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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.

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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.

Getting things right

22 Jun

Sister Cities Park - credit via CC license Plan Philly:Eyes on the Street

I had the pleasure recently of spending some time in Sister Cities Park. It’s a lovely little alcove tucked to the side of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway near Race Street, a couple of blocks from the main branch of the Free Library.

I admit to having been a skeptic about the park. I thought it was a waste of money because its chances of being used were limited by its location in a pedestrian dead zone.

I am happy to have been completely wrong. Every time I have been in the park it is being used by delighted visitors. And it still looks beautiful.

Photo credit: Plan Philly/Eyes on the Street. Used by permission under a Creative Commons license.

Row by row

8 Jun
Did you know that Philadelphia’s Chinatown has the greatest amount of paved-over surface area in the city? I didn’t.

Now a group of young activists from Asian Americans United is working to transform a small triangle of land in Chinatown into a green space. (See photo for its current appearance.)
AAU garden lot

From AAU’s recent announcement:

In 2008, when youth in AAU’s Community Action Class surveyed the area around their school in Chinatown North, they found neglected vacant lots, illegal dumping, and little green space.

After succeeding in getting a lot next to the school cleaned up, permission to use the lot, and the fence fixed by the absentee land owner, AAU youth (with the indispensable help of adults) are now working to transform this vacant lot into a garden.

Every year, children and youth in our AAU Summer Program help build the garden – little by little, inch by inch. Last summer they built raised beds, planted butterfly habitat, made bird feeders, and grew and cooked with herbs.

I’ve recently been listening to some lectures on environmental psychology, and the research on greening is pretty interesting. One study found that hospital patients who had a view of something green (such as a tree) healed more quickly than those whose windows just looked out onto other buildings.

The AAU announcement continues:

In the words of our garden theme song: “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.”

Through AAU’s Summer Program and our Inch by Inch Garden, we teach children that making positive change takes persistence and hard work. But, together, we can make a difference in the world.

That’s a pretty good message, I think. (Emphasis mine.)

You can make a donation to support AAU’s garden work.

Here are some options:

___ $12 buys a dozen spring bulbs

___ $60 buys one fig tree

___ $100 buys four blueberry bushes

___ $200 buys lumber and supplies for four more raised beds

Listen to AAU member Dao Tran talk about her experience of being taken seriously as a 12-year-old activist back in 1987.

People you should know (First in a series)

4 Jun
W. Rockland Street photo

W. Rockland Street

I think this will end up being a long series. Although the posts themselves will not end up being long, necessarily.

Here are two people to know: Emaleigh and Ainé Doley. I mentioned Emaleigh before in the context of her anti-litter work for Axis Philly.

These sisters are the driving force behind the W. Rockland Street blog, which chronicles neighborly connections and neighborhood beautification on one block in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.

(For you locals, W. Rockland is between Greene Street and the 4800-4900 block of Germantown Ave. And if you’re not local, here’s a little info on Germantown.)

I have a soft spot for people who are working for a better Philadelphia, as may be obvious. Ainé and Emaleigh definitely fall into that category.

Some people call what they are doing “tactical urbanism.” For my money, it’s less important what you call it than that you do it. They certainly are.

Photo credit: W. Rockland Street blog.

Cleaning up

2 Jun

One of the things I dislike most in the world is litter.

That makes it challenging to be in Philadelphia, a city with a serious litter problem.

Trash bag, broom and TrashStik

Today I spent about 30 minutes picking up trash in Germantown. I ended up with a pretty large bag full. In the photo you can see my TrashStik, but actually I used my hands and the broom the most. (I wore gloves.)

Some things I noticed:

  • Plastic, plastic, plastic. Almost everything I picked up was plastic. Thinking about how much plastic trash our culture produces reminded me of Nancy Farmer’s book The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm. The book is set in a futuristic society where kidnapped children labor in the “plastic mines” of ancient trash.
  • Comfort. Most of the items I picked up were related to soda, fast food, cigarettes, or some kind of mood-altering substance  (cigarillo holder, beer bottle). I think this speaks to people’s need for comfort, especially in a poor neighborhood where the options that more affluent people use are less available.

(I credit Barbara Ehrenrich’s book Nickel and Dimed with helping me to grasp how taking a cigarette break could feel like important, nurturing “me time” for low-wage workers with little opportunity to meet their own needs.)

I don’t have a specific plan for how often I’m going to do this kind of cleanup, but I’ll get to it from time to time. I’m also on the lookout for more data on why people litter. Obviously some of it is blown trash from appropriate receptacles, but that’s clearly not all of it.

N.b. Needless to say, I don’t get any benefit from linking items for sale, such as the books above. I just do it because I like being able to click and learn more when I’m reading someone else’s post, and I figure others may be the same.)

A Tale of Two Vacant Lots

27 Apr

It’s probably overstating things to call this a tale. It’s more like two pictures.

These lots are almost directly across from each other on Germantown Avenue.

Germantown Avenue vacant lot -- overgrownGermantown Ave vacant lot - well-kept

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I’m pretty curious about why they are in such different shape. The one on the left, as you can see, is wildly overgrown and littered with trash, not to mention a rather ugly chain-link fence.

The one on the right has an almost farm-like feel to it, with the low wooden fence.

How long have these lots been like this? How much work does it take to keep the nice-looking one in shape? What’s the story behind the overgrown one, and is there an owner who can be held responsible?

More questions than answers at this point. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below.