Archive | July, 2013

What I love about Philadelphia

4 Jul
English: Fairmount Park near where Cresheim an...

English: Fairmount Park near where Cresheim and Wissahickon Creeks meet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love the Fourth of July. And I especially love living in the place where the United States was born. Philadelphia is a grand place to celebrate our birthday.

In honor of the Fourth, here are a few of the things I love about Philadelphia.

1. Walkability. Sure, there are some exceptions. But by and large, this is a very darn walkable city. And with new additions like Penn Park, it’s getting more pedestrian-friendly all the time.

2. Our whole park system. I’ll probably do a post on this someday, but for now I’ll just note that Fairmount Park is the largest city park system in the world. Bet you didn’t know that.

3. Neighborhoods. Yup, we’re a city of neighborhoods. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times. But one of the things that actually means is that Philadelphia isn’t really a city of 1.5 million. Rather, it’s more like a series of small circles of 5,000 to 20,000 people. That can make our city feel a lot more homey (okay, or sometimes stifling) than it might seem at first glance.

4. The Mural Arts Program. I love being able to look up and see something creative rather than yet another casino ad. Of course not all the art is to my taste, but what is?

5. SEPTA. Seriously, it’s a phenomenally useful way to get around our city. There have been days when I went for not just the trifecta but the quad-fecta in using a trolley, regional rail, subway, and bus line.

6. Newspapers. I know I was hard on the DN and the Inquirer just a couple of days ago, but I rant because I care. And I’m very glad they’re out there fighting the good fight and documenting the good, the bad, and the nutty here in our city. So thanks Daily News, Inquirer, Al Dia, Tribune, and all the other voices trying hard to tell our region’s story.

I could add a whole lot more, but let me end here for now.  Happy Fourth, everyone. Be safe, peaceful, and kind to each other.


Cross your fingers

3 Jul

I feel scared to hope too much, but Philadelphia’s homicide numbers are down.

Like, really down:

Homicides in Philadelphia in 2013 are at the lowest midyear total in nearly half a century, police figures show, putting the city in reach of a modern-day low at year’s end.

As of Saturday, with two days left in the six-month period, police had recorded 115 homicides, a 38 percent drop from the same period last year.

This matters on so many levels, but most of all on the human level.

Because for every person who doesn’t die from gun violence, there is an entire family of people who don’t suffer.

That’s wonderful news on any day of the week. Let’s hope it continues.

You could be better, Philadelphia Inquirer

3 Jul

I really like good newspapering. I clip it and annotate it and save it and share it.  I have a soft spot for that shopworn Jefferson quotation (rather have newspapers without a government than the reverse). And I abhor bad journalists, because they do so much harm to the work of the good ones.

But today I’m writing about customer service. Which might seem a little crazy, except that…well, my hometown paper* is doing pretty dismally in that department.

Over the years, I’ve made an awful lot of reader suggestions to an awful lot of people at the paper, so at this point I don’t feel I’m talking out of school to complain.

Here are my top 5 customer frustrations:

1. Hassle. Promo codes that still require me to use an e-mail address to log in, Twitter links that go nowhere, constant expiration problems with story links (maddening to send a link to someone and have the article vanish an hour later).

2. Confusion. Is the Inquirer part of or not? They say no, but virtually all of the content on is branded with an Inquirer (or Daily News) byline. If you click on a paywalled link at, half the time it bounces you to a free version of the same article at As a reader, I would love to vote with my feet and not patronize…except:

3. Pricing. It’s boggling to me that a digital-only subscription costs two and a half times as much as digital-and-print bundle — $6.44/week compared to $2.50/week.

I have to assume that’s because print advertisers are still willing to pay for my eyes, but it still grates. I travel too much to want a Sunday paper delivery — it would just sit there, advertising my empty house.

Plus, $300+ a year is a LOT of money. (So is $100+ a year, but it’s a bit closer to being within reach.)

Which brings me to:

4. Lack of creativity. Why not offer a menu of subscription options such as being able to subscribe to a specific reporter, beat, or story? (I bet a lot of people would have paid $5 to have every update on the building collapse sent directly to them for that week when we were all glued to the story.)

There are a million ways the company could be creative about how they package and distribute their excellent journalism. I wish they’d try just two or three of them.

5. Competence. Their Twitter handle is @PhillyInquirer…but they don’t even pony up the $20 a year or whatever it would cost to buy the domain and use it as a redirect.

Sure, it’s a petty point — but it’s symptomatic of the larger issues.

The name of this blog is Better PHL. So come on, my city: Be better!

*I love ya, Daily News, but sorry.

RIP, Congressman William H. Gray III

2 Jul

Former Representative Bill Gray died this week.

There have been many thoughtful obituaries and I expect there will be many more (services to be held next week at his church, Bright Hope).

I wanted to highlight just one thing that I hadn’t known about Representative Gray:30th Street Station interior

Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke called Gray “one of the most significant figures in Philadelphia politics” in a released statement.

“From advocating for Philadelphia’s fair share of federal dollars to fighting against the injustice of apartheid in South Africa, Congressman Gray’s mark cannot be erased,” Clarke said.

He helped make the renovation of 30th Street Station possible, and the sight of that magnificent structure should give us all reason to be thankful for his service.”

30th Street Station interior waiting room

It really is magnificent. One of my favorite buildings in all of Philadelphia.

Thank you, Rep. Gray.

Photos by Flickr users techfun (top) and dbaron. Used by permission under a Creative Commons license.