Friday, September 15, 2006

Fences Don't Always Make Good Neighbors

No, that white picket fence you see is not on some quaint country lane. It's right in Center City, on the Race Street side of the Franklin Institute, just west of 20th Street. A white plastic rail fence seems like an odd, and rather declasse, choice for such an august institution - and one about to rake it in from the upcoming King Tut blockbuster (Feb.3, 2007). The barrier marking the museum's original neoclassical building by John T. Windrim is granite, while a dark metal fence girds the newer, GBQC wing around the back. Trish Thompson, the Logan Square resident who sent the image (Sorry, I can't explain the blurriness this time. Maybe it's Blogger's fault.), says the fence has neighbors shaking their heads. But the Franklin Institute says the fence is just a temporary solution. It was installed to prevent motorists from mistakenly driving up on the grass when they exit the garage. According to PR director Lynda Bramble, the fence will be replaced by shrubbery as soon as spring comes. That's good to hear. The Boy King from Egypt's Golden Age deserves something a bit more stately.


Blogger rasphila said...

The photo was blurry at what appears to be its original size, so maybe there is some problem with the original. I've posted pictures using Blogger and always had them come out okay.

Still, it's good enough to give the general idea. What a bizarre sight in the middle of Center City!

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't there anything more to write about than a fence?

11:12 PM  
Anonymous colson said...

"No, that white picket fence you see is not on some quaint country lane. "

-- I think you're right - but I don't think it is a picket fence at all.

4:32 AM  
Blogger Charles Hankin said...

The suburbs intrude on the city in many ways. Vinyl plastic post and rail to keep the neighbors out? Is there a "city aesthetic"?

5:57 AM  
Blogger rasphila said...

Colson is right. It's not a picket fence.

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Vince Dean said...

No matter what kind of fence it is it SUCKS ! It reminds me of the cain-link gates on City Hall. TRAGIC !

9:39 AM  
Blogger rasphila said...

Isn't there anything more to write about than a fence?

Actually, you can learn a lot by thinking about a fence. This isn't a picket fence, as a previous comment pointed out. It's the type of fence you would be more likely to see in a spread-out suburban tract development. In the America of nostalgic rememberance, picket fences are associated with small towns. White fences like this one are associated with farms. They probably evolved from rail fences, which had the same basic design as this fence.

Only in suburbia there are no farms. The farm fence, which looks quite nice and appropriate in a farming context, always looks odd to me when I see it in the suburbs because it is trying to imply that a suburban tract house is something that it is not: a homestead or a small farm. Farm-style fences look a little phony in the suburbs, and in an urban context they look totally out of place.

So would a picket fence. I'm sure there are small towns with houses that have picket fences, but big box stores, superhighways, and suburban tract development have done incredible damage to genuine small towns. You would have to look pretty hard around here to find a thriving small town with picket fences.

Neither type of fence is an urban fence, and both evoke an America that is either no longer there or is rapidly disappearing: the small town and the small farm. What's worse, the fence here is fake. It's plastic. No wonder every commentator has such a visceral reaction to this fence.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like I said....isn't there anything more to write about than a fence?

I'm sure Philly has more going on than pondering nostalgia pertaining to american fence history. The fence is temporary...they're planting bushes....move on.

The whole "america is heading in a bad direction/ suburbia/ walmartization/ disintegration of culture"...etc...etc,is passe' commentary. Its very 90's and needs to push forward a bit.

BTW...Doesen't anyone else find it perversely pleasing - the inverted reference to a "homestead" aesthetic in the city? It's fitting for a colonial town...and not "suburban" by any means, considering the origins of the city.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Charles Hankin said...

This fence is a symptom of what is wrong about the Parkway. There is no vision of grand public space. All we are left with is a small attempt to define borders. Walls or iron fences would fit in a city better. A city barrier should have strength and mass.

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Davis said...

Egads!!! Yes, it's just a fence...

But Vince Dean does bring up something that's mystified me for years..those horrendous chain link gates on City Hall. What's with those?

Well, it's like the stupid fence at the Franklin Institute. The city has no standards about much of anything. Used to be that just convention and pride saved us from horrors, but the new and livelier city is ruled by ignorance and greed for the most part.

5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the idea beind this blog was so that Inga would have some place to put those little bits of info taht didn't fit the column. Not enough of a full story, yet enough to be noted...without restrictions of a newspaper.

you could couple this plastic fence with the plastic security shed at the liberty bell and make an argument that taste has nothing to do with temporary solutions.

but with a city that has a very large tourist trade, you would think some thought would be put into these things.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Charles Hankin said...

I agree that the fence is a poor choice for the location along with other temporary solutions like the gates at City Hall.

Blogs give a place for opinions to be heard that might be lost in the mainstream media. Is it a plastic version of the colonial handbill? There are good and bad design choices for new technoligies and matterials.

Economy of thought might be the real issue. It is easier and faster to find a fence at Home Depot then find a craftsman to make a wall.

Is this blog about good design?

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

when they take it down, I have a few places in Philly to recommend that they re-use it. wanna bet it goes in the garbage?

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm trying to imagine motorists "mistakenly driving up on the grass when they exit the garage" and am always left with the image of people with very low IQs, or who are driving some sort of ATV... maybe if I could picture the exit of the garage it would help.

Now what's to keep motorists from mistakenly running over the fence or... the shrubbery. Ni!

4:34 PM  

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