's to teach a cab driver that he shouldn't waste his gas pushing around a cyclist who is only going to pass him, I think it's well worth the risk.



So much of Florida urbanism is influenced by Disney.


Yes, the Patriots really blew it.

So how did the New England Patriots become such a focus for my disgust? It's hard to like any team that is not your own, (I feel very strange that as an Eagles fan I'm enjoying a Giants win so much) but it takes something special for me to hate another team. I generally hate the Cowboys, and that's from getting kicked in the gut so many times as a kid watching the Eagles getting beaten in the playoffs - and also T.O. But here were the Patriots, on the surface very likable winners, getting excellent media coverage, like "60 Minutes" specials about what a terrific guy Tom Brady is, how they do everything right - playing as a team - eschewing individual achievements - blah, whatever.

And watching this, it irritated me to no end that in all of the talk of inevitability, all of the "greatest team ever" chatter, the thing the media coverage mostly ignored was THAT THEY WERE CAUGHT CHEATING. OK, as far as I know the "cheating" didn't give them a huge competitive edge, or any edge at all (of course, we'll never know for sure since the spy tapes were destroyed). But do you know what? It doesn't matter. Because in my mind that media coverage should have gone like this:

"Wow, these guys are playing amazing football. But we already know that they are losers at the game of life, because THEY CHEATED. FOR NO GOOD REASON. What a bunch of losers."

Some friends in middle school always had a bug up their butt not to learn, not to be engaged, but to get perfect scores. This type of achievement always seemed shallow to me - they would work really hard with no big picture perspective at all, just trying to be the best at whatever class they were in. And a lot of times this pursuit of perfection would help those students justify cheating. I always thought this was dumb because it meant that success in the classroom for most of them was absolutely empty. To their credit, many of them figured out that cheating is a stupid endeavor. But apparently, Bill Belichick's Patriots never learned this most basic lesson. And so, I am thrilled that today all of Boston wishes their almost perfect season had never happened. What perfect justice.

Funny thing is, Tom Brady came off like a jerk in that 60 minutes special that was supposed to do the opposite. He told some story about how people knew he had lost a chess match if they came in a room and found the board and pieces scattered around the floor. I thought - oh yes, I knew punks like that - punks who felt some sort of cosmic unfairness if they lost anything - punks who didn't think at all about what it means to compete, or to win or lose. And somewhere along the piece it comes across that Brady himself feels a sort of emptiness. He even wonders aloud "is this all there is?" Maybe one day he will figure something out. Today would be a good day to start trying.


I love that the Patriots blew it.

Because I love it when cheaters choke.

Sarasota sublime.

I didn't expect to be impressed, but I was.


What is this about?

I want to say a few words to clarify the intent of this blog. Mostly, this is for myself - I've got a couple of dead blog attempts floating out there on the internet, and part of the blame for that is lack of subject focus. Also (and more importantly) I don't have a lot of drive, but I've got quite a bit of ambition.

So I want sprawlers to be a collection of my ideas and critiques of the built environment. I'm an intern architect in Philadelphia. I want to write about what I know, but even more I want to write to hone my focus as a designer. I'm not a wholesale subscriber to most of the architectural movements that exist out there, like new urbanism, non-linear systems, high-performance building, or prefab. I do feel quite passionate about buildings and cities that suck (here's a clue - it's mostly phony shit), but I realize that people who only take negative positions are empty. I also don't mind getting carried away, like when Geoff Manaugh riffs on some absurd urban fantasy. I think progress in anything requires the acceptance of the absurd.

Alright, there's a working model.


I'll be flying down to Orlando tomorrow. Of course, I will have my cameraphone with me. I'll see if anything inspires an urbanism post. I must get started!


A Test

Paraphrasing Katz, this thing is on!