Thursday, August 28, 2014

Two luxury hotels will bring more life to the area around "Centre Square"


So, what the heck is Centre Square, you may ask? Well, it's actually the original name given to where City Hall sits today.

When Billy P (aka William Penn) founded Philadelphia back in 1682, he created one of the first major grid systems in the US. The purpose of using a grid plan was to create wide streets (which are considered narrow today) with right angles, for ease of planning and to avoid overcrowding. The planning aspect definitely held up, but overcrowding did not; just like it did not in New York, Boston, etc.

Anyway, with Billy P's master grid plan also came Philadelphia's 5 Original Squares: 1) Southwest Square, 2) Northwest Square, 3) Southeast Square, 4) Northeast Square, and 5) Centre Square. You now know them today as: 1) Rittenhouse Square, 2) Logan Square, 3) Washington Square, 4) Franklin Square, and 5) Philadelphia City Hall.

There's your free history lesson for the day, and from someone who is not certified to teach it.

Okay, back to the luxury hotel project at 15th St & Chestnut St.

If you are not familiar with where this is exactly, it's the surface parking lot directly behind the Ritz Carlton Residences (just across from City Hall). The parcel sits on the northeast corner of 15th & Chestnut, to be exact.

The reason I feel that this project is significant is not just for tourism, but for everyday street life. It fills a missing gap in a busy Center City block (surface parking lots are very 1980s these days), makes great use of density/scale, brings 2 new names in luxury hotel living to Philadelphia, and will have ground floor retail for all to enjoy.

And since Philadelphia has gotten better at planning over the past few years, with the new zoning code and all, it appears that most developers are putting forth projects that offer "smarter" features (e.g. mixed-use, underground parking, sustainable design, etc).

Now that Dilworth Plaza Park plans to cut the ribbon on 9/4, Centre Square City Hall will now have a suitable public space for both residents and tourists alike. Just like it was intended to, over 300 years ago.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

How does Philadelphia truly become a global city?


For starters, let's define what the term "global city" actually means.

Here are a few different definitions I found:

A city in a position to realize the economic coordination of complex activities at a global scale. It is through economic coordination that a city will gain a strategic position in the global economy, and the concentration of this function makes it different from other cities. - Research Gate

What constitutes a global city, is an emphasis on the flow of information and capital. - Saskia Sassen

A city generally considered to be an important node in the global economic system. Globalization can be understood as largely created, facilitated, and enacted in strategic geographic locales according to global finance and trade. - Wikipedia

Although it may seem a bit complex after reading those textbook definitions, the concept is relatively simple.

Does Philadelphia play a role in the global economy? Some say "yes," others "no."

The article that inspired this post was from the Philadelphia Business Journal, and it discussed how Philadelphia needs to get better at retaining its talent. The article states:

"Home to some of the world’s best universities, medical institutions, arts and cultural organizations, research centers, booming legal, business, finance sectors, and a steadily growing tourism industry, Philadelphia is the perfect place for talented young graduates. They can give back to the city that nurtured them while they pursued their educational dreams and interests. Opportunity abounds!"

Okay, so what's the problem then?

If we already have enough opportunity, and are already attracting young talent through the aforementioned channels, why are we not a global city today?

Well, there are 2 general issues Philadelphia has been up against.

- Education Crisis: If you have not heard about Philadelphia's public school system woes as of late, you must not watch TV, listen to the radio, or read the news. Our public school system is struggling, and the main issue all 3 media sources focus on is funding. I could show you stats, budgetary items of concern, and share articles from local experts, but that's not going to help. Until Philadelphia's local political system and PA's state political system get on the same page with a well thought out plan, the problem will most-likely persist. If the problem persists, how can Philadelphia retain global talent?

- Workforce Gaps: Philadelphia can sometimes be looked at as a tale of two cities, the "haves" and the "have-nots." I know that this is also common in other big cities, but Philadelphia is at the forefront. It's not that people in Philadelphia cannot find work, it's that they have to go outside of Philadelphia's borders to find it. Although many people live in Philadelphia, many of them also have to commute to the suburban metro area for their jobs; and vice-versa. Why is that? I could get into wage taxes, business taxes, pensions, city council, and politically-fueled union issues, but that's not going to help. Until Philadelphia's local political system and the private business community can come together on big issues, the problem will most-likely persist. If the problem persists, how can Philadelphia retain global talent?

Please do not take my points/opinions as the "be all, end all," but rather look at them in your own way and think about ways to improve upon them. These are issues that I see, nothing more.

I do not have the answers, but as someone who grew up in Philadelphia's suburbs for 18 years, and has lived in Philadelphia for 17 years, I can tell you that the strategies, communication, and mindset of both locales are different. Which may be why Philadelphia's suburbs have grown most of the local jobs, and Philadelphia has lagged behind for decades.

I truly believe Philadelphia has all of the tools necessary to become a successful global city. We just need to utilize those tools in a more cohesive way, and give all of the global talent that comes through our great city more reasons to stay.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Joe Minardi brings Philadelphia's history and architecture together

"Historic Architecture in Philadelphia: East Falls, Manayunk, and Roxborough" | Joseph Minardi

Looking for the latest and greatest coffee table book to show off to your family, friends, and neighbors?

I'm not talking about Kramer's, "Coffee Table Book ... About Coffee Tables." I'm talking about something local, something cool, and something unique.

Joe Minardi and I met years ago when he first started to compile his latest work titled, "Historic Architecture in Philadelphia: East Falls, Manayunk, and Roxborough." Since I live in Roxborough myself, he had reached out to me about getting in touch with some of the local Myk/Rox homeowners who lived in historically significant homes. As a real estate agent, my idea was to find homes that fit within Joe's criteria and then reach out to other agents who had homes listed for sale. With the owners' permission of course, Joe started shooting Philadelphia's real estate history; one home at a time.

After Joe released his EF/Myk/Rox book in May 2014, we decided to meet up and chat about how it came to be.

Tim Garrity: What inspired you to write about Myk/Rox/EF?

Joe Minardi: This is my 3rd Philadelphia book. Each book focuses on different neighborhoods, and I've always had EF/Myk/Rox in mind as a subject. Typically, I target my books based on historic significance and architecture; it must be well preserved from the earliest period of the colonial era, up to the revival styles of the earlier 20th century. Pre-Modern architecture, is also a better way to put it. Pre-Modern encompasses a wide variety of styles in the Victorian era: Greek Revival, Early Italianate, Second Empire, and Queen Anne. These styles are mainly centered around European influences.

TG: How has this area differed from your other architecture-inspired books? In other words, what makes EF/Myk/Rox unique?

JM: The uniqueness of the EF/Myk/Rox area is its industrial past. That and the fact that many homes in the area were built with Wissahickon schist, a local stone. Over time, these homes have almost acquired an ancient aura to them. This area also has many factories/mills that have been re-purposed and modernized, which presents a story in itself. Ex-factory owners lived in the larger homes on top of the hill (aka Roxborough). Those owners really enjoyed the ruralness of the area. In Upper Roxborough and the Shawmont Valley, it's interesting to look back to Roxborough's rural period. It never developed like other parts of Philadelphia, and still remains rural today. Henry Howard Houston owned most of the land when he died in 1895. He was the one who inspired Chestnut Hill's plan and future growth. Samuel Houston, his only surviving son, built the Andorra Shopping Center (early 1950s). Which was a different model of growth.

TG: If you had to pick a favorite home/building in this book, which one would it be?

JM: (Laughs) As for a favorite, that's a tough question. If I had to pick one building, I was blown away by St. John the Baptist church in Manayunk (where Silverwood St and Rector St meet). It's probably the nicest church I have seen in Philadelphia, aside from the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Another local building to note was St. Timothy's Episcopal Church on Ridge Ave, it was magnificent! What a great church. If I had to pick one home, 347 Green Ln (owned by Louise Fischer) was my favorite. It stood out to me as it was built in the early 1900s, and it was done in the Tudor Revival style. Original plumbing fixtures, woodwork, and tile work from the 1920s. Louise refers to it as "The Great Gatsby House." There was another nice home (circa 1865) in Upper Roxborough, done in Italianate Style, and it actually had a root cellar framed in dolomite; which was amazing in itself.

TG: Aside from the home I got you into, how did you get in to shoot most of these homes?

JM: Knowing local people, which you helped with. Kay Sykora was instrumental and gave me some very good leads. Then there was good old-fashioned research. I would reach out and schedule meetings with current owners/tenants and ask, "Would you mind if I came in to do a photo shoot?" Since I am from South Philadelphia myself, I had to reach out to local, neighborhood people.

TG: Where can readers go to get their copy?

JM: It's available for purchase at The Spiral Bookcase (Manayunk), AIA Bookstore (2 Philadelphia locations), Joseph Fox Bookshop (Center City), UPenn Bookstore (University City), as well as on Amazon.com and lots of other places online.

TG: Any other Philadelphia-inspired books on the horizon?

JM: Yeah, I have some other ideas. I'm trying to come up with an appropriate title for one of my concepts, which focuses on Philadelphia's residential architecture from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, back when Philadelphia was referred to as "The Workshop of the World." The factories here made just about anything used anywhere on Earth, which grew our city and our architecture. I'm working on it.

Joe hopes that his books will inspire people to preserve what we have in Philadelphia (e.g. The Bunting House, Roxborough). He wants to give people perspective into Philadelphia's history and culture, and wants them to "rally to the cause."

If you want to help support Joe's mission, pick up a copy of his latest book as well as any of his other books.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Comprehensive planning is taking place in Northwest Philadelphia

Image courtesy of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission

That's right, my home-sweet-home.

Please bear in mind that Northwest Philadelphia is a large area (East Falls, Manayunk, Roxborough, Chestnut Hill, Mt Airy, and Germantown), which is why the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (aka PCPC) has separated NW Philadelphia into 2 sections: Upper Northwest and Lower Northwest.

The name of PCPC's comprehensive plan is called "Philadelphia 2035." It's pretty cool, so check it out when you have time.

As for these two "districts," Upper Northwest is basically any/all neighborhoods north of the Wissahickon Valley area (e.g. Chestnut Hill, Mt Airy, and Germantown), and the Lower Northwest district is any/all neighborhoods below it (e.g. East Falls, Manayunk, and Roxborough). Now if you really want to get technical, the Lower Northwest also includes smaller sections like Andorra, Shawmont Valley, and Wissahickon, but they are referred to as "enclaves" and are all part of Roxborough anyway (aka 19128).

Okay, so there's our foundation. Now let's chat about what's going on.

From a resident's standpoint, as I am one, there has been a lot of pressure from the neighborhood to stop and/or slow down some of the new construction development that has taken place over the last 10 years.

Why?

Well, there are a few reasons.

First, development in Manayunk/Roxborough (aka 19127 + 19128) has been a hotbed of activity in relation to the overall number of permits issued for the entire City of Philadelphia (see this article for more details). Second, some of the older/larger homes in Myk/Rox sit on large parcels of land. If the property needs a lot of work, it usually makes more financial sense to tear down and build multiple homes (which developers have already done, and without much/any community dialogue). Lastly, there is no comprehensive plan currently in place for developers to follow. Which basically means they can do whatever they want once the permit has been issued.

Hence, pressure from the local neighborhood.

From a real estate agent's standpoint, as I am one as well, I have a front row seat. Meaning that my daily job is to help both buyers and sellers find what it is they're looking for (a home, a rental, an investment), and explain either how it will benefit them to purchase it or not. So as both a resident and a real estate agent, I can see both sides.

How so?

Well, there are a few reasons.

First, the neighborhoods of Manayunk and Roxborough are great places to live. Biased? Maybe, but you can read more stats here that help support my opinion. Second, there is a lot of opportunity to buy Myk/Rox homes/land to live in, rent out, or rehab/build and resell. Lastly, when real estate developers look for spots to put their money (in the hopes of creating a return on their investment), there is a lot of opportunity to build new and rent/sell in both Manayunk and Roxborough.

Hence, there is opportunity in local real estate.

So as you can see, there are two sides to every story as well as pros/cons to both sides. I happen to see why both sides are doing what they're doing, which is why I choose to remain neutral on the subject.

On the one hand, I want to see my local neighborhood thrive, improve, and remain one of the best neighborhoods in all of Philadelphia. On the other hand, I don't want to see history/culture erased because money can be made.

It's a tough subject to discuss, and I welcome any/all readers to chime in with comments. I'm also always happy to answer your questions as best I can.

Once more, here is the article that inspired this post.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Are "Innovation Districts" the key to Philadelphia's growth?


Maybe, maybe not. But here is something to think about.

As the US population continues to choose cities over suburbs, the job landscape in cities is adjusting to meet that growing demand. People today want more (and better) choices for where they live their lives, choose their jobs, and enjoy their free time.

This is where Innovation Districts come in, and cities in general.

First, let's define what an Innovation District is. According to Bruce Katz at the Brookings Institution, the definition of an ID is as follows:

"A geographic area where anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect small firms, start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators. The area is physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically wired. The options for mixed-use housing, office, and retail are all present."

The two main areas in Philadelphia that meet those criteria are Center City and University City. The Navy Yard is not far behind, but it's still lacking in the housing and retail areas (although there are plans for more of that in the near future).

To redefine, isolated campuses in the suburbs that corporations have been flocking to for decades are slowly losing their appeal. Reason being, Innovation Districts are changing the model due to both the appeal of urban areas and the need for today's corporations to collaborate more.

So, I found this cool article, saying that University City was recently recognized as 1 of 7 IDs (in the entire US) that are "on the rise." Katz from Brookings was quoted as saying, "We identified seven examples in our paper of districts to watch, and University City in Philadelphia, we think, has enormous potential, only a portion of which has been realized."

Part of the reason University City was recognized was due to its accessibility to transit, its "iconic presence," and its track record of attracting start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Good news for UC and Philadelphia!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Significant mixed-use project coming to Brewerytown

Rendering of Girard27 | Courtesy of Hidden City Philadelphia

If I've said it once, (or about 6 other times on my blog ... here, here, here, here, here, and here) I'll say it again: Brewerytown has momentum.

Not the kind of momentum where real estate developers, speculators, buyers, and tenants are guessing that Brewerytown will be one of Philadelphia's hottest neighborhoods. Brewerytown is one of Philadelphia's hottest neighborhoods for real estate.

Both commercial and residential alike.

If you're already familiar with B-Town's recent success, you're ahead of the curve. If you're not, here's how I personally look at Brewerytown's current situation.

West Girard Ave (between N 32nd St & W College Ave) is a perfectly-sized "Main Street" for the dense, historic neighborhoods that surround it (i.e. Brewerytown, Templetown, Fairmount, etc). Stretching about 6 city blocks, this swath of W Girard offers mixed-use potential, interesting architecture, reasonable rent, and a captive audience.

Not too small, and not too big.

So, why am I even mentioning this commercial strip? Because it's potentially turning Brewerytown into the next Manayunk ... the next Fairmount ... the next Graduate Hospital ... the next Cedar Park and Spruce Hill.

Those neighborhoods are all thriving today based on the same, traditional, old-as-time concept: community. Where the community is strong, the neighborhood is strong. And because Philadelphia was built/planned to embrace tight-knit communities, this concept still rings true today.

Now that Girard27 has been planned for N 27th St and N Taney St, and received a decent enough reception from both long-time and newbie residents, my opinion is that this corridor now has a legitimate anchor. The new Bottom Dollar supermarket was a nice touch on the western border, and the Braverman project (which is just across the street from Girard27) will only add more appeal. Also, let's not forget about some of the other small businesses along W Girard (i.e. RyBrew, Shifty's Taco, etc).

Needless to say, Brewerytown is coming into its own.

Although this may seem like old news to some, especially those who already live in the immediate vicinity, I felt that adding a professional real estate opinion would help bring the good news home; and also provide a different perspective from someone on the outside, looking in.

For those who have never been to Brewerytown, or have not visited for a while, good things are happening ... and the timing seems to be perfect.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why so much buzz lately about Market East?

PREIT's rendering of the new Gallery at Market East

The Market East section of Philadelphia that is, not the regional transportation hub.

Maybe it's just me, but almost everywhere I look in the local media these days, people are buzzing about Market East.

Some of those discussion topics, over the last year or so:

Girard Square

The Gallery

Market8 Casino

Times Square-esque Digital Signage

Everyone is talking, and for good reason. Out of all the original Center City neighborhoods (Logan Square/Circle, Rittenhouse Square, Washington Square, Society Hill, and Old City), Market East (or Center City East) is really the only one left with copious amounts of potential.

All of the others have already been redeveloped, or are in the process of.

The reason I found this story so blog-worthy, was because of that aforementioned potential. Center City has become so prominent/noticeable in Philadelphia's comeback story, that it has literally spawned an entire army of coveted neighborhoods.

Graduate Hospital

Passyunk Square + East Passyunk

Newbold

Pennsport

Fairmount

Francisville

Northern Liberties

Fishtown

The #1 reason why these varying and unique neighborhoods have caught fire within the local real estate market, is because of Center City's success (and University City's too, if you want to get technical).

Original Center City has become expensive and is short on supply, which is why the spillover demand has landed in these neighborhoods. In reality, there was really no where else to go but to follow the concentric circles.

Now, it's not just because of CC + UC that Philadelphia has changed so much over the last 20+ years.

Manayunk

Roxborough

East Falls

Chestnut Hill

Mount Airy

Kensington

Templetown

As you can now see, the demand is spreading all over town, into historic neighborhoods, and for different reasons. Main Streets, universities, small businesses, networking groups, night markets, food trucks, and everything in between.

Market East may currently be the trendiest name in town, but it sure is not the last.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Plans unveiled for the "New" Fairmount Park

Fairmount Park Waterworks, South Garden | Philadelphia

If you thought Philadelphia's famed Fairmount Park could not get any better, you would be mistaken. The funny thing about FP is that it gets mixed results from those who live around it ... seriously, it does.

Some love Fairmount Park, and some hate it. Some think its potential has been reached, and some think there is only room for improvement. Some Philadelphians use it every day, and some locals have never set foot in it.

For being one of the world's largest urban park systems (aka "The Largest Landscaped Urban Park in the World," according to Wikipedia), I personally feel that the park itself is underutilized. There are so many different elements to this 9,200 acre Philadelphia green space, that it's too hard to recognize all of them. The most recognizable places include (but are not limited to): Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Zoo, Boathouse Row, Please Touch Museum, and Bartram's Garden.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

What I really love about Fairmount Park is that it's so well protected and preserved, considering it's located in the 5th largest US city. What was originally an 1858 agreement to protect Philadelphia's main water supply (aka the Schuylkill River), has turned into a phenomenal public park system (63 different neighborhood parks, to be exact). This gives all Philadelphians the option to escape the busyness of city life (any day of the week), and still be within close proximity to their homes.

Okay, that should be enough background and history to get us started here.

Close to 1 year ago, Philadelphia Parks & Rec teamed up with local community groups and Penn Praxis (the design arm of UPenn) to discuss how East/West Fairmount Park could be better connected and utilized as a whole. The result, a comprehensive plan called "The New Fairmount Park."

As to not deviate from my usual approach, let's break this jawn down in traditional PUL fashion:

- "Why East & West Fairmount Park?": Well, simply put, East/West Fairmount Park are the core of Fairmount Park as a whole. They both touch Center City (East) and University City (West), which both happen to be the biggest growth areas in Philadelphia today. On top of that, no other city in the US can match East/West's combined size and overall value to the health of local residents. From a tourism standpoint, these 2 park sections draw 7M visitors every year, are home to some of Philadelphia's most significant cultural institutions, and offer a wealth of sculptures and public art. In other words, East/West are a big draw for tourists. From a recreational standpoint, there are 54 trail miles, 16 creeks, and 4 playgrounds. In other words, East/West serve as a huge public playground for those younger and older alike.

- "The Big Vision": This one has to be seen on the plan itself. In general, it capitalizes on some of FP's greatest assets: creeks, trails, and park entrances. To see some of the graphics depicting the plan's ideas and calls-to-action, click here.

- "First-Steps": With any comprehensive plan, the goal is to start small by meeting short-term goals for long-term gains. That's exactly what the plan calls for in this section. Things like improving watersheds, traffic studies, and pedestrian accessibility all contribute to exposing the park's physical attributes and overall beauty. Simple things like painting bike lane lines on bridges that cross the Schuylkill River will help connect East and West. Making park entrances more visible to those walking, riding, or driving by will increase Fairmount Park's curb appeal and encourage more usage. Steps like these do not cost millions of dollars to complete, they just require a plan and some attention to detail.

- "Focus Areas": This section of the plan focuses on 5 key areas, and they mostly revolve around the same simple concept: bring people to the water sources in Fairmount Park. By following the 16 creeks that flow down to the Schuylkill River, park users will have a natural path from uphill to river (and vice-versa). The funny thing about the neighborhoods surrounding FP, is that many residents in those communities don't realize how easy it is to access the park. Both natural and man-made barriers are the culprits. The goal is to use waterways as a guide to increasing park usage and park access.

Done and done.

My hope is that this blog post will serve as a launching point for all PUL readers to see how great Fairmount Park really is, and how much greater it will become in the not-too-distant future.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What has long been in store for Market East, is now coming to fruition

This image lays out the entire plan, click to enlarge.

My last post on PUL.com talked about Paul Levy and some of the projects he has worked on over the years to help move Center City Philadelphia forward.

One such project I mentioned, "The Road to Dilworth Plaza Park," is a solid anchor for Market East, from City Hall all the way down to Old City. Not to mention that it will also serve as an anchor for the recent activity on Market West, but let's keep our focus toward the east for now.

Well, good things are being talked about in the news.

If you have ever taken SEPTA regional rail to Market East, walked through the sets of doors to the escalators, taken the escalators up to street level, and walked through the additional sets of doors onto Market St, you have probably noticed an outdated, unsuccessful string of retail shops directly across the street.

This retail strip is known locally as Girard Square.

To be honest, these stores are pretty weak for where they sit in proximity to both Midtown Village and Old City. Not even considering the fact that they're right across the street from one of Philadelphia's busiest public transportation hubs.

If you shop at Girard Square, please do not take offense. I just think Philadelphia can do better, and they are about to make good on that statement.

Come summertime, Girard Square will be no more. In its place will be an updated, modern, mixed-use, shiny new development that will include new shops, new restaurants, and new residences, along with large digital marketing displays outside (now allowed along Market East, per a new zoning ordinance). Finally, Market East is starting to realize it's potential, as I have blogged about this before (over 2 years ago).

Here are some of the details, per the article from PBJ that inspired this post:

"The 4.3-acre site takes up an entire city block bound by Market, Chestnut, 11th, and 12th streets. The building fronting Market St will be taken down, and the first phase will rise in its place. It will total $230M and encompass 650,000 square feet.

"That initial phase will include constructing a 17-story tower that will have the first two levels dedicated to 160,000 sq ft of retail space, and the remainder an apartment structure with 322 units. It will also involve renovating the 200,000 sq ft family court building and preparing that for retail space on the street level and office space above."

Right on, Market East!

Not only do I like that the developers are phasing this project properly (supply and demand), but the most visible part (remember that picture I just painted for you in Paragraph 4, walking out of Market East station) is first in line for redevelopment.

All in all, the project is shooting for 2M total sq ft of brand-new, mixed-use space, and a total investment of $500M.

Not bad, not bad at all.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Paul Levy is determined to make Philadelphia better ... for everyone

Paul Levy in Center City, PHL | Image courtesy of Hidden City Philadelphia

He has been called the "King of Center City," and "one of Philadelphia's most powerful people." To me, he is both a game-changer and a man with vision.

Paul can see what most people don't see, and he can also see the path to get there. His visionary approach to changing Center City for the better has resulted in more development, more restaurants, more overall investment, and a new Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Needless to say, this guy just finds a way to get things done.

I have always been a big fan, and take the time to read articles that are either written about him or are written based on an interview with him. It's cool to see someone who has a plan, and is able to stick with that plan for over two decades.

This article is a good way to see what Paul is currently working on for our beloved city. In traditional PUL fashion, here is the breakdown:

1. The Road to Dilworth Plaza Park: This was one that Paul pushed for a while, and it's now set for completion at the end of 2014. The multi-million dollar transformation will take "Dilworth Plaza" from a stale, outdated, granite-ridden nothing into a usable, sustainable, public green space (which will then be referred to as "Dilworth Park"; nice touch). There will be greenery, fountains, public art (which is a standard for Philadelphia), a skating rink, and a new cafe. Think of it as a new kind of Rittenhouse Square, only with a castle in the middle, easy access to trains/subways, and a new place to eat. It's a great project, and should help jump-start all of the proposed projects/speculation for Market East; including a reimagination of The Gallery.

2. The Public/Private Partnership: Otherwise known as CCD, or the Center City District. What a beast the CCD has become in changing Center City for the better. Let's clean the streets ... check. How about some better lunch/dinner options ... check. Let's get some more people to live down here ... check. Oh, let's light the streets better, create more places to hang out, spruce up the Parkway, and just make Center City awesome ... check. So, how does he do this? There is no clear cut answer, but in general Paul is able to bridge the gap between city/state government and private corporations/companies. The result, Center City is booming and better than ever today.

3. CCD has transformed Center City into one of the most livable downtowns in the US: Center City Philadelphia has history, it has modern amenities, it has a fantastic food/shopping scene, it has great parks, and it's considered the 3rd Most-Populous Downtown in the US. With suburbs garnering less attention these days, and cities getting more attention daily, "downtown" (in any major US city) is its heart and soul. It's the core, the base, the identity. This is why Philadelphia is growing and getting a more notable national reputation. Do we have our fair share of issues? Yes. Political corruption, poverty, litter? Yes. Slow to get things done? Yes. But ... it's slowly starting to change. Philadelphia is an exciting place to be, and the energy is contagious. Paul Levy is a big reason why Philadelphia has so much momentum today.

Another day, another soap box.

Being that I was raised just outside the city's northern boundary (What's up, Abington), some may say I'm a bit biased; fair enough.

But if you have been away from Philadelphia for a while, or have moved away altogether, here is my advice to you. Look at your calendar, plan a visit to Center City on a sunny spring/summer day, keep an open mind, and my guess is that you will also see what I am seeing ... progress.