Cramp Shipyard

I'm just about to start into this, but apparently the building I'm interested in was as part of the I.P. Morris Foundry.


Drexel Shaft Implosion

Taken by myself, standing at 30th Street. The windows of the cira center rippled when the stack hit the ground. I can't believe I woke up early enough to catch it.

There can only be one tallest masonry building in the world...

It's extremely unlikely that the Mole Antonelliana and Philadelphia City Hall share the title of world's tallest masonry building. That would be absolutely ridiculous. I don't think that you could make them the exact same height even if you were trying. The only way that even seems possible to me is if they're both up against some engineering limit of habitable masonry construction, but honestly, that's stupid. One of them has to be taller than the other. So, I'm doing a little research into where these figures of 548 feet are coming from.

From what I can tell, the Mole Antonelliana figures are really inconsistent. In an 1897 engineering journal and separately a 1906 tourism book , the height is listed at 538 and 536 feet respectively:
Now, I read online that in the 1950's the original spire was destroyed, and if that's true it could have been rebuilt higher. But the contemporary numbers are all over the map. The website for the National Museum of Cinema (which occupies the Mole Anotelliana) lists the height at 167.5m (549.5 feet). A 2006 travel article from San Diego Magazine lists the height at 556 feet above the Po, which might not be the same measurement, but if it is, it's almost certainly wrong, because that would make it taller than the Washington Monument. And yet another article in an French travel guide from 2009 lists the height at 163m (535 feet).

It's all dancing around the same height, so maybe they are the same by some weird fluke. But in the interest of settling this tie, I've written to the Museum of Cinema, asking how they know their figure for height. If they're confident, then the Mole should probably be the tallest, but if their figure isn't sourced well, then it's likely that Philadelphia City Hall is taller.


World's Tallest Masonry Building

How is it that Philadelphia City Hall and Turin's Mole Antonelliana, two buildings built half a world apart and finished in different decades, both hold the record for the tallest masonry building in the world. Also, they look nothing like each other. How is that possible?

Really? They're the exact same height?


Some notes from my Urban Economics Class

My favorite concept from the Urban Economics class I took with Dick Voith in 2007 was this:

Housing durability is bad for a city's health when the city is in decline. Since taking the course, my mind has gotten fuzzier and fuzzier on why this counter-intuitive statement is true (if you think it's not counter-intuitive, tell an architect that buildings are built to last too long). A couple of days ago, I found some note from the class. I think these are references to Edward Glaeser's writings on the subject:

1. city growth rates are skewed so that cities grow more quickly than they decline;
2. urban decline is highly persistent;
3. positive shocks increase population more than they increase housing prices;
4. negative shocks decrease housing prices more than they decrease population;
5. if housing prices are below construction costs, then the city declines; and
6. the combination of cheap housing and weak labor demand attracts individuals with low levels of human capital to declining cities.

In addition, durable housing helps account for the connection between urban decline and poverty. The simple correlation between the family poverty rate in 1999 and population growth in the 1990s for places with at least 100,000 residents is _0.48. when urban productivity falls, the most active members of the labor force will naturally flee; but durable housing ensures that their homeswill then be occupied by those that are less connected to the labor market. As our model suggests, the correlation between poverty and a decline in population disappears after one controls for the presence of abundant, cheap housing. this finding may help us understand why declining cities so often are the centers of social distress.

I don't know exactly where this text comes from, but I'll find out. My guess is that it's Voith's powerpoint from the class, and some of Glaeser's text.

Philadelphia Housing History

Starting around 2004, I developed a curiosity about the history of philadelphia housing stock. I was thinking about heading back to grad school for architecture, but I was fascinated by economics and development from working at Toll Brothers.

I had a really hard time finding the kind of info to satisfy this curiosity. Most architecture histories focus on notable buildings and stylistic trends, not neighborhoods or development. I imagine the perfect representation of what I'm looking for is a real time, 3d map that you could play through history from the founding of philadelphia to the current day. But this doesn't really exist (although philageohistory.org is getting close).

Anyway, I've found a really good book on housing development in Philadelphia, focusing on the early 19th century. It's called Making Houses, Crafting Capitalism: Builders in Philadelphia 1790-1850 by Donna J. Rilling. I'm only two chapters in, but I'm surprised how interesting it is. I'm really enjoying the specific stories, the who and why of the men who built metropolitan Philly. One bit I'm particularly interested in: Philadelphia's system of 'ground rent' made it easier for small entrepreneurs to build, vs. boston and NYC, where the established merchant capitalists conducted most of the residential development. It's a nice little contrast of economic incentive that provides a nice understanding of why this city is how it is.


Neat excerpt from 1907 Chicago "City Club Bulletin"

I found a little section discussing housing in Philadelphia at the turn of the century, and they describe the "bandbox house" of Philly, more commonly called a "trinity" today.

"Perhaps you may ask what we may learn from Philadelphia. It seems to me that the principal lesson to us of Chicago was that unworthy standards are perpetuated, generation after generation. For many years the people of Philadelphia have been in the habit of building narrow houses, and they deem it a mark of advancement when they prescribe, as they have recently done, that no house should have a less frontage than fourteen feet. They have houses fronting on very narrow spaces. I myself observed an alley, or street perhaps, running through the block eleven feet and five inches wide, and having on each side of it three-story dwellings. Of course, such standards seem to us out of the question. I am glad that we don't do it in that way in Chicago.

"We also saw an interesting type of house, which had never before been brought to my attention an individual house three stories high one room on a floor. They call this house the bandbox house because it is like a bandbox a yard high and a foot in diameter. I went to the upper story of such a house on a stairway the width of which was two feet and four inches, and it was not a straight stairway; it was winding. If it had been a little larger we might have called it a corkscrew.

"Chicago has 8,000 privy vaults, I am sorry to say. They are mainly in the outskirts of the city, in regions which are to a degree inaccessible by extensions of the sewer system. Philadelphia has 40,000 privy vaults, a great many of them in well built-up localities, where the main sewers are available, or where an extension of the sewer throughout the street will afford such facilities. We saw one region recently built up -- the houses were not older than one or two years -- in which there were 14,000 such privy vaults and surface drainage only for the houses. (p 411)


Titanium Miyata on eBay

I've got an ongoing ebay search for "Miyata Titanium," but it's extremely rare to get any notifications that something's been posted that matches that criteria. Yesterday I got the third alert since I started looking for titanium miyatas, and it's a beauty:

It's the same model I have from 1992, but in marginally better shape and slightly larger. I'm really tempted to put in a bid - I've long been needlessly paranoid that my bike is too small.

A really cool note about this eBay listing is that it includes a special CO2 air bottle attachment that mounts to a boss on the down tube. I only recently learned that this is what the boss is for, and that it's actually called an "air bottle basement". That would make an excellent band name, but in the meantime, it sounds way more awesome than what I thought it was. I thought for a long time that it was for a "flickstand" that would hold your wheel when you parked it. That's dorky in a serious way.

I'm broke, so I probably won't bid. I couldn't really afford it's current price @ 190.50 with 6 days to go. I'll be really interested to see what this ends up going for. I bought mine on craigslist last year for $200.

It was well worth it. These are absolutely beautiful bikes that are wonderful to ride.


neat bit on cities and mathematics

Here's a poetic concept about the scale economies in three dimensional infrastructure:

In cities, per capita infrastructure grows in proportion to the .7 power of population.  So the bigger the city, the less infrastructure per person is needed.  This same mathematical relationship seems to exist in animals, so we're likely observing the symptoms of deep seated organizational relationships.


The Future of Cities Sucked

I went to the Penn Institute of Urban research sponsored forum on cities last night. It had a great hard hitting line-up of speakers: Professor Ricky Burdett, Director of Urban Age at the London School of Economics and Political Science; Bruce Katz, Vice President of the Brookings Institution, Mayor Nutter, Head of Planning Alan Greenberger, and Deputy Mayor Andrew Altman. So I have a hard time understanding why it sucked so badly.

I was expecting a great presentation for a vision of the Philadelphia's future, and a good bit of perspective in the national and international context. To be Fair, Bruce Katz and Ricky Burdett were pretty good. Burdett had a polished powerpoint that stressed what global cities are doing wrong to deal with massive urbanization. Katz gave a nice speech on how metropolitan areas have been given short shrift by the federal government, and rather than trusting Obama to change this, it was up to their constituents keep pressure on Washington.

But then Mayor Nutter got up there. I think it might have been exhaustion from budget negotiations in Philadelphia, but his speech kind of listed around from bland assertions about the importance of the city to to tired nods towards entirely uncontroversial concepts of sustainability, safe neighborhoods, and jobs. Oh and efficient government. And by the way, we can't do anything without money. Then he had a really unhelpful narrative about a day in the life of a future thriving philadelphia, which was exactly like life in present day philadelphia except you go to work at a "green collar job." Alan Greenberger's presentation was worse. The nadir of the night was a completely meaningless diagram he threw up with lines connecting barely related areas of the city. I have no idea what that slide was supposed to convey, except that connectedness is good, especially when coupled with some glassy-eyed hand waving.

Then to the last layer of fluff, we went to Mr. Altman, who talked at length about how Philadelphia is perfectly positioned to be a national and international leader, located exactly between New York and Washington. He never convincingly articulated what Philadelphia would be leading. Cityness? Planning? Proximity to more important places?

At the end of the presentations, they had a very limp forum to connect all the concepts. Sadly, Genie Birch's moderation was most responsible for the tepidness of this portion. One of her questions, directed at Bruce Katz went like "Mr. Katz, Mayor Nutter is going to have to travel to Washington quite a bit, do you have any advice for him?" Presumably she was trying to get a discussion going about how cities should talk to the federal government, but he realistically could have answered "Sure. Take a dump before you hit the road."

What would I have liked to hear? Mechanics! A year ago we had a presentation of the exact same material each of these speakers presented last night. We should have more specifics. I usually hate when people complain about lack of specifics, but really. We've had a commission to update the zoning code working away for months. How about telling us what an updated zoning code will mean towards the goal of making the city a leader? If a huge asset of our city is being in the middle of the northeast corridor, what are we doing to strengthen transportation links between other metro areas? What exactly does it mean for Philadelphia to be a "great city" and what are our biggest policy priorities to get there?


my favorite new website

I love getting shocked by seeing what used to be in Philadelphia.

Expanded Rail service in South Jersey

I enjoyed this annoucement from Jon Corzine today. I thought they were for sure going to run a rail line down the middle of route 42.


upcoming thoughts

I just received an urban economics textbook I bought on Amazon a couple of weeks ago. I'm thinking it will help concentrate my thoughts on the "investigating infrastructure" competition being held by princeton architectural press.

i saw thom mayne tonight at the lou kahn memorial lecture. I spent the night wondering why this guy won the Pritzker. My beautiful architect girlfriend thought the same thing. I think some of his work is pretty good - i especially like the madrid housing project and an observatory out in california. Both of them were in white, which is probably the only color broad enough to bear the weight of his frantic aesthetic. I think I don't really like the style - it's dependent on the shock of severe angles and accumulation.

It also bothered me that I couldn't really understand what he was about. Amy said it best when she noted that the one unifying theme of his talk was contradiction. He doesn't like to be classified, and will make statements to keep his status as a moving target. Maybe that's the only strategy that makes sense when, as he noted (and i think correctly) that there are no principles or essences of architecture, only change.


Dromarti Sportivos Finally Arrive

Well, the coda to my cycling shoe posts. The sportivos arrived in the mail last wednesday. It had been almost two months since I had put in my order, so I started to convince myself that I'd be disappointed by them. I'm not. They are absolutely beautiful and comfortable shoes. They are the most I've ever spent for a pair of shoes, and I don't doubt that they are worth it. Here's a link to my flickr accout with a bunch of photos of them. Also, I threw a couple of photos on there of the miyata. I've added a few more upgrades since whenever my last post was.


I'm off to atlantic city today.

It's beautiful, and I'll take any excuse to ride the train.


oh you thought the party was over...

wrong. there's not much more to say about the credit card abuse, but I'll say it. I don't know who's responsible yet, but I figure I will get to the bottom eventually. Someone purchased a bunch of phones and flowers on law-abiding dime, and I know that I am disturbed by that. We'll see who is more persistant - me or the credit card companies. Anyway, one thing I've learned is that credit cards linked to debit accounts are a terrible idea. Not only do the banks charge you ridiculous fees for overdrafts that amount to usury, but if something goes wrong, you have to pay for it for 10 business days while the bank claims to be looking into whether you actually did it.


Credit Card Fraud!

Hey! Someone stole my identity! Sort of.

Well, it's the most excitement I've had for some time. I wasn't able to withdraw any money at the atm today, and it gave me this ominous message: "card retained due to excessive denials." Well, I went to go check the status of my account and I saw that I was over $900 withdrawn. Hy first thought was that both of my paychecks hadn't cleared.

Anyway, I'll write more about this later.

One more thing

This bike obsession has completely crowded out any blogging I otherwise would have done. What happened to this being a blog about cities?

This awful obsession

I'm getting resentful of my tenacious focus on bicycles and parts. Last night I went down to South Philly to buy a couple of shifters from some temple kid. I was convinced I was getting a good price - a dura ace right STI 7400 shifter that works plus a couple of shimano downtube shifters. $30. I went through with the transaction, but when I got home I noticed that the STI shifter needs to be held in a certain way for all the gears to click through. Unfortunately, I was holding it that way when I clicked through last night.

Well, fuck. I am trying to get my money back. Let's see what this temple student's ideas of fairness are.

In other news, I bought a functioning pair of STI shifters on ebay this week. They're beautiful, just a couple of small scratches, but the chrome looks great. I was hoping to just swap them out on my handlebars with the sora shifters. But it turns out they use pretty different mounting systems. I'm going to have to take off the leathers to put them on.

And since I'm going to the troube of removing the leathers, I'm thinking I should really swap out the stem, which has always been a bit short. But finding a nice looking stem in all the right dimensions is next to impossible. Really.

So, my bike obsession is taking its toll. I'm getting sick of all the time spent on the internet or looking over the miyata, but still I can't help myself.


Dromarti Checks in

It's been 2 1/2 weeks since I placed the order for the Dromarti Sportivos. Today I got my first update on when they'll be coming.  Martin from Dromarti wrote to say that the "shoes will be with us" in the first week of april, and that apparently one of the shoemakers from Italy was ill, which caused a delay in production. 

So another two weeks and I should have these shoes in hand, or should I say, in feet!  HA! HAAAA!

No really, I'm very excited.


1986 Club Fuji

My other bike frame, currently waiting to be built up.  I bought it late last year off of craigslist, hoping to put it together as a decent winter bike to ride through the salt. Oh well, the miyata's had to bear all of that abuse instead.  So I bought the club thinking it was a top quality fuji frame for $50.  It's a really cheap price, but after some digging around classicfuji.com, I found out it's really nothing special.  It's got quad-butted VALite Tubing, which I remembered from the old fuji Sagres I had that was stolen.  I can't really find any consensus online about the pedigree of this tubing, but if you read through the actual fuji catalog from 1982, you'll find this blurb:

*All Fuji adult 10, 12 and 18 speed bicycle frames are brazed either of butted or double butted VALite™, or of Chrome Molybdenum tubing. VALite™ is a Vanadium, Aluminum and Manganese alloy developed jointly by Fuji and one of the world's foremost bicycle tubing manufacturers. It has strength to weight properties far superior to ordinary bicycle tubing. Chrome Molybdenum is the material used by the world's most prominent custom builders for all-out competition bicycles and the finest touring bikes.

It doesn't help me conceptualize the quality of the tubing that much, but it does verify the alloy. Frankly, the fact that they compare VALite's performance qualities with "ordinary bicycle tubing" (I'm guessing high-tensile steel) hints that it's really a low to mid range quality.

On the other hand, the catalog sheet on my specific model has the weight clocking in at just under 23 lbs, which isn't so bad, considering the bottom of the line 10 speed Regis weighs more than 5 lbs more. 


I did it.

Today I bought the Dromarti Sportivos, along with some shimano pedals that will accept the style of cleat that you fasten to this shoe. The pedals, shimano pd-m520's were used off of ebay, and came to $25 including shipping. I was going to spring for the m540's, but the spindles are more black than the 520's I bought. And technically, I didn't buy the sportivos as much as get in line for them. I got a receipt back from the company saying my order is number 66. I don't know if that worries me because they've only got 66 orders for all of their shoes (they've got 3 models and a bunch of sizes), or if that means that they've already sold 65 Sportivos in size 43 EUR, which would be pretty healthy. The weird pricing kink in all of this is that they won't charge me until the shoes ship, and they'll charge me in british pounds. The pound has been falling generally, but has regained some ground in recent weeks, so the final total will be dependent on how the pound moves in the next few weeks. If the transaction went through today, the shoes with shipping would have cost a hair over $230. They say the wait for the shoes to get in stock will be something like 2-4 weeks, I'm crossing my fingers that I'll get them in that time frame.

Then, watch out Philadelphia cyclists. You're about to look at your own shoes and frown.


Miyata Team Titanium Update

I'm really pleased with the latest round of upgrades. A while back I said something like "I wouldn't be happy until I spent another $600" on this bicycle. Let's see if I'm getting close. Here's the upgrades that I've done since that post:

1. Rear derailleur Dura Ace rd-7402: $25 off of craigslist.
2. Double crankset Dura Ace FC-7400: $50 including shipping from ebay
3. Hutchinson Fusion 2 ultra 700x23c tires: $65 including shipping for the pair from ebay
4. Velo Orange Grand Cru Sealed Cartridge 1" threaded headset: $45 including shipping
5. Velo Orange Sewn on Elkhide Bar covers: $30 including shipping
6. Velo Orange Saddle Model 6, Natural: $85 including shipping
7. 3TTT Synthesis Quill Stem 80mm: $45 including shipping from repartocorse.com
8. Cristophe Chrome toe clips and leather straps: I got these with a group, so let's call it $8
9. Two Elite Ciussi Water Bottle Cages: $16 including shipping off of ebay

Okay, so far that's $369. Wow, I can't believe I spent that much.

Now Let's see what I'm still itching to swap out:

1. Dura Ace ST-7400 2x8 shifters (I'm still sporting Soras): $80 to $160 on ebay
2. Dura Ace BR-7402 Caliper brakes: around $30 on ebay
3. Dromarti Sportivo SPD leather Cycling shoes: $225
4. Shimano PD-M540 pedals: around $50 on ebay

Total for this wishlist: $465. Christ, I really need to watch myself.

Total for everything in this post so far: $834. This is not including anything in that previous post, where I said I'd already spent about $600. This might end up being a $1400 bicycle.

That's not an entirely fair total, because a lot of the components I've been swapping out, so I need to deduct them from the total. But until I sell those components off, this is the true expense of my obsession. I can't believe I ride this thing to work.

Anyway, here's a photo I took after my ride up to Manayunk yesterday.

The new tires make the whole thing look like a ghost. I love it.