Wednesday, February 10, 2010

South Philly Woodblock

South Philly Woodblock
Originally uploaded by evrik
Just a quick note to say that I have enjoyed the works of Suzanne Francis.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Getting better

Before moving here, my impressions of Philadelphia consisted of the Liberty Bell, actor Will Smith, comedian Bill Cosby, MOVE, Mumia Abu-Jamal, battery-throwing Eagles fans and the Rocky steps. I had my doubts about enjoying my life in West Philadelphia.
University City has fulfilled my worst and best expectations. Philadelphia is a dynamic city - and there always is something happening. Watching the city grow and recapture its past glory is fascinating. Getting to participate in the process has been a learning experience.

A lot of what I feared about University City was based on the limited information, or misinformation, I had been given. Before moving here, I called a friend, an alumna of Penn, and asked about Philadelphia. She said that the university told students not to live farther west than 43d Street, and no farther south than Baltimore - it was too dangerous. That was the single biggest piece of misinformation. I now live by Clark Park at 43d and Baltimore.

There are a lot of people working to make this city a great place to live - the neighborhood improvement initiatives, civic groups, Philly CarShare, the museums, the trolleys, and the walkability of my neighborhood and the city. The great thing about University City is that it has as much to offer as anyone can ask, and it's getting better all the time.

Bruce Andersen

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Philadelphian

August 12-18, 2004
The Philadelphian

Philly's museums should take a cue from Washington, D.C., and unite.
by Bruce Andersen

Buildings and monuments are a reflection of a people and their culture. Much of our lives are spent learning about, enjoying or observing the tributes that people have built to themselves. London evokes the image of Big Ben. Mention Rome, and we see the Coliseum. Speak of Paris, and it's the Eiffel Tower. But what would these great buildings be without people and institutions to keep them alive?

Anyone who has spent time in Philly has seen the many museums and cultural institutions — a living testament to the people of Philadelphia — scattered throughout the city. Most were founded at a time when people valued arts and culture, perhaps more so than they do today. Created to fill a void, those institutions are now are fragmented and disjointed. As Philadelphians, we need to focus on the state of our local arts and culture groups because the status quo is alarming.

In Philadelphia, museums are continually struggling to raise the money needed to stay open. The Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum almost left Philadelphia. To help them stay, the William Penn Foundation made a $341,000 grant. The African American Museum and the Atwater Kent have both been in financial trouble as well.

Part of the financial problem is the diverse nature of these institutions. Each organization has a different charter, mandate and constituency. They all exist to serve the public, yet they compete for visitors and funding. This competition, and the fact that each organization is forced to exist on its own, is unhealthy for the individual institutions and bad for the people of Philadelphia.

James Smithson, the man who endowed the Smithsonian Institution, once said, "Every man is a valuable member of society who, by his observations, researches and experiments, procures knowledge for men." In that vein, the people of Philadelphia should create an institution that brings together all the arts, culture, religion, science and history institutions within the city under one umbrella — The Philadelphian.

The Philadelphian, like the Smithsonian, could bind together all the disparate arts and culture groups within the city. Focusing on the arts and culture helps Philadelphia position itself as a progressive, forward-thinking city. But the idea makes sense whether you look at geography, finances or marketing.

Geography: The Smithsonian is a collection of museums located in close proximity on the National Mall in Washington, D.C; Philadelphia's museums are not as close together as the Smithsonian buildings, but because most are in or are close to Center City, it would be easy to coordinate travel between them.

Finance: In 1998, the Pennsylvania Economy League estimated that local arts and cultural institutions were a $300 million industry, employing 11,000 people and generating more than $6 million in revenue for the city. Money invested in the arts pays a direct dividend. Yet the state of our museums is alarming, especially this year, as the city slashed arts funding. Working as one institution would ease some of the operating costs because there would be less overhead. The stronger museums could also help the weaker museums financially.

Marketing: Many visitors to Washington plan extended stays to have time to visit all the historic sites and the museums. It is not uncommon for people to spend an entire day at just one museum. The same could be true for Philadelphia.

There are a lot of people who come to the Rocky steps but never make it inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wouldn't it serve the city better if more people planned their visits to see all the museums? Use the museums to promote each other and to encourage people to do just that.

Funding this idea is the biggest challenge — and is also the answer. Each of the existing museums has its own mandate, and bringing them together would be difficult. However, guaranteeing a steady source of revenue would overcome most of the museums' potential objections. Why not increase the local sales tax by a small percentage and earmark those funds for the new institution? The tax burden could be offset by giving residents free access to the museums of the Philadelphian.

The difficulties of implementation are balanced by great benefits. Museum administrators, foundation officials, elected officials, the legislature and the judiciary would all need to cooperate. With the state of the schools and the budget problems the city faces, this may not seem like a high priority, but the money, prestige and educational benefits that the arts bring to Philadelphia are factors we can't ignore. The buildings, and the institutions that house them, tell the world who we are. Support the arts — build The Philadelphian.

Bruce Andersen is a community activist and holds a master's degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Scouts' rights violated

Reading The Inquirer, one would think that people were in the streets marching on City Hall demanding the ouster of the Scouts from their headquarters ("No movement on threat by city to evict Boy Scouts," July 14).

Why hasn't the City of Philadelphia pressed the issue? Perhaps it's because of all the good that Scouts do in the community. Very few other organizations have a track record that matches Scouting.

I, and many other volunteers, disagree with the Scouts' stand on homosexual participation - issues of adult sexuality have no place in the operation of a youth leadership program. What I support is the Scouts' right to determine membership standards. The Scouts have been made to pay a price for standing up for their constitutional rights.

Duty to one's country is a pillar of Scouting. The Supreme Court found no fault with the way the Scouts determine membership. But it seems that since the membership standards of Scouting have been deemed as politically incorrect, it's OK to attack them. This is despite all the good work they do.

Local Scout leaders want to get past this issue because it detracts from the issue of serving youth in the Delaware Valley. However, the national Boy Scouts office already has shown that it would dissolve the local leadership and then reconstitute it with people who follow the party line.

Attacking Scouting on the local level only hurts local kids. Will Rogers once said, "The problem with Boy Scouts is there aren't enough of them." I wonder what Rogers would say about the intolerant attitudes facing Scouting today?

Bruce Andersen

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Centennial City


Turning the zoo and area attractions into a comprehensive destination.

by Bruce Andersen

A transformation that has been many years in the making is finally blossoming in the Mantua and Parkside neighborhoods around the west side of Fairmount Park. These neighborhoods, sorely in need of revitalization, have reached critical mass in terms of having enough attractions to bring many different users to the area on a continual basis. This is spurring some creative thinking on how to bring economic development, community revitalization and holistic transit planning to the neighborhood. Many people are working hard to see that this happens, and the rapid pace of change has created an air of excitement in this locale.

The Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia Zoo, Mann Center, Fairmount Park Commission and others are discussing creation of a "Centennial District." It is envisioned as redeveloping the area with an emphasis on the visitor attractions, the business the visitors bring and the restoration of the Mantua and Parkside neighborhoods. This new "plan in progress" may one day resemble the Center City or University City districts, or evolve into a cultural district like those in San Francisco and New York.

Current redevelopment plans in West Philadelphia and Parkside would transform the Girard Avenue corridor to focus on the area from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River. The new corridor ends just east of the new Centennial District, at the doorstep of the zoo.

The zoo has been a long-term advocate of development. Currently, most visitors arrive at the zoo by car. This is also true for both the Mann Center and the Please Touch Museum. This is not expected to change when the museum moves, but one of the major projects being worked on by the zoo is an intermodal transportation hub to improve the transportation options that people use to get to the area.

The major aspects of the hub will be a multistory garage on the south side of Girard Avenue, with new surface parking on the north side of the street; the rechristening of the Route 15 trolley line down Girard Avenue with a new zoo stop; improvement of the bike paths on the Schuylkill River Trail and the West Bank Greenway; and a shuttle from 30th Street Station to accommodate rail passengers. Two buses run past the area, but more mass transit options are needed. There are plans to include a commuter rail station to be implemented once enough money is found for needed infrastructure improvements.

A key part to making the area a "destination" is the linkages between the attractions. Although the existing attractions are physically very close together, it is not easy to move between them, or to get to them from elsewhere in the city, so they have long been perceived as separate, distant locations. The planned relocation of the Please Touch Museum to Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park has spurred efforts to integrate these sites. The addition of the museum to the existing attractions (the Mann Center, the Philadelphia Zoo and Fairmount Park) has prompted local stakeholders to work together to make the area a "family destination" and more visitor friendly.

The safety and beauty of those linkages is very important. Currently the stretch of Girard between the Schuylkill River and 40th Street is being landscaped and the walkways are being upgraded to improve pedestrian and traffic safety. Likewise, linking the Art Museum, Kelly Drive path, Boathouse Row and Waterworks on the east side of the Schuylkill with the attractions in the Centennial District is also being discussed. Although separated by the river, physically they are very close, so don’t be surprised if one day there is a skyway between the Art Museum and the zoo.

Over the years, residents and local business owners have made an enormous commitment to the neighborhood. The efforts of Jim Brown and the Parkside Historic Preservation Corp. are just one example. Many of the changes are meant to help local businesses and homeowners. Added to the mix are the Negro League Memorial dedicated to the Philadelphia Stars and the Negro Leagues (at the southwest corner of Belmont and Parkside avenues, at Stars’ old playing field) and the proposed Microsoft High School at Girard and 41st Street. The Fairmount Park Commission, an active stakeholder in this process, is in the middle of developing a strategic plan for the park. It is an underutilized, underappreciated resource that planners want make into an entity that attracts both Philadelphians and tourists.

The high copper dome of Memorial Hall has a statue, visible for miles, of the mythical figure Columbia bearing a laurel branch, which signifies accomplishment. Columbia and the success she represents is a fitting symbol of the confluence of events that is the rebirth of the City of Philadelphia.

Bruce Andersen is a community activist and holds a master’s degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

State of the State


A recipe for success.

by Bruce Andersen

Whenever I drive east on the Schuylkill Expressway, I am reminded of Philadelphia's once and future greatness. The buildings on Boathouse Row visually lead to the Waterworks, then to the museum on the hill and just past that, the skyline of Center City. That drive serves as a metaphor for the road the region must now take -- it must build upon its history to claim its future.

In December, the Brookings Institution released a report titled "Back to Prosperity: A Competitive Agenda for Renewing Pennsylvania." The report details the state's bad economic shape with withering candor. The Brookings report, which covers all aspects of the Pennsylvania economy, offers critiques, comments and suggestions that can be broadly classed into four overlapping topics: suburban sprawl, slow growth, brain drain and neglect of the older cities and towns. The issues raised in the report are not all about infrastructure or about Philadelphia, but the interconnectedness of the issues makes infrastructure and development most important to the state's future economic health.

What is interesting about the issues raised by the Brookings Institution is that most of the problems are self-inflicted and self-sustaining, but not irreparable. The state has resources available to fix its root problems; it simply lacks the leadership to implement a long-term plan addressing them. Take, for example, the following details paraphrased from the report (the statistics cited throughout are drawn directly from its pages, found at

Suburban sprawl: The lack of coordination of urban development created an incoherent direction in the state's economic development. Harrisburg has had the wrong priorities and has focused its resources and policies on the development of new communities, neglecting older and established communities. As a result, inner-city Philadelphia is declining while the outer townships grow rapidly. Jobs and economic opportunities are moving to the suburbs, where housing is expensive and is only accessible by car. Those who can't afford the move are left behind in decaying older communities. Meanwhile, the outer townships see an increase in their tax base, but also cope with increased costs to provide services to far-flung pockets of residents and businesses. Unchecked suburban growth also leads to more pollution and traffic.

Slow growth: From 1992 to 2002, the Philadelphia region's 13.3 percent employment growth led the state, but lagged behind the national rate of 20 percent. The state's tax structure weighs disproportionately on poor communities; its system of governance, with 2,566 municipalities and a fragmented state government, is parochial. Furthermore, it has not moved to replace the loss of its manufacturing base with "new economy" jobs.

Brain drain: The state has the fifth largest net out-migration of population between 1995 and 2000, and most of those leaving are young, educated workers. The Philadelphia region lost 8.3 percent of its 25- to 34-year-old residents between 1990 and 2000 -- the ninth largest loss of young workers. Despite the fact that the state ranks sixth in the nation in college students, in 2000, 29 percent of the Philadelphia region's residents possessed a college degree, a figure that pales when compared to cities like San Francisco (43.6 percent) or the Washington, D.C. region (41.8 percent).

Older cities and towns: Competing municipalities have made growth in the region a zero-sum gain -- a national problem not unique to Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's population growth has been slow, but its land development from 1982 to 1997 is sixth in the nation. In the Philadelphia region, population growth was among the lowest in the state (3.2 percent versus 3.4 percent statewide), yet its outer townships grew by 18 percent, while older developed areas lost 2 percent of their population. This population shift magnifies the self-reinforcing tendency of economies. Struggling urban economies face depressed property values, which limit a city's ability to pay for services, which in turn makes the area less desirable.

None of this is new; the report is yet another wake-up call about known problems. Yet the report also noted that the state has assets that make future success possible. Philadelphia has a tremendous amount of existing infrastructure that can spur economic growth, including a large amount of green space that makes the area attractive for recreation and a wealth of history that makes it a great tourist destination. Philadelphia also has great cultural institutions, museums and performing arts spaces that are vibrant and growing. Prominent academic institutions and a great network of hospitals and health care offer important resources. Finally, its people are another resource: Pennsylvanians, especially Philadelphians, are loyal to their home state and the communities where they grow up.

Ultimately, the report is encouraging; it is a warning, not a postmortem. We did not get here by accident: Pennsylvania is in its current situation because of 50 years of bad decisions made by its state government. But the problems we face are not unknown, and solutions are not impossible. What we need now is a concerted effort by the state government to move beyond past mistakes and lead Pennsylvania into the future.

Bruce Andersen is a community activist and holds a master’s in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Boy Trouble

On Gwen Shaffer's story last week about discrimination by the Boy Scouts of America:

I just read the piece "Needed: a Badge of Courage." I am an Eagle Scout, and was a local scoutmaster from 1999 until earlier this year. I believe the Scouts' stance on homosexual members and leaders is backward.

While I generally agree with what was written, there were four things I found wrong with the article.

First, the Boy Scouts do act like a corporation. The Scouts issue charters to local councils, which then issue charters to local groups desiring to use the program with local youth. The local groups then become the stakeholders, or voting members of the organization.

It's not just about the money. It's about the membership of the Mormon (LDS) and Roman Catholic churches. If the two largest chartering partners were to give their blessing, the issue of gays in scouting could be resolved. The LDS church has already said that if the Scouts changed their policy they would leave the scouting movement and start something like the Royal Rangers. The Royal Rangers are a Scout-like program run by the Assemblies of God churches.

Second, the unnamed source that spoke about the board being replaced is correct, but why did you have to cite an unnamed source? Bill Dwyer has said as much to Scout volunteers. The current board may have done an about-face, but that is probably better than falling on their swords and having a new, more conservative board named to replace them.

Third, while the Cradle of Liberty Council has suffered, other councils have benefited from the Scouts' stand on their principles.

Finally, in a couple of places Shaffer refers to men as "former Eagle Scouts." One is never a "former" Eagle Scout. Once attained, the rank is a lifetime award. Once an Eagle, always an Eagle.

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