Becoming Philadelphia: How an Old American City Made Itself New Again

Becoming Philadelphia: How an Old American City Made Itself New Again

by Inga Saffron


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Once dismissed as a rusting industrial has-been—the “Next Detroit”—Philadelphia has enjoyed an astonishing comeback in the 21st century. Over the past two decades, Inga Saffron has served as the premier chronicler of the city’s physical transformation as it emerged from a half century of decline. Through her Pulitzer Prize-winning columns on architecture and urbanism in the Philadelphia Inquirer, she has tracked the city’s revival on a weekly basis.

Becoming Philadelphia collects the best of Saffron’s work, plus a new introduction reflecting on the stunning changes the city has undergone. A fearless crusader who is also a seasoned reporter, Saffron ranges beyond the usual boundaries of architectural criticism to explore how big money and politics intersect with design, profoundly shaping our everyday experience of city life. Even as she celebrates Philadelphia’s resurgence, she considers how it finds itself grappling with the problems of success: gentrification, poverty, privatization, and the unequal distribution of public services.

What emerges in these 80 pieces is a remarkable narrative of a remarkable time. The proverbial first draft of history, these columns tell the story of how a great city shape-shifted before our very eyes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781978817074
Publisher: Rutgers University Press
Publication date: 06/12/2020
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 220,882
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 16 - 18 Years

About the Author

INGA SAFFRON has served as the architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer since 1999 and has received numerous honors, including the Vincent Scully Prize, Harvard University’s Loeb Fellowship, and the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. She formerly worked as an Eastern European correspondent, witnessing the destruction of Grozny and Sarajevo, which sparked her interest in urban renewal.

Read an Excerpt

Twenty years ago, I set down the road that would lead to this book. After spending a good part of the ‘90s working as a foreign correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer in Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union, I came back to the city in 1998 to start a new career as the paper’s architecture critic. I knew I was making an abrupt transition, and not just in location and subject matter. As I wandered around Philadelphia during my first few weeks on the job, I was often overcome with a sense of disorientation. Places that had once been familiar seemed oddly off. I felt as if I were seeing at the city through an old-fashion stereograph, with two slightly different images arranged side by side—the city as I remembered it and the city as it was. Everything looked shabbier and more fragile. I was particularly dismayed to see that the charred wreckage of One Meridian Plaza still formed a sullen backdrop to City Hall, John McArthur's great Second Empire palace. The 38-story skyscraper had been destroyed in a massive fire only a few months before I left for Yugoslavia in 1991, and yet somehow the owners had been allowed to leave it standing. Over those seven years, the ruined tower had become a black hole in the heart of the city, sucking life from the surrounding blocks. Many of the nearby shops on Chestnut Street had closed, and several handsome, early 20th Century office towers on Broad Street stood empty. Compared to the place I had known before going overseas, the downtown felt noticeably underpopulated. Four percent of the city’s residents had moved out of town while I was away. As the sun went down in the evening, streetwalkers gathered under the yellowish haze of the highway-style street lamps at Broad and Lombard, just a few blocks south of City Hall.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Suburbanizing the City 17

2 The Architecture of Revival 48

3 Sweating the Small Stuff 65

4 Age of the Megaprojects 86

5 One Step Forward, Two Steps Back 108

6 Rebuilding 136

7 The Spaces between the Buildings 162

8 Building the Equitable City 180

9 Getting around Town 206

10 Success and Its Discontents 221

Acknowledgments 257

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