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Philly redux

Landing at Philadelphia International Airport, multiple signs in baggage claim spell out that the city of brotherly love is the USA’s first Unesco World Heritage City. It has been inscribed for two years and is mightily proud. How things have changed. When I first lectured here in 1980, parts of the city seemed to be a war zone. Returning in 1994 I was warned off walking from the University of Pennsylvania ten blocks to a lunch in Center City. Violence was endemic. Not today!

Schuylkill Rover Walk looking east past 30th Street Station.

Unesco has recognized not only a city with architecture spanning the colonial period (and the era of independence) to the post-modern towers of Bob Venturi but also the evolving urban landscape itself. Pride of place surely most go to the often elevated walk/cycle track alongside the Schuylkill river as it lazily flows past two major universities – Drexel and Penn and beside the grandiloquent imperial Roman Thirtieth Street station. The trail runs for miles, connecting Valley Forge to Center City, and very soon, John Bartram’s glorious early 18th-century farm-house. Next to the riverside trail, as it curves past Center City, is a park created for children, adults and, of course, their dogs.

Schuylkill River walk. Looking east towards U. Penn

The metropolitan energy is palpable. Nothing is more emblematic of the change than the ubiquity of Indego bicycles – little urban stations of blue bikes dotted everywhere around the city. In a generation will bikes have displaced cars entirely? The gritty port city that was once metaphorically the home of Rocky has a much softer appeal today. It is first and foremost a historic place pressing its case once more for brotherly love.

Bike hire station, South Street

Rome needs to take a leaf out of Philadelphia’s civic direction. The language of change is inclusive, imaginative and definitely contemporary, all within a proudly promoted historic matrix.

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