It's becoming increasingly difficult to talk about Philadelphia's urban design challenges without also talking about the plague of gun violence. Never was it more true than this week.
This should have been a week to celebrate the northward expansion of Center City's development success, to the corner of Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. The Pearl Theater, a seven-screen movie house that is part of the jaunty, cobalt blue, retail complex designed by Erdy McHenry Architects
for developer Bart Blatstein's Tower Investments,
held its red-carpet opening on Monday night. This wasn't just another opening of another multiplex: After a dry spell of 30 years, the Pearl marked the return of first-run movies to the neighborhood
around Temple University. The series of special, opening events was supposed to be a coming-out party for a newly invigorated, newly stable North Philadelphia.
But, as the Inquirer
recounts today, the party was marred by an ugly teenage gun battle outside the theater, followed by a fight among departing patrons. That kind of casual gun use and teenage bravado would be chilling in any circumstances. But it's even worse when it threatens to undermine the huge effort and $100 million investment that went into the
Avenue North development, which also includes a 1,200-student dormitory. It's especially upsetting for anyone who remembers how teenage violence helped doom the Chestnut Street movie theaters in the 1980s.
And yet Philadelphia is a different, more resilient, place today than it was 20 years ago, when theaters were closing and residents fleeing to the 'burbs. Not only do more people live in Center City and the surrounding neighborhoods than back then, but there is a sense that today's residents choose to live in the city because that's the kind of life they want. The assaults on peace and civility are reason to be angry, but not necessarily reason to abandon ship. There's a "Take Back the Streets" feeling in the response that followed the incident. Not only did Mayor Street and other city leaders offer extra police protection, they vowed to patronize the theater with their families as a means of driving out the hooligans. One small conversation I overheard on the northbound No. 7 bus, which runs up 22nd Street, during Thursday's morning rush hour might provide a little perspective: Two acquaintances, who have apparently lived south of Washington Avenue for quite awhile, were talking about the amazing spike in home prices in their neighborhood.
"They're getting $250,000 for houses on my block," says the first, a man carrying a leather briefcase.
"Mine too," the second, a woman, answers. "Have you thought about selling yours?"
"No. I really, really like my house," the man responds. "And it's a good neighborhood. You know, we don't have too much shooting."