Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rethinking Philadelphia's "Avenue of the Arts"

Avenue of the Arts | Center City, Philadelphia

For younger generations, Philadelphia is a happening place to be.

There are world-class educational institutions, neighborhoods full of creative class-mates and/or entrepreneurs, and affordable lifestyle options. Not only does Philadelphia offer today's millennials all of those desirable options to grow as responsible Philadelphians, but our city has culture, history, and charm (oh ... and killer food).

Everything the younger generation wants, right? I would say so.

So what is Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts?

AOTA was created back in 1990 by Paul Levy and the Center City District (or as it was more commonly referred to back then, Central Philadelphia Development Corporation). It was an opportunity to reinvent South Broad St as an entertainment district for the arts, and also to bring local suburbanites (as well as tourists) to Philadelphia for an evening of entertainment, dinner, and drinks.

Pretty ingenious at a time when old, industrial cities had consistently rough images; including our neighbors in New York, DC, and Boston.

It was then Mayor Ed Rendell who ran with CCD's idea and secured both public/private funding for multiple projects spanning from City Hall to Spruce St. Also, a streetscape plan took shape which helped clean up the avenue, making it cleaner and brighter (and more walkable). Next, the arrival of the Kimmel Center as well as upscale, residential development. AOTA was on fire, and is still doing very well today (thanks to visionaries like Carl Dranoff).

"So Tim, why rethink what is already working? If it ain't broke, don't fix it; right?"


Although AOTA sparked a renewed interest in urban living, that particular model may already be a bit outdated. At the time, it was based on the arts movement in NYC, but technology changes things fast these days.

Why do I feel it is a bit outdated, you ask?

Because younger generations today are more spread throughout the city, in neighborhoods like Fishtown, Passyunk Square, and even my own 'hood (Manayunk/Roxborough). Now that more newly-minted Philadelphians have spread out around Philadelphia's core urban districts (Center City & University City), the city is functioning more as a whole these days where each neighborhood/section has its own destinations and entertainment options.

That's why this article was written, and it's also why those reasons make sense. Why have just an "Avenue of the Arts," when you can have a "City of Arts."

Chime in on the comments section below, if the mood strikes you.

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