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Imagining Philadelphia

Imagining Philadelphia: Edmund Bacon and the Future of the City

Edited by Scott Gabriel Knowles
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Imagining Philadelphia
    Book Description:

    When Philadelphia's iconoclastic city planner Edmund N. Bacon looked into his crystal ball in 1959, he saw a remarkable vision: "Philadelphia as an unmatched expression of the vitality of American technology and culture." In that year Bacon penned an essay for Greater Philadelphia Magazine, originally entitled "Philadelphia in the Year 2009," in which he imagined a city remade, modernized in time to host the 1976 Philadelphia World's Fair and Bicentennial celebration, an event that would be a catalyst for a golden age of urban renewal. What Bacon did not predict was the long, bitter period of economic decline, population dispersal, and racial confrontation that Philadelphia was about to enter. As such, his essay comes to us as a time capsule, a message from one of the city's most influential and controversial shapers that prompts discussions of what was, what might have been, and what could yet be in the city's future. Imagining Philadelphia brings together Bacon's original essay, reprinted here for the first time in fifty years, and a set of original essays on the past, present, and future of urban planning in Philadelphia. In addition to examining Bacon and his motivations for writing the piece, the essays assess the wider context of Philadelphia's planning, architecture, and real estate communities at the time, how city officials were reacting to economic decline, what national precedents shaped Bacon's faith in grand forms of urban renewal, and whether or not it is desirable or even possible to adopt similarly ambitious visions for contemporary urban planning and economic development. The volume closes with a vision of what Philadelphia might look like fifty years from now.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0596-1
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction: Revisiting Edmund Bacon’s Vision for the City
    (pp. 1-7)

    When Philadelphia’s iconoclastic City Planning Commission director Edmund Bacon looked into his crystal ball in 1959—imagining his city fifty years in the future—he saw a remarkable vision, Philadelphia transformed into “an unmatched expression of the vitality of American technology and culture.” In that year, Bacon painted a word picture in an essay for Greater Philadelphia Magazine, “Tomorrow: A Fair Can Pace It,” originally titled “Philadelphia in the Year 2009.”¹ He saw a vision of a city remade in time to host the 1976 Philadelphia World’s Fair—an event that would necessarily take place alongside the national Bicentennial celebration...

  4. Chapter One Philadelphia in the Year 2009
    (pp. 8-18)
    Edmund N. Bacon

    The future of Philadelphia will be determined, not by technological advances but by the character of its leadership and by the strength and quality of the ideas it supports.

    This dominance of idea over technology is clearly shown in the history of center city development. When William Penn laid out his plan for Philadelphia in 1682 he could not possibly have foreseen that people would move about his city in electrically-driven vehicles running in tubes under the ground. Yet, when these things actually were built two hundred years later, they followed exactly William Penn’s original idea, established in his plan,...

  5. Chapter Two Salesman of Ideas: The Life Experiences That Shaped Edmund Bacon
    (pp. 19-51)
    Gregory L. Heller

    Edmund Bacon wrote “Philadelphia in the Year 2009” just prior to what is generally considered the high point of his career. During the 1960s, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC), which Bacon directed from 1949 to 1970, would become known as one of the most active and effective in the nation. In 1964, Time magazine featured Bacon’s face on its cover—he was one of the very few urban planners of his generation to attain this kind of national recognition.¹

    In his “2009” essay, Bacon focuses on the problems of repopulating the city, the impacts of suburban white flight, and...

  6. Chapter Three A Utopian, a Utopianist, or Whatever the Heck It Is: Edmund Bacon and the Complexity of the City
    (pp. 52-77)
    Guian McKee

    In February 1965, University of Pennsylvania professor Paul Davidoff launched a withering attack on Philadelphia’s highly acclaimed city planning and urban renewal programs. Speaking before the Citizens’ Council on City Planning (CCCP), a local planning advocacy and “watchdog” group, Davidoff charged that while Philadelphia “has men of international fame for its planning, it has become increasingly plain that they have provided a renaissance façade covering the host of problems. [The planners have] failed to examine [the] relationship between economic and social and physical objectives.” The CCCP members in the audience would have immediately recognized the target of Davidoff ’s reference...

  7. Chapter Four Staying Too Long at the Fair: Philadelphia Planning and the Debacle of 1976
    (pp. 78-111)
    Scott Gabriel Knowles

    In 1682, 1776, or 1876, the optimism of Edmund Bacon’s remarkable 1959 vision for Philadelphia’s future—“Philadelphia in the Year 2009”—would have surprised no one. From its founding, Philadelphia’s unfolding futures were consistently dynamic, focusing the energies of colonial expansion, democratic governance, and industrialization in one urban crucible. No other city in America exhibited each trend so dramatically. It was the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876—with the glass and steel dome of its Memorial Hall, its displays of telegraphy and the telephone, its prototype steam automobiles—that first demonstrated to Americans what an industrialized nation might really...

  8. Chapter Five Philadelphia in the Year 2059
    (pp. 112-144)
    Harris M. Steinberg

    For nearly 300 years, Philadelphia had a brilliant run.

    From its founding in 1682 by William Penn as a proprietary colonial capital through the heady, federally funded urban renewal days at the end of World War II, Philadelphia was often at the forefront of national and international trends in city planning, public works, technology, industry, and the applied arts. Straddled by two great rivers, the Delaware and the Schuylkill, Philadelphia’s rise to prominence was fueled by the confluence of ideals, leadership, natural resources, and location. Powering America’s ascendancy as the “workshop of the world” from the end of the Civil...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 145-150)
    Eugenie L. Birch

    Edmund Bacon’s essay, “Philadelphia in the Year 2009,” offers enduring guidance in its first sentence, and it goes on to anticipate a glowing future for the City of Brotherly Love—it provides a vision that centers this book. Bacon’s words also exemplify his career—he was a leader and an “idea man.”

    Like any leader, Bacon was a creature of his education, experiences, and the times. As we know from Gregory Heller, he had studied architecture at Cornell University and a prestigious architectural academy, Cranbrook. But his education went beyond formal instruction; it included the best teachers of all, travel...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 151-170)
  11. List of Contributors
    (pp. 171-172)
  12. Index
    (pp. 173-176)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 177-178)