Monday, June 15, 2009

what I learned in philly (part two)

Come back later today for a very, very important announcement on the future of Just Up The Pike.

I didn't do it when I went to Montreal, or New Orleans, or Denver. But this time, I promised, I was going to write about my day trip to Philadelphia, like really really write about it. So . . . here's part TWO of What I Learned On My One-Day Summer Vacation to Philly:

Philadelphia Rowhouse, Pittsburgh Porch

That garage doors don't have to kill a street.

The typical East County street - whether lined with townhouses or single-family homes - is a parade of garage doors, which is neither pretty or beneficial to creating an active community. These new rowhouses in the Northern Liberties neighborhood - a rough-and-tumble area immediately north of Center City that's rapidly gentrifying (think U Street in D.C.) have carports that look more like deep porches. And maybe that's how they're supposed to be used, if and when the car isn't there. (My assumption is that, if there's any need for storage, there's either a closet somewhere behind the carport or elsewhere in the house.)

It reminds me of a "Pittsburgh Porch," the tradition presumably started across the state by a group of immigrant neighbors who declared whatever space they could find to congregate a "porch." I'm sure you or someone you know has thrown a party in their garage or driveway because there's nowhere else big enough that can hold guests and is also outside. If we're going to put people in or around the car park, we might as well make it a nice place to be in.

Really Really Red Court Bridge

That cul-de-sacs don't have to be cul-de-sacs, and every house doesn't have to be beige.

I think this photo explains it all. You don't have to love the paint colors, but you have to appreciate the chutzpah that turned a block of townhouses into a bag of Skittles. The courtyard between them, while serving primarily as a place for cars to circulate and park, also becomes a sort of mini-piazza for the houses around it - a place for the kind of informal gatherings some cul-de-sacs are good for. It also uses pervious pavers that let plants grow between the tiles, meaning that it'll soak up rainwater rather than letting it mix with chemicals in the street before hitting the sewers.

9th Street Italian Market

That markets don't have to be indoors.

Reader Bossi pointed me to the 9th Street Italian Market, an assemblage of grocers and restaurants in the Bella Vista neighborhood, south of Center City. We were expecting more of an enclosed hall along the lines of Eastern Market or Philly's famous Reading Terminal, but what a surprise it was to literally drive into the place! As you can see in the photo, the market has permanent shops (the existing buildings) and temporary vendors that set up on the sidewalks, making for a very, very intimate shopping experience.

Compared to Bart Blatstein's work in NoLi, the Italian Market looks kinda shabby - and that's the point. It's what you get after over a century of stuff happening in a place. The old rowhouses have been remodeled and added on to and knocked down and rebuilt so many times that historic designation would be impossible. Not only is it cheaper for the merchant to add on rather than move, it makes the place more vibrant. Encouraging this kind of work (sensitive changes, not the character-sapping overhauls) - as a sort of "adaptive reuse" - could be a good approach for keeping the older parts of Downtown Silver Spring healthy while retaining their history.

It seems like most places in Philly don't really start up until 4pm, or so it seemed with the handful of restaurants we tried to eat at. But I would recommend the place we ended up having our only meal of the day at - Ralph's, dubbed the oldest family-owned Italian restaurant in the country. This seems like it would be a very touristy sort of place by reputation alone, but I was more than impressed by the quality of the food and the attentive waitstaff. I usually find waiters who try to be funny obnoxious, but the guy who helped us seemed very genuine.

Check out this photoset of my day trip to Philly on Flickr. And, of course, a special thanks to Bossi for providing so many tips about what to see in his hometown.

1 comment:

Jay said...

Simply put, coming from a former resident, a place like Philadelphia has a living, breathing sense of youth and vitality which is reflected in its neighborhoods. It has a style of its own mixed with a rich blue collar history which makes for an unique living experience that can't be replicated.