BOOM Was Booming
Talk about an urban boom. You couldn't find a square inch of free real estate last night at the Penn School of Design's panel discussion on Philadelphia's construction boom. My estimate is that at least 200 people crowded into the upper gallery at Meyerson Hall to hear a free-flowing discussion between developers, architects, historians and critics.
There were lots of sharp observations. Architectural Historian David Brownlee pithily observed that booms rarely produce good architecture, that residential booms produce the most conservative architecture of all, and that urban planning rarely produces booms. Amazingly, some of the most progressive ideas came from developers Tony Goldman and Greg Hill. Listen to Goldman, the guy who transformed 13th Street from seedy to sensational: "There ought to be a class action suit against all garage owners for causing the deterioration of the public realm." If he can say that, what's keeping Philadelphia's wimpy city planners from weighing in on the garage-tower scourge.
Goldman's remarks were yet another reminder of the grass-roots disconnect between what Philadelphians want from their city, and what the city's old guard power brokers encourage. How ironic to pick up this morning's Inquirer and see yet another fat-faced garage-podium tower (above) planned for the Delaware by Donald Trump. As usual, the Inquirer treats Trump with gushing reverence. Nevermind that Trump is probably the last developer on earth to jump on the Philly condo bandwagon, and that his entry comes just as others are getting skittish about the market. Sadly - ironically - the word at the Boom panel last night is that the banks are starting to pull back on financing for new condo buildings.
Kudos to Penn's Detlef Mertins, A.J. Pires and Annette Fiero for reaching out from the university's Ivory Tower to examine the architectural trends in the city.