Rittenhouse Square, early autumn

As I was walking along Walnut Street to the Collegium Institute’s symposium earlier this week, it was nearing 6pm and families and folks were out and about, walking home from work, walking to dinner, biking wherever, and still-green Rittenhouse Square was accompanied by two young musicians:

I stopped to admire the scene, experience the moment, and appreciate the whole thing. These are the little sort of moments we miss all too often in the rush to experience something else.

L e t ‘ s  s l o w  d o w n . . .

‘Strangers’ in Philadelphia

It was really great, late-summer-feeling weather in Center City Philadelphia yesterday. I’m in town wrapping up odds and ends, and as evening came on walked over to the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute at 19th and Walnut for the Collegium Institute‘s “Strangers in a Strange Land” talk/symposium.

Fran Maier led a fruitful conversation on the topic of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s book of the same name, released last year. While the role and place of Christianity in American life is increasingly in doubt, there’s no doubt about the necessity of the theological virtue of Christian hope.

I think the last Collegium event I attended was Roger Scruton’s talk at Penn.

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An evening conversation about Archbishop Chaput’s recent book and the future of American Catholicism.

Fran Maier: Senior Advisor to the Archbishop of Philadelphia and former editor of the National Catholic Register.

Michael P. Moreland: University Professor of Law and Religion, and Director of the Eleanor H. McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy at Villanova University.

Jessica Murdoch: Associate Professor of Fundamental and Dogmatic Theology at Villanova University, and member of the National Advisory Council of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

30th Street at night

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Here’s 30th Street Station in Philadelphia late on September 11th. I had just arrived back in town from Washington, and it was a warm and fittingly summerlike night.

Drexel Square is in progress just to the left of this view if you were to stand where I was standing. That’ll be a public park soon, on what has been a surface parking lot for as long as I can remember. Good for Philadelphia. And Schyulkill Yards, the larger redevelopment vision for this part of the city, will be underway in earnest before much longer.

I’m excited for these projects, for The Laurel’s recent groundbreaking on Rittenhouse Square (replacing what has been a rocky patch of grass), and a number of other projects. Philadelphia continues to redevelop and to grow, and it’s a great thing worth taking a moment to celebrate.

First Bank

Anna Merriman reports that the First Bank of the United States in Old City, Philadelphia will soon be refurbished as likely reopened in the next few years. Here’s the First Bank from Google Streetview:

The bank, built by the federal government in the late 18th century, received an $8 million state grant last week, which will allow workers to refurbish the structure …

The First Bank money will go first toward bringing the South 3rd Street building’s heating and air conditioning up to date, as well as restrooms and masonry repairs, according to Philly.com.

It’s a big step for the building, which has been closed to the public for years. It was constructed following the Revolutionary War, when Alexander Hamilton proposed the idea of a national bank, allowing the government more financial control in the wake of war-related debt.

The First Bank remained until the early 1800s, when it was turned into Girard Bank, according to the National Parks Service. The interior was renovated a century later and, finally, in 1955, the building was purchased by the National Parks Service.

The Second Bank of the United States is right around the corner, now in the same Independence National Historical Park.

When I lived in Old City a few years ago I would often walk the block or so from our second floor Market Street apartment over to the First Bank and sit on its steps or (in warmer weather) splay out on the grass surrounding it to do work or take phone calls. I was sitting on those steps when we decided to commit to raising $50,000 to endow the Michael D. Walsh Student Broadcasters Trustee Scholarship at Penn State, for instance. That’s one of the things that springs to mind when I see that old facade.

I’m looking forward to seeing inside at some point.

Tuskegee Airman encounter

On Friday evening I hailed an Uber to the Philadelphia Country Club in Gladwyne for the Pennsylvania Eagle Forum’s 2018 Annual Dinner. I had been invited by a friend, and took her up on it so we could catch up and because I know a number of the people who would be there.

Phyllis Shlafly’s Eagle Forum is a patriotic/political organization. Andy Schlafly, one of Phyllis Shlafly’s sons, was in attendance, and he and Bobby Schindler have spoken together in the past. I met Phyllis Schlafly years ago in Washington, and remember growing up my grandmother being an admirer of Schlafly’s various advocacy efforts, particularly on the risk of adopting basically libertarian laws that would de-emphasis natural human relationships in favor of market/commercial rights that themselves would reorder society. I expect within the next few years that a form of the Equal Rights Amendment will be ratified by new states, and that a push will be made to recognize it as the 28th constitutional amendment.

Corey Lewandowski was the keynote speaker. I was not impressed by him either in substance or style. Far too much hero-worship of the presidency and a great deal of self-aggrandizement. Congressman Glenn Thompson joined a half dozen or so candidates for office, and he was great. I met Thompson when I was a student at Penn State and when he was still Centre County Republican Party chairman, just before he won his 5th district office. Thanks to Pennsylvania redistricting, Centre County has now been split in two, and Rep. Thompson’s district designation becomes the 15th this November.

The highlight of the evening was in hearing from Dr. Eugene Richardson, one of the few surviving Tuskegee Airmen:

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces. During World War II, black Americans in many U.S. states were still subject to the Jim Crow laws and the American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subjected to discrimination, both within and outside the army. …

Before the Tuskegee Airmen, no African-American had been a U.S. military pilot. In 1917, African-American men had tried to become aerial observers, but were rejected. African-American Eugene Bullard served in the French air service during World War I, because he was not allowed to serve in an American unit. Instead, Bullard returned to infantry duty with the French.

The racially motivated rejections of World War I African-American recruits sparked more than two decades of advocacy by African-Americans who wished to enlist and train as military aviators. The effort was led by such prominent civil rights leaders as Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, labor union leader A. Philip Randolph, and Judge William H. Hastie. Finally, on 3 April 1939, Appropriations Bill Public Law 18 was passed by Congress containing an amendment by Senator Harry H. Schwartz, designating funds for training African-American pilots. The War Department managed to put the money into funds of civilian flight schools willing to train black Americans.[5]

War Department tradition and policy mandated the segregation of African-Americans into separate military units staffed by white officers, as had been done previously with the 9th Cavalry, 10th Cavalry, 24th Infantry Regiment and 25th Infantry Regiment.

It was an honor to meet Dr. Richardson and some of his brothers-in-arms. It was surreal to hear him speak about President Truman as a contemporary rather than purely as a historical figure. (Truman’s Executive Order 9981 ended segregation of the armed forces.) And it was a gift to speak with him briefly afterwards. Dr. Richardson is 94 or thereabouts, and this year my grandfather—who also served in World War II in the U.S. Army Air Corps—would have turned 91. I thought of him as we spoke.

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Dr. Richardson is also a Philadelphian and a Penn Stater:

Tuskegee became the center for training African Americans for air operations and was the only source of black military pilots in World War II. Today, the airfield where they once trained is known as the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

Richardson’s interest in flight began in 1930, when as a young boy his father and a friend took him along to see the Colored Air Circus, a group of black aviators performing an air show in Mansfield, Ohio. At 17 he decided to join the Army Air Corps in order to become a pilot. A few months later – at the age of 18 – he completed basic training and went on to Tuskegee Army Airfield for 40 weeks of pilot training. He later received gunnery training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and went on to Walterboro, S.C., for combat training.

While he and 37 others finished their flight training in March 1945, the war ended in the European theater just two months later so they never saw any combat. Of the 38 pilots in his class, 23, including Richardson, graduated as fighter pilots and 15 as B-25 bomber pilots.

Richardson was discharged in 1946 and returned to Philadelphia, where he finished his high school degree and did his undergraduate work at Temple University. He also earned master’s and doctor of education degrees from Penn State. Pursuing a career in education rather than aviation because of the lack of career opportunities for black pilots, he became a high school principal in Philadelphia’s school system. He is now retired and tours the United States and Canada speaking about and teaching the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.

His experiences have inspired a generation of African Americans, including his son, Eugene Richardson III, who became a fighter pilot and an airline executive.

In an interview at Penn State Dr. Richardson reflected: “Every way we can possibly— every vehicle we can possibly use—to let the world know that people are people. Because they’ve had different experiences, because they come from different environments, doesn’t make them any different. They still have the same basic needs and the same basic desires. And we need to help people realize that.”

Beyond human concepts

First, scenes from Center City Philadelphia recently, when the afternoon light was casting City Hall’s shadow onto the rich brickwork of the old Market Street National Bank building across the street. A new glass tower will be built adjacent to this building in the next few years on top of what’s presently a surface parking lot. A large mural on the side of the old bank building will be lost, I think.

Second, I saw the excerpt below shared on Instagram earlier this week. A page from a book was shared, and this excerpt stood apart from the rest to me. I searched a bit, but couldn’t readily find whatever book this came from:

Saint John of the Cross and Thomas Merton are just two voices in a huge choir of seekers who, throughout the ages, have understood this concept [of goodness despite disappointment and loss] clearly. It is not in getting what we want that we find true joy. We find true joy when we give up wanting. Then we can discover the beauty and joy inherent in what is. Immaculée Ilibagiza, author of the extraordinary book Left to Tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, is another, more recent member of this choir. Having watching her entire family and most of her friends brutally beaten, raped, tortured, and murdered, Ilibagiza shares a story of survival that is an astounding portrayal of miracles and forgiveness. The greatest miracle of all is her ability to both love and forgive those who tortured and murdered her family. Through witnessing humanity at its worst, she was catapulted into a pure, unconditional love beyond all human concepts, values, and limitations. …

God is within us. Always within us. But we have forgotten. We don’t notice. We mechanically stumble through life thinking that we know what we need to be happy, and we know where we can find it. Yet we keep looking in all the wrong places.

John Wanamaker, citizen

I was walking through Center City Philadelphia, right past City Hall, when I noticed they were replacing the sidewalks around the eastern face of the building. John Wanamaker’s statue stood out amongst a sea of debris:

Who was John Wanamaker? I remember “Wanamaker’s” as a kid, and I remember the way in which older family members spoke of it. Not too differently from the way many people talk about Amazon today. It was something like the Amazon of its time.

John Wanamaker’s statue/memorial is probably my favorite in Philadelphia because I think it perfectly captures the spirit of his time and the spirit of Philadelphia in that one of the most important individuals in the city’s history is remembered simply as “citizen”.

What made Wanamaker worth remembering in this way wasn’t his invention of the American department store. It wasn’t his introduction of standard, fixed prices and no-fault return policy for customers. It wasn’t the grand and resilient Wanamaker building, right across the street from where this statue now stands, constructed as a resilient structure to enliven and ennoble the public’s experience of community life—with its organ and eagle and Christmas light shows—as much as it served to showcase and sell merchandise. And it wasn’t simply that he was one of the city’s last great titans of industry and commerce before the hollowing out of Philadelphia after the second world war. We chose to remember him first for being a citizen.

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It seems to me that there’s a lot there to unpack; a lot left unsaid but so much implied by that single word left to explain the entirety of the man whose embodied memory stands atop that pedestal.

Broad Street Greenway

I think that Philadelphia could transform Broad Street, its most significant public boulevard, if we decided to start replacing Broad Street’s concrete and asphalt medians with soil, grass, and trees.

I first started thinking about this in Pittsburgh, when I saw the way that certain Pittsburgh streets have simple but elegant elevated green garden medians, and the thought really took hold during Michael Bloomberg’s time as New York City mayor when he helped inaugurate MillionTreesNYC, the city’s initiative to plant and and care for a million new trees across the five boroughs.

There’s frequent debate about whether Philadelphia should start ticketing/towing cars parked in Broad Street’s median as you get down into South Philadelphia, and those debates go nowhere due to the entrenched interests of city councilpersons. Why not obviate that debate entirely and replace the median over time with grass and shrubs and flowers and trees? We would be transforming Philadelphia’s greatest street into Philadelphia’s grandest street, outstripping even the Ben Franklin Parkway in time for beauty.

I don’t think there’s any one solution, and here are just a few examples of how it could be done. Here’s Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem:

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That looks relatively simple and would probably require the least expense. In other words, keep the existing median dimensions along Broad Street, but punch out the concrete and asphalt. The result is an attractive streetscape for walkers, bikers, and drivers.

Here’s Grant Street in Pittsburgh, which I think is the street that got me thinking about this about a decade ago:

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This is maybe even better from a safety standpoint, since it discourages jaywalking and would allow Broad Street to be narrowed a bit to accommodate a wider median and also maybe a permanent bike lane, all of which would naturally reduce speeding and accidents.

And here’s the Champs-Élysées in Paris. I walked along this avenue when I visited there in July 2012, when I was in Europe for the London Olympics:

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The boulevard itself has no real median, but these incredibly wide (by American standards) sidewalks accommodate a double-wide planting of trees and functionally park space along the way. This could be another approach, eliminating Broad Street’s median entirely and doubling the capacity of our sidewalks and reimaging their role as public space.

Compare these few options with the present reality. Here’s Broad and Locust:

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And here’s Broad and Lombard, a bit farther south:

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And here’s Broad and Castle, much farther south when the median turns into overflow parking space and the buildings are set back much farther from the street:

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Now imagine these scenes transformed, as part of something like a “Broad Street Greenway” initiative to place a few thousand trees all along Broad Street—left, right, and center.

Imagine the experience of walking Broad Street in the summer, when the trees serve as natural canopies alleviating the heat. Imagine the experience during the autumn when the changing colors and resplendent hues also provides jobs for dozens of seasonal workers to sweep the streets and bring a human presence to stretches of Broad Street that feel remote and desolate during certain hours. Imagine the experience during the spring when those trees serve as homes and stopping points for all sorts of birds and chirping life, bringing nature’s sounds and songs to a part of the city that desperately could benefit from something other than the sounds of horns and engines. And imagine the experience during the winter, when certain neighborhoods or the city itself might string up little white lights to festively illuminate the city’s grand street, bringing some hope and optimism and warm feeling to a time of year when many feel particularly discouraged or alone.

Creating a Broad Street Greenway for Philadelphia wouldn’t just be a parks project, or an environmental initiative, but it would also be a great public service and a great act of revitalizing and enlivening one of best known and imagined parts of the city.

RIP Gerry Lenfest

Gerry Lenfest, 88, died this morning. I’ve written about Lenfest a few times before; his and his wife Marguerite’s public spirited generosity in creating a better Philadelphia will be remembered as one of the high points in the city’s history. Peter Dobrin reports:

H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, 88, who substantially remade the educational, cultural, and media sectors of the city and well beyond to become one of Philadelphia’s most dynamic civic leaders of the last century, died Sunday morning…

Mr. Lenfest, who had been in declining health in recent months, parlayed the sale of the family cable business into a second act as the area’s leading philanthropist for nearly two decades, giving away more than $1.3 billion. …

“Gerry has had a huge impact on the renaissance and renewal of Philadelphia and all of its institutions,” said Philadelphia Museum of Art president and chief operating officer Gail Harrity. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he has shaped Philadelphia for the future.”

Said David McCullough, the author and historian: “I think he was one of the most memorable and lovable men I’ve ever known. A devoted Philadelphian if ever there was one. His love of that city and its history, and his willingness to be not only generous with his philanthropy but to work hard to attain a worthy objective, is something we could all take a lesson from on how to go about life. He was a terrific man.”

“We’ve lost our greatest citizen, there’s no doubt about that,” said Ed Rendell, former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor. “He impacted the lives of Philadelphians at every level, in the city, in the neighborhoods.” …

Mr. Lenfest was born neither to wealth nor the social status enjoyed by some of his fellow philanthropists. A lawyer by training, Mr. Lenfest and wife Marguerite built up their cable business over several decades, selling Lenfest Communications Inc. in 2000 and undertaking a philanthropic spree that put the Lenfest name alongside those of Girard, Widener, Curtis, Annenberg, Pew, and Haas – the city’s historically most generous families.

He was “one of the greatest philanthropists the city has ever seen,” said Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian L. Roberts, who had several close dealings with the businessman before Comcast ended up taking over Lenfest Communications. “He has changed our city and so many institutions.” …

After making plans to donate all his wealth, Mr. Lenfest became an éminence grise to the city’s arts groups. He was chairman of the board of old-line institutions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Curtis Institute of Music, successfully convincing other supporters that even great traditions needed to be expanded upon and brought up to date.

And he willed new ones into existence. He established the Lenfest Ocean Program, and believed in the new Museum of the American Revolution to the tune of more than $63 million in cash donations, becoming its largest donor. He lived to see it become a reality, greeting guests from a wheelchair when the museum opened its doors in April 2017. …

“In Spanish we call it duende, a presence around someone,” said Roberto Díaz, who started as president and CEO of Curtis as Mr. Lenfest became board chairman. “There’s a very quiet strength there.” …

“I don’t think any of it would have happened without Marguerite’s blessing. She is a force,” said Curtis’ Díaz. “Some of the most consequential conversations we had about the needs of the students actually were with Marguerite as much as with Gerry, and sometimes with her first.”

The way they structured their generosity heightened its impact. Other philanthropists placed their billions in foundations to exist in perpetuity, giving out grants each year paid essentially out of investment income. The Lenfests, however, chose to spend down the entire endowment, and the effect on the nourishment and growth of hundreds of recipient institutions over a dozen and a half years was exhilarating.

The Lenfests gave away more than $1.3 billion to 1,100 organizations – providing scholarships to high school students in rural Pennsylvania, contributing to pay off the Kimmel Center’s construction debt and keep Curtis tuition-free, supporting career assistance for youth, underwriting new buildings at Columbia University and Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health, giving free billboard and TV advertising to arts groups, helping to save the Temple University rowing program, and on and on. …

At Columbia, Mr. Lenfest’s giving started at the law school, of which he was a graduate. “But there again,” said Bollinger, “he was willing to follow the lead of the institution as to what was important. When we wanted to build the center for the arts in West Harlem, he was right there with that gift. When we wanted to build out the Earth Institute and worked with improving conditions for impoverished people, he was right there.” …

Lenfest made an incredible philanthropic impact in Philadelphia, New York, and elsewhere in the space of about two decades. He modeled for wealthy persons in Philadelphia and nationally how to deal with wealth effectively, which is essentially that one grows and benefits in the proportion that they give themselves away; they grow in proportion to their willingness to diminish, in effect. This is one of the great paradoxes of human life, I think.

Relationships mattered enormously. In 1999, Mr. Lenfest took notice of a man emptying the trash bins in his office, became curious about his story, and struck gold with an enduring and mutually beneficial relationship.

“I was in medical school and business school, but I had a commercial cleaning business, and I was dumping Gerry’s wastebasket,” said Keith Leaphart, “and only Gerry would tell the janitor to sit down in his office to talk, and that’s literally how we became connected. He said, ‘Something is different about you. I need to know your story.’ I think he recognized my grit, my determination, I was an entrepreneur, some of the things he saw in himself at a younger age. Gerry wasn’t a silver-spoon kid, he worked really hard to get where he went as a billionaire philanthropist. I think it was mutual fondness.”

A few years later, in 2007, when Leaphart was considering a run for Congress, he approached Mr. Lenfest for support. Mr. Lenfest agreed (Leaphart eventually decided not to run), but before he left, Mr. Lenfest asked Leaphart for something in return.

“He said, ‘Sit back down, Keith, I have some things I need you to help me with,’ and it was really about making an impact here in the city, some ideas about putting kids to work, employment, and what we said was we would work together.”

Leaphart became involved with issues like ex-offender reintegration, and today chairs the Lenfest Foundation board.

What a great story, and what an incredible rise for Keith Leaphart.

And Jim Friedlich, executive director of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, reflects specifically on Lenfest’s impact on Philadelphia journalism:

I first met Gerry Lenfest in 2015, not long after he purchased sole ownership of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com. Gerry told me at the time, “I just figured out how to become a millionaire in the newspaper business. It’s easy. You start out as a billionaire, and you buy a bunch of newspapers.”

I met Gerry, who died on Sunday, after a long career at the Wall Street Journal. After leaving the Journal, my team and I had a business that advised major American newspaper owners on the digital transformation of their businesses. The question we always heard from a Chicago Tribune, a Los Angeles Times, or a Baltimore Sun was fundamentally the same: “How do I save my newspaper?”

The question from Gerry Lenfest was much more expansive and profound: “How do we sustain great journalism writ large?” Gerry was especially focused on the business challenges. He asked me, “How can digital technology be used to enable and ennoble news, rather than to destroy it?” He sounded liked an 85-year-old millennial.

But Gerry’s most keen observation — and this was in 2015 — was that we were entering an era when questions of credibility would challenge the news industry. He warned that as the news business got tougher, some in power would take advantage of its weakness. As Gerry put it, “On the internet you don’t know what’s real and what’s not. Before long, we won’t know what to believe.” …

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism was founded on the belief that a strong local press is fundamental to the health of civic life in the Philadelphia region and to our democracy writ large. Gerry saw a critical role for the Institute in helping fund and protect journalism in Philadelphia. He also saw Philadelphia at the epicenter of a national effort to protect and transform local news in the digital age and to protect the democracy we serve.

So now in mid-2018, what is happening here in Philadelphia is one of the most closely watched experiments in American journalism.

Requiescat in pace.

High temperature silver linings

I was walking through Old City, Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon when I looked down at my Apple Watch and saw that it was 98 degrees. It felt hot, but not that hot. Yesterday’s high in Philadelphia was 99 degrees, and today’s is expected to be 95 degrees—getting better as the week continues.

If you don’t enjoy this sort of heat (I do) it can be brutal. But I think it can be useful, at least in terms of reminding people to literally sit down and relax. We don’t do enough of that in a culture that’s more frenetic than it needs to be.

Growing up without climate control, I remember spending long mornings and afternoons in the heat, in a sort of suspended animation on the porch or under the shade of the giant birch or oak trees, or finding a hose someplace or making lemonade. And more than that, I remember specific experiences of those sweltering summer days more readily than I can recall other kid moments from other seasons.

Heading to Washington tomorrow for Independence Day, and spending the rest of the week there before flying to Seattle on Saturday evening.