Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of participating two panels at the American Institute of Architects Philadelphia’s annual Design on the Delaware conference. In the morning, I moderated a panel on commercial corridors, which featured brief comments by me on the citywide landscape of retail corridors and then remarks about two of the more fascinating and vibrant parts of the city, the Frankford Avenue Arts Corridor (as described by the New Kensington Community Development Corporation) and the Lower Italian Market (as described by the Passyunk Square Civic Association and by Interface Studio, its planning consultant). In the afternoon, I was one of three participants in a discussion about transit investment planning, which ran the gamut from the intersection between design and transit-oriented development to the political and financial mechanics of making a project happen.
Spending the day with design professionals never ceases to simultaneously energize and intimidate me. Design is, thankfully, infiltrating itself more ubiquitously into economics and policy. As rational and functional as we economists can sometimes imagine humans to be, aesthetics still matter. Design can differentiate between product success and product failure (hello, iPod!), transform distressed neighborhoods, and bring disparate groups together. In other words, if you want to get something done, whether it’s to make a buck or carry out a public service, you have to be mindful of design matters. Thanks to all the attendees for letting this inartistic and cold-blooded participant circulate amongst you.