Kahn you dig it?!


“Philadelphia’s own Packard Motor Company Building (1911) situated on what was a bustling auto sales district along North Broad Street deftly straddled the line between functionality and ornament. The building was part showroom part service center–all on a 75’ wide lot hemmed in by Pearl and Wood Streets. Often grappling with dense urban sites in the construction of his early factories, Albert Kahn was comfortable with constructing to 8 stories. (He later found that vertical construction was inefficient in factory structures, thus the massive single story Willow Run plant. Ford, an avowed anti-urbanist, further cast factory production in the hinterland). Kahn’s brother Julius, an engineer, designed a means of cladding structural steel with concrete, creating the fireproof and open “Kahn System” which was used extensively in the Packard Building. Far more public, the salesroom off of Broad Street featured high wainscoting of oak and an ornamental plaster beamed ceiling all “in a manner that will hone the name Packard and be a shining example of Packard service,” according to the company’s magazine.”

Check out the rest at Hidden City here.

A Petaled Rose Of Hell: Refineries, Fire Risk, And The New Geography Of Oil In Philadelphia’s Tidewater


Philadelphia’s refining districts have always beckoned further investigation: sprawling, complex and economically vital their operations shrouded in secrecy, these spaces are deeply paradoxical–hidden in plain sight, seemingly benign in their proximity to our homes, schools, roads and places of business.  Long before Texas tea and OPEC, however, Philadelphia was the seat of petroleum refining, storage and export in the United States beginning in the 1860s.  What started as an innocuous tidewater storage facility on the Schuylkill has become one of the most persistent land uses in the city; all the while Philadelphia has pressed up against the footprints of these massive structures–with dramatic impacts on the region’s economic, ecological and transportation networks.  Now these refineries are poised to enter a new era of productivity with massive amounts of Bakken crude oil arriving by rail from North Dakota.  The arrival of this oil assures these facilities’ competitiveness but it also exposes new facets of the city to strange, heretofore unimagined dangers.

Head on over to Hidden City Daily to check out my latest piece on the ever-evolving geography of hydrocarbon refining’s risks and rewards in the Philadelphia region.

[Big H/T to the various editors, photographers and contributors who brought this piece to fruition:  John Pettit (grandson of an Atlantic Refining/ARCO pipefitter) and at Hidden City, Brad Maule, Pete Woodall and Nathaniel Popkin for their masterful editing.]

Artlantic City?


Above is an element of “Wonder”, an outdoor art installation part of Atlantic City’s Artlantica massive project to distribute $12 million in public art throughout the beleaguered city over the next five years. Located at Pacific and Indiana on the seven acre lot formerly occupied by the Traymore Hotel and the Sands Casino, the grassy, half moon berms form a cove of refuge from the schlock and gall of Pacific Avenue.  Organized by international curator Lance Fung, Artlantic has befuddled the art world and the average Atlantic Citian with its scale dwarfed only by the mighty hopes it will inspire an American Venice.  Largely a project of the non-profit Atlantic City Alliance and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, Artlantic is seen as an effort to diversify the city’s portfolio of tourist attractions (while providing some ephemeral construction jobs over time).


Whether its simply economic development shillery or a real vehicle for getting the non-high rollers to AC is unclear.  Increasingly the arts and culture sector is seen as having real generative power; the question is whether it can be seeded in a place ravaged by capital’s many recent crises.



A tour of the northern part of the island, in the neighborhood called South Inlet reveals a singularly unique state of urban America.  An almost narcotic reliance on gaming revenue has oriented nearly the entire urban land market towards casino construction. But, land is too cheap in AC and returns on investments in massive assemblages of parcels are meager.  Thus, Revel sat as a ruin-in-wait for nearly 3 years before the numbers looked good enough on paper to complete the project.  Revel’s downward trajectory means a the parcel at Pacific and Indiana will likely remain a public art park.


Because this regrouping of capital can be slow, Atlantic City is a place of startling contrasts in building scale.  Both 1960s-1970s casino-oriented zoning policies and casino construction trends have made speculatory land buying and absentee ownership rampant in Atlantic City.  Thus according to urban planner Jason Hanusey, nearly 20.4 percent of all developable parcels in Atlantic City are vacant.

Atlantic City was once a real city of density, intimacy and structural variety.  As the general resort trade dwindled in the postwar era and gambling became legalized in 1977, vast numbers of vacant or underutilized parcels—some irregularly following railroad rights-of-way or the contours of multi-winged hotels—were melded into regular megablocks.  Gone was the intimate scale of the brick and wood rooming house or the small porch-swathed hotel.  This process continues as the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) targets the desolate South Inlet section for massive investment.  “We want to create a neighborhood here,” Executive Director John Palmieri said. “It’s no mystery. It’s a beautiful location.”  Yet what kind of neighborhood can exist around a planned $75 million entertainment complex, arguably the anchor of CRDA’s new South Inlet?


Atlantic City, one could argue, is a city without people.  It is a largely binary system of producers and consumers  enclosed and insulated from the public sphere. Plans for arts, tourism, shopping districts and the new South Inlet need to reverse the trend of a spatially segregated series of activity centers all with their back to the public realm.  Good urban design taking cues from unique AC forms, a creative mix of housing for all income levels, open space which augments natural processes and, dare I say, new populations will create places where economic and social interaction can occur outside Caesar’s.  This is a prescription not just for humane treatment of dispossessed residents but also a formula for a more complex economic system of neighborhood suppliers and producers.  Here is where Artlantic can assist.  The project should encourage artists to live and create in the community, to channel community interests into public interventions while the Alliance and CRDA should improve physical (i.e. transit) and cooperative links with other art centers (Philly, Asbury Park, NYC) while subsidizing spaces for building and making.  This is true integration of the arts and urban planning—less about art as a destination and more as a mode of living.