Land Of Expectations

Jules Feiffer’s famous cover

“My, my, my, my, my, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome to the land of Expectations, to the land of Expectations, to the land of Expectations,” says the Whether Man in Norton Juster’s 1961 classic, and my favorite book as a kid, Phantom Tollbooth. Juster, a Penn-trained architect, knows a thing or two about Philadelphia, so long a place of expectations, expectations, expectations…and perhaps not so often met. (A few months before Juster took his degree in architecture, Mayor Joseph Clark initiated the demolition of Broad Street Station to make way for Penn Center, whose plazas today still defy those expectations.)

Juster returns Saturday to be interviewed by noted artist and children’s book author Alexander Stadler (Beverly Billingsly, Julian Rodriguez) at the Central Branch of the Free Library. It’s interesting timing, for despite the relentlessly grim economy, our urban expectations are growing.

Why? My sense is that it’s a result of a recent push for planning and civic engagement. After a good two decades or more of purely reactionary public policy, meant only to avert disaster, we’re planning. And planning means imagining, planning means creating, planning means playing out the conceit that we can shape the future.

Well then, welcome to the land of expectations, expectations, expectations. (Truth is, there is so much planning going on–from city district plans to campus plans to stormwater, bike, and vacant land plans–it’s too much to keep up with.)

Worldwide, our urban expectations are growing by necessity. More than half of human beings live in cities, a proportion to grow to three-fourths by 2050, according to the Urban Age Project. That project, and others like it, are consumed by the act of reimagining cities as the generators of wealth, culture, and ideas–and as places to raise the human condition.

Today: two opportunities to take part in the discussion. Click HERE at 2:30PM to watch a live-streamed debate on the urban futures sponsored by the Ove Arup Foundation. In a similar vein, there are still spaces left for the 9PM screening tonight of “Urbanized,” a film with some of the Urban Age thinkers made by noted film-maker Gary Hustwit (“Helvetica”). The 6:30 screening will be followed by a discussion on the urban age in Philadelphia with Hustwit and planner Rick Redding. Our Ariel Diliberto will review the film in Vantage tomorrow.

This weekend: the past, present, and future of City Hall at Monumental! a symposium sponsored by the School of Design at Penn. Lauren Drapala will cover the symposium on the Daily.

Next week: TEDx Philly, on Tuesday, November 8, an all day action-focused city jam. Hidden City will be there with a booth and coverage by our newest writer, Julie Morcate.

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. Popkin's literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, and The Millions. He is writer-in-residence of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.



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