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.