As we put 2014 to bed, I offer this short list of cheers and jeers for the year that was:
Citizen-Driven Win of the Year: SEPTA 24/7
The most inspiring advocacy win of 2013 was the Land Bank. This year it is without question the campaign to reinstate SEPTA’s weekend late-night service on the Broad Street Line and Market-Frankford El. Congrats to Conrad Benner for leading the charge, and kudos to SEPTA for being willing to try the service again. Overnight subway service may not be 24/7, but weekends are a good start. The positive response led SEPTA to take the program from pilot to perpetuity swiftly, serving night owls and late-shifters.
Art Illuminates Life Award: Funeral for a Home
By far my favorite event of the year was Funeral for a Home, a social practice art project run out of Temple Contemporary that sought to capture the shared and personal history of a humble Mantua rowhouse prior to its demolition. Funeral for a Home stole my heart, particularly the culminating homegoing ceremony for 3711 Melon Street held in June. It elevated my thinking about the dignity and life in each derelict property we write off as statistics in our city’s vacancy crisis, as well as the potential for art to engage community in considering heritage and change.
Grace Note of the Year: Land Buoy
Washington Avenue Pier opened this year, another pearl in the strand of public spaces being built along the Central Delaware Waterfront. It’s a simple wetlands park with rustic flourishes. At its tip, a lovely grace note: Land Buoy, a 55-foot tall spire by artist Jody Pinto. It’s surprisingly dreamy to climb the artwork’s spiral stair, stand aloft over the Delaware and take in panoramic views of the skyline, wildlife, and see the river in action.
We’re Getting There Award: Dilworth Park SEPTA entrances
Yes, Dilworth Park is a fine public plaza, but it’s also about transit improvements – and this is where the project shines. Kieran Timberlake’s gull-winged glass pavilions in Dilworth Park create a luminous entrance to the SEPTA lines below while adding an elegant gesture that frames City Hall. Below ground everything up to the fare line signifies a city willing and able to spend money on an attractive transit experience. Smooth recycled granite blocks, bright spaces, and sleek finishes offer a hopeful counterpoint to most of our grim transit concourses. More please?
Infrastructure as Public Space Award: Schuylkill Boardwalk
The new 2,000-foot long Schuylkill Boardwalk is an extension of the Schuylkill River Trail that manages to be both a utilitarian trail segment and enjoyable waterfront public space. The boardwalk’s materials are sturdy and plain, designed to withstand high water and flood debris with ease. What elevates the boardwalk into something more than a trail or bridge are its moments of beauty. The skyline view is smashing and proximity to lapping of the river is delightful. If it only had were more amenities designed for the slow pleasure of being on the river, it would be divine.
Meh Material du Jour: Black Brick
When it comes to building materials,black is the new brick but it’s far from a classic. I am over the Darth Rowhouse look. My prediction: Black brick will shortly become unfashionable, much like white brick of yore. Some day we’ll be able to date rowhouses built in the 2010s to within a year. It already looks passé. Time to move on, builders.
Dated Feature: Dilworth Park’s Fountain
The new water feature on Dilworth Park is a fountain that seems more suited for an 1980s office plaza in Los Angeles than outside our City Hall. Children playing are what save the fountain from being sad. I hope the dynamism promised by Janet Echelman’s mist sculpture, which will sweep through the fountain will transform it into something with more spark.
Pyrrhic Victory: Art vs. Market
Artist James Dupree won an eminent domain battle to keep his Mantua studio in place. For the time being that also means the neighborhood doesn’t get a new grocery store. In a neighborhood with abundant vacant land this it feels like a false choice. Maybe this is something the new Land Bank can help resolve? Find a new spot for that store and everyone wins.
Street Shame: City Council
This year Councilmen Bill Greenlee, Mark Squilla, and Kenyatta Johnson either fought or foot-dragged on road striping projects that should not have been contentious. Technical decisions to increase safety, add bike lanes, and improve mobility are being decided on the basis of perception rather than fact. Inaction by council has left 22nd Street and Washington Avenue markless in sections; an unsafe solution that neither resolves nor informs the discussion over how precious street space should be allocated. Council needs to get smart about street issues or stop being roadblocks to Complete Streets policy and the Bike/Pedestrian plan it already approved.