• Old City night scene

    View from my seat outside Race Street Cafe tonight at 2nd and Race Streets, catching up with Gavin Keirans. I somehow don’t think I had been there before. Across the street is a new luxury style tower that looks out over the Ben Franklin Bridge whose illuminated pillar you can see.

    It was a beautiful night, the first that’s really felt like spring. I had come from McCrossen’s Tavern in Fairmount, where I caught up with Alex Smith after work. It was really great to be able to comfortably walk from work to McCrossen’s and then across the city to Race Street Cafe.

  • Drexel Square, in progress

    A view of 30th Street Station on the left, as I was standing on the platform of SEPTA Regional Rail waiting for a train a few nights ago. In the foreground, beyond the intersection, has been a parking lot for as long as I’ve known it. It’s in the process of redevelopment into Drexel Square, the very first part of the generational Schuylkill Yards project. Here’s a rendering of what that parking lot might look like in the future, with Maria Gialanella providing context:

    Drexel Square.png

    William Penn’s original plan for Philadelphia included five city squares. More than 300 years later, Drexel University, working with a Radnor, Pa.-based real estate firm, is prepared to add a sixth major square just blocks east of Penn’s campus.

    Brandywine Realty Trust and Drexel University began construction Wednesday on the park, the first leg of a $3.5 billion public construction project in the area between Drexel’s campus and 30th Street Station. Known as “Schuylkill Yards,” the complex of several buildings will adjoin the Schuylkill River with the stated goal of building a research and development hub in University City.

    The first phase of the new Schuylkill Yards should be complete in the fall of 2018, while the whole project will span 15 to 20 years.

    “We are proud that our first project in Schuylkill Yards will deliver a green public gathering space where the community can connect, interact, and share experiences,” Brandywine President and CEO Jerry Sweeney said in a statement.

    “Plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

  • No satisfaction unless we pause

    A photo from the Porch at 30th Street Station, where I sat on Wednesday before catching my train to Washington. It’s a pleasant place to be now, with tables, swings, and grass where there was a parking lot a decade ago or less. And of course those glass towers are still new, too.

    Here’s an excerpt from Fulton Sheen’s Finding True Happiness that was shared someplace recently:

    The painter stands back from his canvas to see whether the details of the seascape are properly placed. True repose is such a standing back to survey the activities that fill our days.

    We cannot get a real satisfaction out of our work unless we pause, frequently, to ask ourselves why we are doing it, and whether its purpose is one [of which] our minds wholeheartedly approve. Perhaps one of the reasons why so many of our economic and political projects miscarry is because they are in the hands of men with eyes so tightly glued to what they are doing that they never stop to question whether it should be done at all. Merely keeping busy, merely getting paid, can never satisfy man’s need for creative work. …

    If we direct our work towards God, we shall work better than we know. The admission of this fact is another of the tasks for which we need repose. Once a week, man, reposing from work, does well to come before his God to admit how much of what he did during the week was the work of his Creator; he can remind himself, then, that the material on which he labored came from other Hands, that the ideas he employed entered his mind from a higher Source, that the very energy which he employed was a gift…

  • Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s new District Attorney, seems to truly be reforming the justice system for the better. Shaun King writes:

    When lifelong civil rights attorney Larry Krasner was elected in a landslide this past November to become the new district attorney of Philadelphia, to say that his fans and supporters had high hopes would be an understatement. Anything less than a complete revolution that tore down the bigoted and patently unfair systems of mass incarceration would be a severe disappointment. …

    In his first week on the job, he fired 31 prosecutors from the DA’s office because they weren’t committed to the changes he intended to make. …

    Next, Krasner obeyed a court order to release a list of 29 officers from the Philadelphia Police Department that were on a “do-not-call list” — meaning that they were so tainted that they would be considered unreliable as witnesses. The police officers on the list had either been charged with crimes or found responsible for misconduct in internal police probes conducted by the department’s Board of Inquiry. Among the offenses, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the police officers had lied to their fellow investigators, filed false reports, used excessive force, driven drunk, and burgled. …

    All of that is big, but nothing is as essential and revolutionary as the internal five-page guiding document of new policies that Krasner sent to his staff. … The first sentence says it all: “These policies are an effort to end mass incarcerations and bring balance back to sentencing.”

    Then, under the heading “Decline Certain Charges,” Krasner immediately instructs prosecutors to stop prosecuting marijuana possession regardless of the weight. Furthermore, he instructed prosecutors to stop charging those with marijuana with any paraphernalia crimes.

    Next, Krasner instructed his prosecutors to stop charging sex workers that have fewer than three convictions with any crime and drop all current cases against sex workers who also fit that description. All sex workers with three or more convictions are to be referred to Dawn Court – a special diversionary program created in 2010 specifically for sex workers with repeat offenses, the first of its kind in the nation.

    Under the heading “Divert More,” Krasner then instructed prosecutors to avoid convictions if possible and guide cases for diversion programs instead of jail and prison.

    What Krasner’s memo said next was groundbreaking. First, Krasner instructed prosecutors to stop the wide-ranging practice of beginning plea deals with the highest possible sentencing and instead, begin those plea deals at the bottom end of the available range of time that can be served. And when less than 24 months is available as a sentence for a crime, house arrest or diversion programs should be used instead of incarceration.

    Larry Krasner’s predecessor is serving prison time for a variety of corruption-related crimes. And in a city where even a corrupt District Attorney’s office has to maintain a list of cops likely to lie under oath and at the same time has more than 44,000 citizens on probation, it’s clear there’s something foul in the criminal justice waters. If you’re still skeptical about the need for these reforms, this should convince you:

    It’s what came next that genuinely shocked me. …

    Krasner instructed his prosecutors to now add up and justify the exact costs of every single person sentenced to a crime in Philadelphia. Stating that the city is currently spending an astounding $360 million per year to jail around just 6,000 people, Krasner then gave examples of all of the things that such money could be doing in the city currently. Stating that it costs between $42,000 and $60,000 per year to incarcerate a person, he reminded the prosecutors that the average total family income of a person in the city was just $41,000. The annual cost of incarceration, Krasner reminded his prosecutors, was currently more per year than the beginning salary of teachers, police officers, firefighters, social workers, addiction counselors, and even prosecutors in his office.

    Krasner wrote, “If you are seeking a sentence of 3 years incarceration, state on the record that the cost to the taxpayer will be $126,000.00 (3 x $42,000.00) if not more and explain why you believe the cost is justified.”

    Spending $360 million per year to jail ~6,000 people. How many of these are nonviolent offenses? How many are due to minor probation violations?

    Philadelphia helped pioneer the idea of criminal justice as a penitential and reformatory process rather than just a punitive one. Krasner’s reforms seem to me to be in the spirit of those penitential ideals.

  • A few photos from a rainy Sunday afternoon walk through Old City, Philadelphia that finished at City Hall courtyard:

  • Doug Pederson’s Super Bowl-winning approach to coaching:

    Doug Pederson never stopped being aggressive this season — not after Carson Wentz went down and not when the Super Bowl was on the line with Nick Foles under center.

    Pederson’s play calling all season was deemed “unorthodox” by many, but after the Super Bowl there’s a better word for it: Ballsy.

    Pederson made those calls all season long, throwing deep on running downs and running on third and long with great success. He threw a flea flicker in the playoffs against the best defense in football and it worked! He didn’t back down in the Super Bowl even though he was across the field from the greatest defensive mind of this generation in Bill Belichick.

    Pederson outcoached the best coach in the history of the game, and it was never more obvious than on two fourth down plays that won the Eagles the team’s first championship in 57 years.

    Pederson loves going for it on fourth down, something he’s done quite often since taking over before last season. In two years the Eagles opted to go for it on fourth down 53 times in the regular season, converting 13 in 2016 and 17 this season. Last year, only Jacksonville went for it on fourth down more than the Eagles, but no team had more conversions than the Birds. This season, only the Packers went for it more times than Philly, and no team converted more.

    The Eagles opponents this season were just 4-for-18 in the regular season on fourth down, and just 2-for-6 in the playoffs. The Eagles were a perfect 3-for-3 in the playoffs on fourth down.

    But it’s how the Eagles converted their fourth down attempts in the Super Bowl — and when Pederson opted to roll the dice on fourth down — that was the key to Sunday’s victory. …

    Foles became the first quarterback to throw and catch a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and Pederson became a play-calling legend. …

    “You really want to know what we call it,” Pederson said after the game. “Philly Special.”

    “You know, I trust my players,” he added. “I trust the coaches. I trust my instincts. I trust everything that I’m doing and I want to maintain that aggressiveness with the guys. In games like this against a great opponent, you’ve got to make those tough decisions that way and keep yourself aggressive.”

    Besides Foles becoming the first quarterback to catch a pass in the Super Bowl, another incredible thing about last night’s game? I think there was only a single punt in the entire game.

  • Super Bowl LII

    The Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl champions.

    [CITY-C - 1]  INQ/PAGES/SPT ... 02/05/18

    What a game that was to watch against the New England Patriots. It’s the first Super Bowl I can ever remember where I watched every quarter without losing any interest. It only kept getting more intense, particularly in those last ten and final five minutes. Yet Nick Foles and the Eagles came out on top, never failing to respond to Tom Brady’s 600+ yards of offense. But Tom Brady ran out of time, and the Eagles entered the history books with their first championship in 57 years. Doug Pederson’s coaching was bold, confident, and at times incredible. I don’t remember watching an Eagles team play like this before.

    As I’m reading through reaction on Twitter, someone shared the photo below of the incredible multitude of Philadelphians who have flooded South Broad Street to celebrate together:


    Early in the game, Chris Collinsworth and Al Michaels cut to a shot of a 99-year old Philadelphia Eagles fan in US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. I didn’t catch the man’s name, if they shared it. I’m thinking of that 99-year old man right now, who’s been attending Eagles games since 1933 after the Frankford Yellow Jackets dissolved and the Eagles were born, and I’m imagining what a smile that old man must have on his face tonight.

  • Nearly New Years

    We’re heading to Fort Lauderdale today to meet friends for New Years, and stayed at the Sheraton in Center City, Philadelphia last night before this morning’s flight—in part due to the forecast of snow that would have slowed the roads. Here’s the scene from the Sheraton at night, before the snow, and in the morning, after the snow:

    Our flight ended up being delayed out of Philadelphia by about an hour, but the flight itself was smooth and I slept through most of it.

    It’s my first time to Fort Lauderdale By-The-Sea, which seems lovely and retains perhaps a bit more of 1950s-era Florida than does Fort Lauderdale proper. Scenes from a walk to Assumption church for mass:

    We’re heading to the Keys for New Years Eve, specifically Islamorada and Tavernier, near Key Largo.

  • A portrait of Jack Bogle, Vanguard’s founder:

    As living legends go, Bogle is a modest fellow, or at least he tries to be. “Call me Jack” is his normal conversation starter. He’s old-fashioned, even for an 88-year-old — the kind of guy who has simple rules for living a good life, codified in the aphoristic style of one of his heroes, Benjamin Franklin. “To be called an 18th-century man is to me the ultimate accolade,” Bogle has said. …

    This fall, Jack Bogle released an updated version of his primer, The Little Book of Common Sense Investing. First published a decade ago, it is one of 11 books he has written (the 12th, his own history of the company, is in the works) and according to the author has sold about 250,000 copies. In it, Bogle sets out his fundamental ideas on successful wealth accumulation for the average person: Invest in indexed mutual funds mixed between stocks and bonds, and hold onto them. Bogle is convinced — and he has done lots of research to support his case — that it’s almost impossible to beat the market over the long run, and that “average” returns combined with low management expenses and fees (which Bogle made sure were the core of Vanguard) are the best deal for investors.

    “From almost the first day of Vanguard,” Bogle tells me in a recent interview, “I’ve seen so much of this industry and so many phony funds and so much money pouring in when your performance is hot and pouring out when your performance is cold. That’s not a very good way to make money. The first thing I demanded is that we were going to have funds with relative predictability.”

    It has taken decades, but what was once called “Bogle’s Folly” — a so-called “passive” approach to investing that buys and holds a widely diversified basket of stocks representing a broad portion of the market as a whole, rather than one that tries to pick winners — has become certifiably trendy. We appear to be experiencing a rare outbreak of the contagion of common sense.

    “In the last 10 years, investors have put around $2 trillion into index funds,” Bogle reports. Yes, that’s trillion. Other companies offer index funds, but Vanguard has long dominated the market. “Since January 2015,” Bogle adds, “Vanguard has taken in a cool $793 billion. The entire industry has taken in $815 billion. It’s amazing.” By the end of 2017, the house that Jack built was on track to have $5 trillion in assets under management.

    Jack Bogle started Vanguard in difficult personal circumstances. He’d been fired from the top job at a money management firm called Wellington (the founder had handed him control when he was 38) by the very partners he’d invited to join the firm. Something of a sailing buff, he picked his new company’s name as a reference to the flagship of the famous Admiral Lord Nelson. Nautical touches have long been a staple of the company culture. Now, as he goes to work each day at the four-person outfit known as the Bogle Financial Markets Research Center, which Vanguard set up for him as consolation for adhering to the company policy of 70 as mandatory retirement age, the original little skiff of a company has grown into a giant money supertanker.

    Bogle is in a peculiar situation so late in life. After he’d staked his career and reputation on an untested notion that was the financial world’s version of sailing against the wind, the wind reversed. Now he’s lionized as a financial sage, and the company he started has grown and prospered beyond anything he might have imagined when he reluctantly handed over control two decades ago. Yet he’s unable or unwilling to quell his contrarian nature and a strong moralistic streak, and he can’t help but question whether Vanguard is shipshape to weather its own phenomenal success.

    I remember seeing Vanguard’s logo in my grandmother’s mail every month growing up. She was a long-time investor with Vanguard and believer in their index funds, and that faith—along with her and my grandfather’s frugality, social security, and school teacher’s pension—ensured they lived decently even to their deaths. Vanguard’s Jack Bogle-created culture of thrift, frugality, and modesty is a template for how corporations, and especially financial institutions, can be model corporate citizens.

  • Christmas Village

    I walked from City Hall’s Dilworth Park yesterday through the still-under-renovation Love Park where the Christmas Village is set up a little more awkwardly this year than in most years. Even on a beautiful, summer-looking morning, there was a bit of Christmas feeling in these places.