Chronicling accretion of time, change on streets of Philadelphia

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“Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City” offers an invitation to readers to explore ever-evolving urban secrets waiting in plain sight.

Nathaniel Popkin, Joseph E.B. Elliott and Peter Woodall have compiled a richly illustrated and detailed look at the present-day city. But it also presents the city as an accumulation of centuries of layers to reach the dimensions of its 2017 self – and to serve as the possible city of the future.

That affords Philadelphians the chance to “use it as the raw material for our dreams,” said Popkin in a conversation with NewsWorks Tonight host Dave Heller

The City of Brotherly Love has the same population today as it did 100 years ago, Popkin said. That doesn’t mean its growth hasn’t waxed and waned, but “it tells us that it’s a kind of place that develops slowly over time.”

Lauding the “dynamic nature of Philadelphia,” Popkin said “Joe’s camera does an amazing job of discovering and presenting it.”

The authors aim to present the city as an accumulation of layers, but “there aren’t going to be layers if everything is frozen in amber as it once was, in any period,” Popkin said, addressing the issue of preservation.

“We celebrate great buildings that were built, 200 years ago, 250, 150, 100, 75, and certainly buildings that are built today, and the accumulation is the richness,” he said. “The reuse of buildings for new things, the reinvention of those spaces for new things … the dynamic kind of system that happens as cities change.

“Philadelphia presents that almost as well as anywhere in the U.S.”

“Preservation as a movement is important to that. Preservation is no longer a bunch of old ladies screaming about preserving something that was built by their grandfathers,” Popkin said. “It’s a much more nuanced way of thinking about the way cities change.”

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