Monday, November 17, 2008

Why We Can't Trust On-Line Polls

There was passion aplenty in response to my Friday column on Fox Chase Cancer Center's efforts to take over a third of Burholme Park so it can expand its medical operation. While it's all well and good and desirable for Fox Chase to grow and prosper, I took the position that it shouldn't do so by gobbling up public park land, especially when that land was bequeathed to the people of Philadelphia "forever" by the Burholme estate's former owner, Robert Waln Ryerss.

When I wrote that column, I assumed - naively, I guess - that I was pretty much arguing for the equivalent of mom and apple pie. Who could really take a hard-line in favor of paving over 20 acres of park?
Well, lots of people, it seems. If you read the on-line comments, you'll see many people think I am evil incarnate for favoring a park over a cancer treatment center. (Actually I think we should have both.) I was particularly surprised to see that the on-line poll the Inquirer sponsored favored Fox Chase's expansion by a landslide - 73 percent for Fox Chase, 27 percent for keeping the park intact. How interesting that so many people are willing to to get rid of a park. That bucks the conventional wisdom.

Then I received an email from a Fox Chase employee that made everything clear. It was sent out Friday afternoon by Fox Chase 's president. Remember it next time you look at one of those on-line polls.

Subject: Note from the President...Express yourself to the Inquirer

Dear Friends,
Some of you might have noticed an opinion piece in today's Inquirer that spoke negatively about our expansion into the park. Currently the Inquirer is conducting an online poll that will allow you to express your opinion as to whether we should be allowed to expand into Burholme Park.
I encourage you to log on to and cast your vote!
Michael Seiden

BTW: The Sledding painting above is by Rob Lawlor, whose artwork is inspired by Northeast scenes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Imagine that, Inga! Being against cancer centers is like being pro-land mines. The bottom line is that Philly is setting a dangerous prescedent by waiting for philantropists to die before breaking their will. Who will want to donate anything to the city now in their will? That said...why can't FCCC build up...why must it take up 20 acres of land? Yes, I was one of those kids who took the bus down Cottman Avenue to sled on snow days.

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The key to swaying an online poll in your favor: vote early and often!

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inga, you seem to be pretty full of assumptions and allegations lately. I don't work at Fox Chase, the doctor wouldn't know my email from the man in the moon. A friend from work (in downtown Philly) emailed me because he knew I was interested and thought your piece was a definitive statement.

Now that even he has checked a map and seen the most blatant of your poorly fact-checked allegations and exaggerations (all the way from Cheltenham!)and read more about the real story, he has a pretty different impression. YOU waved a red flag with the "for no good reason" tag. And you are still at it. Park versus non-profit hospital doesn't really have a singular mom and apple pie side.

Residents of the NE have heard the arguments -- over many years now -- and we clearly understand that this is a battle over switching use of parkland from a driving range to a cancer center, so much for Ryerss' "forever." We really don't need tree-huggers from Montgomery County to continue interfering in this -- costing both the city (whose bills I help pay) and the cancer center (which presumably has far better things to do with donated money)-- and we don't need your naive opinion. We know where this park is, what is on it, and its condition. You THOUGHT you were writing a safe little piece, in line with "conventional wisdom" because you really weren't prepared to learn or tell the whole story.

The state of journalism has clearly slipped to a sorry state when a poorly fact-checked opinion piece needs to be followed by the breaking news that on-line polls may not be accurate!!!!! And neither may be conventional wisdom!

2:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Next we will learn that Michael Seiden tells staff to give bogus results for cancer diagnosis so that FCCC can prosper.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Scoats said...

Inga you said "you'll see many people think I am evil incarnate for favoring a park over a cancer treatment center. (Actually I think we should have both.)"

And we can... right there.

- Park land right there is already being used for commercial purposes with the driving range and mini-golf. It's a bit of a wash.

- FCCC isn't taking over all of park, most of it will still be there.

- The really wonderful Ryerss mansion and museum won't be going anywhere. It might even get more visitors and be more appreciated.

- When it comes to parkland quantity does not necessarily mean quality. Arguably Rittenhouse Sq. is the best Phila. park, world class. It is very well funded per square foot. Done right, we could get an endowment from FCCC to make the Burholme Park better. Anything less would be terribly wrong.

- We in the NE are blessed with a really huge amount of parkland. Much of it under-used and under-appreciated. We shouldn't allow this to become commonplace, but we can sacrifice a small bit of our quantity for more quality.

- Wills get broken when they no longer work. It's not right for someone long dead to permanently control the living. Wills should not be broken willy-nilly but they should not be ironclad forever either. Girard College is a good example. People will still donate since the option of taking it with them still doesn't exist.

6:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great, a cancer center that not only wants to take over public land but also thinks it's cool as a position of official policy to jury-rig a poll in the local newspaper of record.

Sure, it's just a stupid online poll but shouldn't a multi-million corporation claiming to be working for the common good have more integrity than this? Having the boss send an email like this asking for employees to "vote" borders on workplace harassment. Shame on Michael Seiden.

Shouldn't the Inquirer be thinking about these online polls? With a push of a button a big corporation can send a "ballot-box" stuffing email out to employees, donors, board members, even patients. Unless there's some strong pre-existing Burlhome neighbors association, there's going to be no way a neighborhood group can match that kind of instant email outreach. How many of the Inky's polls just prove who has the most money?

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm... like the Barnes.

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get off it, Inga. The poll, itself, was a lie: "Should the land be used by Fox Chase or remain a park?"

That wasn't the question at stake. The park will remain a park, and you know it. The driving range and a handful of picnic benches will be lost.

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This ill-researched vendetta against an important city institution will make me take Inga Saffron's opinions with a big grain of salt from now on. Lay down the cudgel, Inga. You are only making yourself and your case look worse.

10:54 AM  
Blogger DrewF said...

I'm considering this online poll as an ultimatum to speak out for the park. I have been going to Burholme since I could crawl. When I was old enough to stand my dad put a driver with a cut off shaft in my hands and taught me how to swing in the driving range, a range that I still frequent to this day some 18 years later. This is more than just a park to me but a symbol of my childhood. The FCCC is a very important institution but it simply does not have the right to take away the park’s land to expand, not that it shouldn’t take away the land. But it can’t, it’s against the law. The land only belongs to the city on the condition that it is a park, check the Ryerss will. If the city is not going to use it for the purposes specified then the land should go back the Ryerss family. I say shame on the Nutter administration. Like most shifts in power the people are promised change but I guess there is no getting around the same crooked Street style politics in this city. Thank you Inga for fighting for this park, your one of the few reasonable people left.

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You Northeasterners are morons...Inga's not railing against the cancer center. If you bothered to read the article she's suggesting that we maintain our parks. Once you lose them rarely do they ever return to park status.

Instead she maintains that there is oodles of land(former park land mind you) all over the city that now sits abandoned waiting for someone to do something with it.

Acres in N Philly, Kensington, Navel Yard etc... All perfectly good already developed land with much better transportation infrastructure that won't be returned to park land any time soon. Instead of reducing the city's limited park land let's put all that land that sits abandoned and unsused to good use. Lets sart reclaiming our city not starting out from scratch when its completely unnecessary.

But OH NO! let's urbanize more park land. Sure a litle here a little there over generations and no one notices, but come 100 years we'll have even abandoned land and little park space. Don't we already have enough? It may not be in our lifetimes but it will come. How selfish. It's this type of shortsighted thinking that got us in trouble CFC's NOX, SOX, CO2 etc...Think of the next generation.This sets a slippery slope precedent. Maybe I'll lobby to start building condo high rises on the banks of the Surekill right in Fairmount Park. Fairmount, Pennypack, Burholm whats the difference just trees?! The "its already a driving range whats the big deal" agument doesn't fly either. Thats still grass and trees not developed. Foxchase will introduce more heat islands, parking, run off, pollution, reduce animal population and a host of other problems that the driving range does not.

The cancer center will go out of business one day, and when it does the badlands of N. Philly will be the badlands of NE Philly. The irony! You reap what you sow and for what a few more local janitor jobs! I mean the reseach scientists and doctors the facility will attract aren't coming from or.. ha.. certaintly going to live in that neighborhood..I mean come on...

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have commented on the original article and I feel I must once again speak out to two postings. 1. To the anonymous author who believes that FCCC employees are "drones" who mindlessly follow orders put out by their President. We are not "drones" we are a compassionate group of people who actually think and contemplate for ourselves utilizing facts, logic, and contemplation. A group of people who care deeply, are passionate about what we do, and never mindlessly do anything. 2. To Drew who has been coming to the park since he could crawl, I'd be curious to learn your thoughts regarding the state of the park? What have you done to help the park you love? What are your plans to help repair the benches that have been without seats for years? What are your plans to help maintain the park as it should be maintained? Although I believe "Words Matter", I also believe that "words are easily said, but its the actions that make all the difference".

And for those that say that FCCC should build up, I would suggest that those folks (including Inga) uncover the fact that the community would not tolerate high rise building in Fox Chase. This is just another fact that was lost on the author and many who have read her piece.

All this said, I truly believe that both FCCC and Burholme Park can come out winners in this situation. Parks, like people, need nurturing and care. FCCC is offering to provide much needed care for the parkland in return for the space it needs to grow to support the ever increasing cancer care needs.Why is helping the park and FCCC such a bad thing?

7:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inga is nothing but an architect. she has no business commenting on issues that have no architectural bearing whatsoever. I would rather see her comment on the Eagles playoff prospects than on a topic like this that should be left to the residents of the area that understand the issues and are actually affected. Inga if you have no obsolete architectural structures to gripe about, please leave these issues to someone qualified to write about it. you are an architect, remember that, please.

p.s.for the record, I do not work for Fox Chase

8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The information about the email from Fox Chase's president came from an employee. That individual was clearly not in favor of the expansion. There are in fact many employees who live in the area surrounding the park who hold strong independent opinions about this issue--some in favor and some against. All had the opportunity to vote and express their own opinion. Please do not presume to know the minds of the bright and dedicaed individuals who serve Fox Chase and the cancer community.

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another long-festering issue in Philly, which to anyone from outside looking in, has to look like the city is full of anti-growth and anti-development mavens even to the point that they will fight tooth and nail the expansion of one of the few insititutions based in the city that is still renowned for its positives. If tomorrow FCCC gets up and leaves Philly and PA and instead goes out and sets up shop in Delaware, all you nice folks in NE Philly will really get to enjoy another empty building and more park land...for what it's worth.

I, as an "outsider", like the idea of letting FCCC expand while getting the FCCC to foreswear any further expansion on park land even 100 years from now, get FCCC to fix up the park's amenities, push out the private golfing enterprise that is encroaching on the park, and set up an endowment using FCCC money (and other charitable contributions) to make Burleholme Park the best in Philly and one of the best in the U.S. As such, most visitors to Philly only know of Rittenhouse Sq, Washington Sq, etc...put Burleholme on the map by first making it worthy of locals pride and use!

If FCCC doesn't get to expand, I believe it has already said that it'll plan on leaving or expanding in Delaware.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live near the park, in NE Phila. I am in NO way a tree-hugger, but I think the Cancer Center should build UP not out. The FCCC wants to build on park land because it is the easiest and cheapest (emphasis on the latter) way to expand. The choice between expanding out and moving is a false choice. Expanding up is the obvious third option that "shall not be spoken" because it would be more expensive. Optimizing profit is great; I'm all for it. Just don't optimize profit at the expense of my park.

I resent the Cancer Center threatening to leave simply because it won't seriously consider anything but the absolutely cheapest way to expand.

And don't justify the taking of park land by pointing out that some of the park land is already used as a driving range and miniature golf course. That is recreational use, precisely what the park is intended for. An expanded cancer center is many good things, but it is not recreational use of the park land. Keep the entire park land recreation and expand the cancer center up. Both then continue happily.

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in NE Phila and I too know the ins and outs of the park and have heard all the arguments. I am in NO way a tree hugger, but I think the FCCC should keep its hands off the park.

I resent the FCCC threatening to leave if it isn't allowed to expand into the park. The choice between expanding into the park and leaving is a false choice, one of the oldest tricks in the book. The obvious third choice, the "one that shall not be named," is to expand UP, not out. But this is apparently never seriously considered because it would be more expensive, and in order to optimize profit, the FCCC is only considering the absolute cheapest alternative.

Optimizing profit is great and I'm all for it. Just don't do it at the expense of my park.

BTW, a few floors up is not a high rise. We can tolerate a few floors just fine. Besides, I though the land grabbers were justifying the grab by saying that cancer treatment is so valuable that a little sacrifice is necessary. Apparently that only goes so far, revealing it for the empty argument it is.

And please don't attempt to justify the park land grab by pointing to the driving range and miniature golf course operating on part of the park. That is recreational use, precisely what park land is intended for. The cancer center is many good things, but it is not recreational use.

Let the FCCC build up instead of out, and we all live happily side by side.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me?? I quote this one..."Next we will learn that Michael Seiden tells staff to give bogus results for Cancer diagnosis so FCCC can Prosper!!!" Are you kidding me?? is this what it has come down to. I am a mother of two small children who play at Burholme...I also work at father died there 8years ago, so did my best friend 2 years ago at the age of 37...right now I have two more friends that are currently being treated for cancer...this not a money making your eyes, cancer is a majority not a minority...come into Fox Chase for one day and look into the eyes of these patients, the struggle, the fight...look and see how young they are...I would love a world of greenery and trees and historical parks...but its a new era and right now we have a huge problem to deal with and that is Cancer...Expansion of this hospital is a necessity!!
Christine Dooley proud of it!

1:22 PM  

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