Philadelphia’s Self-Perception Problem, Revisited

Almost a year ago, I addressed the question of how Philadelphia sees itself, particularly in the frame of our office’s much-maligned block. In 2009, Walnut Street seems to have improved; what happened to the conversation about the riverfront?

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Changes on Walnut Street: the storefront in the center has become a psychic’s office; Minar Palace, formerly of 13th Street, opened on Walnut and seems to be doing good business. The florist (far right) seems to be going out of business.

Almost a year ago, I wrote about Philadelphia’s self-perception problem The original blog post came after Mayor Nutter and others discussed plans for the Delaware Riverfront. The following quote, originally posted on a blog, has stuck in my head:

Take a good look around center city. The 1300 block of Walnut Street looks like a stage prop for a bad ghetto movie out of the 70’s.Its a depressing 1/10th of a mile mix of vacant buildings ,grungy stores, and filth covered cages + grates. Its horrendously bad.Much of the blocks of Chestnut(east of Broad) resembles the 1300 block of Walnut, Market East is worse than East Chestnut if that possible. The Ben Franklin Parkway has turned into a homeless encampment. Nutter needs to stop wasting time on this Riverfront fantasy and go get some developers and tenants to revive the blocks of Market,Chestnut and Walnut. The forefathers gave this city some great bones, work on rebuilding them so the riverfront will be an easier sell for the next generation.

Thirteenth Street has changed a lot over the past year. I submit the following picture as evidence.

Vacant store on the left, Citi Marketplace, a new convenience store on the right.

Citi Marketplace, a new mostly organic food store opened up in one of the vacant stores. It’s been tremendously popular with the neighborhood. To the right, Passage of India (not pictured), has changed hands is supposedly going to become an IHOP — not the retail I’d prefer but at least it means that the storefront won’t be vacant. The turnover on this block gives me some faith that it’s only a matter of another year before certain other terrible blocks (the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Chestnut, for example), follow its lead.

A year later, I still agree with the complaint that we need to be investing in Center City before bothering with the river. Yes, the river is woefully underdeveloped, and its development would radically change the city. But that development would probably feel fake and forced if there wasn’t some connection between it and a more dense, lively city.

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Diana Lind is the former executive director and editor in chief of Next City.

Tags: philadelphiarivers

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