• 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.


    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.

  • 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:

    Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard, Harlem.png

    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:

    Grant Street, Pittsburgh.png

    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:

    Champs-Élysées, Paris.png

    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:

    Broad and Locust, Philadelphia.png

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

    Broad and Lombard, Philadelphia.png

    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:

    Broad and Castle, Philadelphia.png

    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.

  • 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 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.

  • Cathedral Basilica mass

    After landing in Philadelphia yesterday, I stopped in the office to check the mail and take care of some things. Then I headed downstairs to enjoy Sister Cities Park in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul. I realized it was coming up on 5pm, and that the 5:15pm Vigil Mass would be starting shortly, so I went in for mass.

    The chilly interior of the basilica was a welcome change from the warm summer air lingering just outside.

    Spent today recovering from this past week’s wonderful, intense Vita Institute.

  • Visited Sister Cities Park yesterday for the first time in a while for lunch with Bobby Schindler, who’s in town this week. It was a perfect summer day to sit outside and enjoy the unfolding scenes. I brought my MacBook and worked outside the office for a bit. After work, I walked back to Logan Circle and captured these scenes.

    Logan Circle’s 1924 Fountain of the Three Rivers frames the foreground in the footage below, with City Hall in the distance, with a bit of its history below.

    Adapting the tradition of “river god” sculpture, [Alexander] Calder created large Native American figures to symbolize the area’s major streams, the Delaware, the Schuylkill, and the Wissahickon. The young girl leaning on her side against an agitated, water-spouting swan represents the Wissahickon Creek; the mature woman holding the neck of a swan stands for the Schuylkill River; and the male figure, reaching above his head to grasp his bow as a large pike sprays water over him, symbolizes the Delaware River. Sculpted frogs and turtles spout water toward the 50-foot (15 m) geyser in the center…

  • Terence Sweeney shares his story of ringing out the church bells of his West Philadelphia church after many silent years:

    Our lovely set of named bells ranges from big deep Adolphus (key of E) all the way down to tiny bright Gervaise (F-sharp). Adolphus is larger than a rather more famous bell here in Philadelphia, but he sings of a more perfect liberty. Each note on the scale is represented, but currently two bells—Elizabeth (G-sharp) and Edmund (C-sharp)—are out of commission, making renditions of “Immaculate Mary” or “Fly, Eagles, Fly” a little more difficult. …

    Why ring at all? It has been a long time since people set their watches to the noon-day pealing, and we hear of good news and bad by means of phone alerts rather than church chimes. Perhaps we do it in order to make our own contribution to the sound of the city. Daily we hear honking, laughter, sirens, birds, trolleys clanging, and the occasional drum circle. And now we hear the sound of bells, a small reminder that our urban landscape can be a spiritual landscape.

    No doubt few people know the Angelus prayer and still fewer pause to pray it at our bidding. But bells remind us of churches, of joy, of loss, and perhaps of more ultimate things. …

    One pauses and one hears. Pausing and hearing can be the first step in faith. “Be still and know that I am God,” the psalmist says.

    So we ring out in the hope that someone might hear the call and enter. We ring out to add a touch of Christianity to these secular spaces. We ring out the death toll—rich and deep with Adolphus—hoping a college student will hear and suddenly catch on to what John Donne means when he says the bell tolls for us. We let parish children ring the bells so they can feel the reverberating joy of symbols old and new. And sometimes we ring for sheer joy. When the Philadelphia Eagles triumphed in the Super Bowl, amid the cacophony of car horns, shouting fans, fireworks, and the Eagles fight song, joyous sounds came from our bell tower. And a few weeks later, as we finally sang the Gloria on the Easter Vigil, we let them brightly sing out again for the triumph of Christ. God promises a new heaven and a new earth, so we celebrate the lasting joy of the Resurrection, but also the passing excitement of a Super Bowl.

    Perhaps the new evangelization begins with such small gestures as the ringing of bells.

    To “catch on to what John Donne means when he says the bell tolls for us.”

  • I first ran the Broad Street Run five years ago, and this morning ran it for a second time. I vaguely remember thinking I probably would only run it once, and now that I’ve run it twice I feel the same indifference about running it again. What makes it distinctive and worthwhile is that an incredible 40,000 people run this race. I know Bay to Breakers in San Fransisco has something like 100,000 people run, but that’s a shorter and quirkier run.

    Walked from 21st and Walnut this morning shortly after 7am and caught the subway at Walnut/Locust for North Philadelphia and the starting line. The subway was incredibly packed—far more packed than even the most full New York subway I’ve been on. I think a lot of people coming from outside the city park in South Philadelphia and ride the subway to the starting line. Run started at 8am, and my Green corral got started close to 8:20. Conditions were great: cool without being cold, slightly overcast but neither raining nor windy. I didn’t bring anything with me and left my phone at the apartment, so tracked the run with my Apple Watch and was able to use it to text and call friends afterward who were heading down to the finishing area.

    Finished slightly slower than I did five years ago. In 2013 I placed in the top 30 percent of finishers with a time of 1:22:21 and pace of 8:14. Today my finishing time was 1:25:57 for an 8:35 pace.


    After being on the road/in the air since April 25th, and on top of that having not run more than once or twice since November, I’m happy with the result.

  • Philadelphia spring afternoon

    Three scenes from a few-hours-long walk through Center City, Philadelphia, including Mayor Jim Kenny speaking to a news crew about something. The Cambria hotel, by the way, replaced a dismal-looking parking garage this year. That’s an improvement.