February 12, 2003

The Best and Worst of the City of Brotherly Love

Arranged in Thoroughly Random and Unrelated Pairings

PHILADELPHIA - LOVE IT: Rittenhouse Square. Located within the greater Center City district but sometimes seemingly a world apart, Rittenhouse Square, originally called "Southwest Square," is one of five such spaces William Penn laid out in his vision for Philadelphia.

The square, bounded on the east by 18th St., the west by 19th St., the north by Walnut St., and the south by Locust St. (sort of), in 1825 was renamed in honor of David Rittenhouse, professor of astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania, inventor of the collimating telescope, president of the American Philosophical Society, and the first director of the U.S. Mint.

Rittenhouse Square is a small but charming urban park, perfectly situated near the heart of the city though sufficiently off to side, shall we say, to serve as a much-needed refuge or respite from the daily pressures of city life. Sure, it's in need of a little help -- and what isn't in Philadelphia? -- but thanks to Hadia Lefavre and her former employer, the Scotts Co., the park was reseeded last fall, the results of which should be apparent within a few months.

Surrounding Rittenhouse Square are, among other sites of interest, the Church of the Holy Trinity; Rensselaer House, the former home of Alexander Van Rensselaer; the Alison Building, the offices of the Presbyterian Ministers' Fund, the oldest life insurance company in the world; the Rittenhouse Club, the membership of which once included Henry James; the Philadelphia Art Alliance; the Barclay Hotel; and the Philadelphia Ethical Society.

Nearby one finds the Curtis Institute of Music, attended by, among others, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg; St. Mark's Episcopal Church; the Print Club, a nearly century-old institution devoted to supporting prints as an artistic medium; the Cosmopolitan Club of Philadelphia; the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America; Tenth Presbyterian Church; First Church of Christ, Scientist, Philadelphia; Thaw House, once the residence of Harry K. Thaw -- you know, of Evelyn Nesbit / Stanford White love-triangle fame (Over to you, E.L.); the Civil War Library and Museum; and the Rosenbach Museum and Library.

PHILADELPHIA - HATE IT: Incompetent and secretive local government. The administration of Mayor John Street (D) has made some strides in maintaining the positive momentum achieved during the administration of former mayor Ed Rendell (D) (now governor of Pennsylvania), but Street obviously lacks the ability, interest, energy, and enthusiasm to bring the city to the next level.

The situation at the Convention Center, about which Street seems incapable of doing anything, is a mess and a genuine threat to the city's economy.

Mayor Street holds news conferences with a frequency that makes President Bush look forthcoming.

The decision to close a critical block of Chestnut St., a subject about which I have commented in the past, here at |||trr||| and at The Rittenhouse Review, was not only ridiculous, it was made in secret and not announced until months later.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, Mayor Street is so inept and so incompetent that I've begun calling him the David Dinkins of the 21st century. And if you don't know what I mean by that, consider yourself very fortunate.


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