Friday, July 30, 2010

Out of Town

This space will be quiet for the next week, as I will be in the midwest taking some time off and visiting family. To tide you over, I'll give you a quick story.

When back in Michigan (where I went to college and Mrs. Redbricker was born and raised), we often stay at the in-laws, a few miles north of Ann Arbor. Now, before I go on, I feel the need to say that I actually get along very well with them, and always have a good time there. This may have something to do with the fact that my father-in-law is only able to express affection by saying "you don't have a beer in your hand. Let me fix that", but I digress. The point is, they live in a newly created subdivision, and on occasion will unwittingly show everything that is wrong with the suburbs.

Example: My in-laws live at point A. My brother-in-law used to live at point B. To visit, they would get in the car and drive the .6 miles to each others' house. This happens even in the summer, when it's nice out, even though the road is 3 times as long as cutting through the field behind the street. A rough guess is that walking is 12-1300 feet, while .6 miles converts to somewhere north of 3100 feet.

It would be easy to make fun of my new family as "lazy", but that would miss the point. Whoever made the subdivision decided not to put sidewalks in some places (the first section of our trip), and also did not connect the trail to the dead-end street, leaving all but the most die-hard walkers an easy choice to drive. I don't think it's a coincidence that I gain 5 pounds every time I visit this place.

Fortunately, the cul-de-sac's days may be numbered, for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Read about it here, in a great post at the Infrastructurist.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

One Hundred Years

I grew up in the heart of Northern Jersey Suburbia.

The town of Randolph essentially didn't exist until the 1970s- it was all farmland before then- and even now is 95% residential subdivisions, spiraling off into the hills. Because of this, I am acutely aware of the abundance of old buildings in this city, ones that date back a hundred years or beyond. Old schools and churches that would be the centerpiece of an entire small town are found around nearly every corner, hidden away without fanfare. For proof, I have to look no further than literally out my front door, to the St. Anthony's Senior Center.

This multi-story monument is a great example of what can be accomplished using only brick. It's like the decorative Philly rowhomes of old, writ large. Sadly, it's hard to find much (any) information about the building- all I know is that it had at least one previous life, as a parochial school in the early 20th century. Even this I only know because it's actually part of the building.

A large and almost empty parking lot also points to a busier past, but for now, it is a quiet retirement community. Thankfully, the surrounding yard is immaculately maintained, and shows no signs of neglect, even though the buildings managers don't even see fit to mention the property on their web site.
There are no pictures of St. Anthony's on Philly History. That's probably OK, as I can't imagine it looking much different- you'd have to look at tree sizes to see a difference. Still, the entire estate is in wonderful shape, and looks like it could easily last for another century.

As you read, enjoy a little music from our biggest Philly band, Dr. Dog:

Check out the comments for some more great information. Apparently, the school was a part of the St. Anthony's Parish, which was located in what is now St. Matthew's Baptist Church.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Last Train to Chester

Like a lot of people (OK, at least 18,000), I was excited to learn that Philadelphia had been chosen as the new expansion side for MLS back in 2008. However, like a lot of people, I was concerned about the stadium location on the Chester waterfront. Not because of safety issues, but for accessibility. Part of the fun of living in a big city is taking public transit to games, and not worrying about parking (or drinking).

Fortunately, two years later, I can safely say that taking the train to a Union game is not only doable, it is recommended. What follows is a photo essay from a murderously hot day soaked in beer, sweat and victory.

My trip started at the University City Station. During the week, this relatively new station (it opened in 1995) is a crowded, busy station, filled with commuters who work at HUP, Penn and CHOP. During the week. At lunch time on a Saturday, it's less vibrant.

Happily, 2 hours before kickoff, the R2, er, Wilmington, er Marcus Hook Train was completely filled, and about 90% of the train got of at the Chester Transportation center.

This is where the hyper-competent Union front office kicks in. Waiting for us is a fleet of shuttle buses, which will zip us through the city and drop us off a few feet from the stadium.

This side is surrounded by half-completed ramps to the bridge, but the other side...

Did I mention a bridge? The Commodore Barry looms over the stadium, and a walk by the river
reveals some stunning views:

Inside the stadium, it's just as nice. The seats are really, really close to the field, and catching an errant shot is a real possibility:

The game was tense, and tied 1-1 until almost the last second, when a Toronto player committed a handball in the penalty area. That led to this (video courtesy of my row-mate Billy):

Maybe Apple should use this video in a promotion- the iPhone gets knocked out of Billy's hand and flies a few feet away, but keeps recording the whole time and is unscathed at the end.

After the game, there is a bit of a walk back to the buses, and then a line, which seems longer that it actually is after standing in 95 degree heat for a few hours. These gentlemens' spirits did not seem dampened once on the train though, and after about 25 minutes, I'm back to where it all began.

Only two weeks until the next game.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Washington Ave. Update

A quick update on a muggy afternoon:

It appears at least one person finds large, blank walls appealing in our 'hood. Unfortunately for Phat Mot (our fine strip mall magnate), said person is a graffiti artist, who struck a few days ago.

This morning, a most decidedly non-union workforce continued to build. Did anyone try to clean the graffiti off? Of course not! There's perfectly good brick to plaster over, and shiny...tile...things to put up! Feel the excitement!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Strip-mall in the city

Well, you can't win 'em all. On the heels of the great restaurant news in my last post, crappy, generic construction has started on a strip-mall on 23rd and Washington Avenue. Great news, if you are a fan of the traffic jams, yellow stucco and fulminant trash bins on 6th and 11th streets (all the same developer).

This project was opposed from the start by the neighborhood association, actual neighbors, and even the local city councilwoman. Undeterred, and convinced of eventual success, the developers quietly (and illegally) built the majority of the mall behind the existing factory walls. For 9 years the proposal was continually rejected by the ZBA, until last year. Then, suddenly, the project was granted approval, as is. As the pictures show, the construction looks even worse when compared to its neighbors- in this case, a beautiful all-brick 19th century schoolhouse.

No one is really sure why (stop by Sidecar after a SOSNA meeting and you may hear some good conspiracy theories), but it was probably just a case of not wanted to look "anti-business" when unemployment is in the double digits. Now, any project is a good project, apparently. The ruling has been appealed, but construction has already resumed in the meantime.
I'm glad for the appeal, but I'm not particularly hopeful. I think the city sees $$ from this project, and doesn't particularly care where money comes from right now. How much are you willing to put up with for good Pho?

Comically, this door is still locked.