2012: No Predictions, Only Questions

W Dauphin & N Park Streets | Photo: Peter Woodall

In January 2008, in the fledgling days of the Nutter Administration, I went around asking psychics and palm readers to read the city’s fortune. Most of them looked at me queerly and tried to get rid of me as soon as possible. A few relented. You’re going to be in good hands with Michael Nutter in 2008, said one of them. He is a good man, said another. Everyone knows the city is going to hell, said a third.

Four years later I’ve learned to stop seeking answers (this is wisdom, so I’m told). It may be the life of a city is a bit like an experimental novel. The protagonist has lots of aspiration, but nothing ever gets resolved.

So we’ll move into the new year on this more honest footing. After all, we don’t really have answers to the big questions, and the joy of the city, like the joy of a novel, is that you’re never really sure how it’s going to turn out.

Only questions, then, as the new year begins. Only questions:

Photo: Rob Lybeck

  • Will the Navy Yard hit a critical mass of employment and development to finally warrant a public transit solution?
  • Will the disagreement over expansion of the airport curtail the city’s plans for PHL and can the city’s ambition overcome USAirway’s recalcitrance?
  • Can the sum of airport expansion+port expansion+Navy Yard development+the sports complex be greater than its parts?
  • Will North Broad–artistic lighting scheme aflame–emerge as the wild-card answer to a city looking for high-density, muscular urbanism?
  • For that matter, who will Temple University trustees choose to for the institution’s next president, and will that person embrace forward looking campus and community development (a la Drexel University) as a key strategy?
  • Uptown Theater | Photo: Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre

  • And relatedly, will the Reading Viaduct, State Office Building, Inquirer Building, Uptown Theater, PA Ballet advance?
  • Can Drexel University help overcome years of neglect (and appalling student behavior) to propel Mantua forward?
  • Will planners find an answer for Pier 9, at Race Street on the Delaware River, in order to create a true synergy with the Race Street Pier and the Live Arts Festival HQ in the former High Pressure Water Pumping Station?
  • What will the highly secretive Norris Square Civic Association’s development to replace St. Boniface Church look like?
  • Will the folks working to form Germantown United successfully launch a CDC–one with enough capacity and vision attract public funding and private developers?
  • Can Steven Ujifusa’s new book bring needed momentum to the campaign to save and reuse the S.S. United States?
  • Will the design of the Museum of the American Revolution emerge as invention or imitation?
  • Will preservationists find a way to increase protection for endangered buildings, overcoming political ambivalence and bureaucratic stasis, and can the Historical Commission push through new historic districts?
  • Is this the end of the line for the Church of the Assumption, the Italianate mansion at 40th and Pine, and the Dilworth House?
  • Photo: Peter Woodall

  • Will hope emerge for the Divine Lorraine, Germantown Town Hall, and the Boyd Theater?
  • Will halfway houses finally over-run Frankford?
  • Can the coming recommendations for transit on Roosevelt Boulevard (light rail or bus rapid transit) be funded?
  • Will the colossal Delaware and Richmond Generating Stations–our glass palaces–emerge in the public eye?
  • How long will the Sunoco and Marcus Hooks refinery sites sit in limbo until decisive action is taken for re-use?
  • Will the Inquirer and Daily News moving to Market East catalyze development there, finally filling that persistent “hole in the doughnut?”
  • Can the Dilworth Plaza project create enough momentum for the full renovation of City Hall Station?
  • Will Broad and Washington reemerge as a key site for high-density, multi-use development, or will it fall prey to a bottom-feeder developer?
  • Will the Provident Mutual building in West Philadelphia prove suitable for a new police HQ?
  • Can the city’s stormwater plan overcome bureaucratic hurdles and begin implementation?
  • Will the forward design of the Sheridan Street Houses, Onion Flats’ Rivage development, and Paseo Verde resurrect the hope that architecture can be used for the public good?
  • Answers? Yes, a few will emerge as the year goes on, and just as likely more questions. Some of the answers will tell us about the city’s direction (or more honestly, many directions). The sheer breadth of the questions is proof enough of a city quite simply alive, and full of hope and possibility.

    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.



    1 Comment


    1. Certainly a city full of challanges that in themselves will give birth to an era of excitement of sorts as they become resolved. How will the proposed dredging or non dredging of the Delaware impact the port and its development? Supposedly dredging will allow the larger ships come into the port with a definite economic impact upon Philadelphia.Are the negatives that important?

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