On Preserving Bacon’s Neighborhood


Famed city planner Ed Bacon in Society Hill in 1962 | Photograph courtesy of Jules Schick/The Edmund N. Bacon collection/the architectural archives, University of Pennsylvania

Famed city planner Ed Bacon in Society Hill in 1962 | Photograph courtesy of Jules Schick/The Edmund N. Bacon collection/the architectural archives, University of Pennsylvania

  • Philadelphia mag’s Jared Brey considers the singular ethos of Society Hill, tracking the nineteenth-century neighborhood’s twentieth-century wholesale reconsideration from above, which, achieved by methods that Edmund Bacon himself would later concede as being distributively regressive and “cruel,” would eventually give us the largely inorganic, stylistically confused, neighborhood we know today—“calcified, closed off, lifeless after sundown and exclusive in every sense of the word.”
  • A water main burst on Friday at the Baker shopping center in East Falls—its third main to break in as many years. Some six million gallons swept through the stores and their parking lot, necessitating the rescue, by Fire Department boats, of sixty customers. “They are putting a Band-Aid on the problem. They are not fixing the problem,” one understandably disgruntled customer tells CBS Phillys Anita Oh. 
  • Southwark Elementary is raising money to implement the winning “Dragon Green” schoolyard design from the Community Design Collaborative’s contest a few weeks ago, notes the Passyunk Post. “The colorful design is inspired by the school’s yellow dragon mascot and is meant to integrate learning and playing in the outdoor space with play equipment, rain gardens and more.”
About the author

Stephen Currall recently received his BA in history from Arcadia University. Before beginning doctoral studies, he is pursuing his interest in local history, specifically just how Philadelphians engage their vibrant past. Besides skimming through 18th century letters, Steve is also interested in music and travel.

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  1. I’m not sure that Society Hill is any more or less a “inorganic, stylistically confused” neighborhood than it was before. While the process was undoubtedly flawed, -something- was done and it continues to flourish. Hindsight as they say is 20/20. I see little reason to flog Bacon any more than he has been already. He was a man of vision and of action like another flawed man – Richardson Dilworth. Those are qualities that are sorely lacking in city government today for all the studies that are produced, little seems to be achieved.

    • Yes, Joe Clark (Dilworth’s mentor), Richardson Dilworth and Ed Bacon were flawed men, but the real damage they did is never really discussed. The decision to bifurcate northern center city, Chinatown and St. Augustine’s parish (the original moniker for Old City) with the mind numbing Vine Street Expressway (Rt. 76) was a decision that equals the architectural holocaust of the Cross Bronx Expressway and the desacralization of the Pennsylvania Railroad, 7th Avenue Station. Yes, 7th Avenue Station was so beautiful that it can be considered an ecclesiastical structure. In his autobiography Yeats compared Penn station to the Cathedral of Stockholm (the two most beautiful edifices in the world according to the learned poet). Clark and Dilworth were a tag team in the same league as Robert Moses. Their atrocities are justified with the arcane excuse, “yes, they did do damage, but they did more good than harm.” As if it were okay for mayors and city planners to destroy cities as long as they counterbalanced it with some improvements. Bacon is responsible for the fiasco known as the Suburban Station concourse. He gutted a small section of center city west of city hall and replaced it with a recessed corridor known as the “concourse.” Total disaster, killed a number of small businesses and became a ghost walk. But the argument stands, Society Hill is immaculate, but lifeless. It’s so pristine as to feel like a movie set of a colonial neighborhood. But something is missing in Society Hill’s DNA. There are very few mercantile venues on the north/south and numbered streets, and it spooky after sunset. Go figure.

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