8.07.2007

Authentic Landmarks

One positive outcome from the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis
has been the heightened awareness of our nation's transportation
infrastructure, a topic I've studied at a local level for the past
year. One problem is that fundamentally, we tend to gravitate towards
building new stuff; maintaining old stuff just doesn't make front page
news, you know.

Living in Philadelphia, as historic a city as there is in America,
I've come to appreciate "old" as not a pejorative term but a neutral
and even positive one. Old and rusty as our rails are, lots of cities
across the country would kill for our transit infrastructure,
especially those booming places like Phoenix, Portland, and Denver,
which are trying desperately to orient their development around
transit to manage congestion and sprawl.

But if there's one thing I've learned about Philadelphia and
Philadelphians, it's that we tend to short-change ourselves. Far from
seeing our transit infrastructure as an irreplaceable asset, we starve
it from money and attention. And far from seeing the areas around
those transit stops as uniquely valuable for the mobility they afford,
we have systematically disinvested in them.

These sites are the oldest in town, since Philadelphia first developed
around its transit stops. Which means that absent development, these
sites are also the most physically decrepit. But it also means that
they represent a special opportunity to connect past with future if
they are properly and creatively maintained, updated, and invigorated.

46th and Market is at the intersection (no pun intended) of three of
my worlds. It's close to where I live, it's where I used to work, and
it's the subject of a couple of reports I'm working on at my current
job. It's a prime example of a site that could be denser, prettier,
and more utilized. And we're moving in that direction - keep an eye
out.

In the meantime, I hope you'll play your part in reminding the keepers
of our public infrastructure that it's just as important to upkeep
what you have as it is to build new stuff. And I hope you'll join in
the conversation that's happening in Philadelphia and in other, older
cities, about seeing our oldest neighborhoods not as the eyesores they
might currently be but the beautiful, authentic landmarks that they
could be.

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