Palindrome by Camac

Occasional pieces written on a range of subjects for the musings of those onboard the R-8 going to and from Chestnut Hill and town.

May 25, 2007

Quality of Life Details

river walk Quality of life issues are surely where we may share similar hopes.

We all want no crime, no car accidents, more reasonable taxes that people move into the city because of instead of moving out because of, and schools that people move into the city for instead of moving away from the city to avoid; we want honorable, traveled and educated elected officials, no more mobsters from any country of origin, fair competition, free parking, end of State Stores, great farmer’s markets, Wegman’s, Trader Joes and more of the good things and less of the bad things in life.

Here are some ideas to inch us there:

  1. Let us hire a Deputy Mayor for Innovative Ideas.
    Send him/her to visit other cities; good ideas are all over; Philadelphia has several great ideas we can export but every other city in the country may have beneficial ideas that we can learn from and improve our quality of life by using/borrowing their ideas. I would also require every top elected official to travel to a new place, new city or, better yet, to a new country, at least once a year and report back to Council and to all of us about an innovative, effective or stimulating idea that we can benefit from. Going to the NJ shore, every summer, does not help one percolate with new ideas for such a major city as Philadelphia.
  2. Taxi cabs that you can get into without splitting you pants as a man, or embarrassing your mother, as a woman wearing a skirt; the Crown Victoria cars are the worst cars for customers and yet almost every cab is a Crown Victoria. And in Philadelphia, the cabs are not even the extended body Crown Vics that NYC has. We get the short version that is the famous pants splitter. Why, for goodness sakes? Let us demand better cabs with luggage room, leg room, head room, knee room, elbow room, sky windows, comfort; you know, all the things that Crown Victorias do not have for the people who ought to be comfortable, the paying customer! Anyone ever been in a London cab? Crown Vics, what a lousy car for a taxi cab and for a whole city!
  3. Art Museum Roundabouts in the city. Probably 25% of all intersections would be safer if built as a roundabout that naturally prevents head on and broad side collisions. They also save about $1,000 per year in electricity for each intersection with multiple traffic lights running 24 hours. No lights needed. Not to mention the amount of fuel wasted just waiting for the lights to change. Let us start converting appropriate intersections to roundabouts to save electricity and to be safer on the roads. I suggest beginning to install roundabouts in Fairmount Park as a way to focus on safety, serenity, logic and energy savings there.
  4. Energy savings; what is it with those 12 huge flood lights, 30 feet high up, that blaze all year long at the Allen Lane Art Center tennis courts when no one is ever there? Who is paying for that waste of electricity? How many other places in the city and the park are such profligate wasters of energy and of the taxes paying for that waste? Philadelphia could very reasonably and intelligently begin an energy saving program starting just on obvious things like that. Even in a private house effort throughout the city, there are many houses whose security lights cost them $100-150, at least, more a month than if they just had far fewer lights. And, there is a plausible national school of thought that says that security lights actually help any thief see where he is going when he is robbing an unfamiliar property. So, does the whole city need all those lights burning all that electricity that you are paying for?
  5. Anyone ever been to the town of Telluride? Their street lights and all other lights are required to be low wattage and non-glaring so they can see the sky and stars at night. There is a group called the International Dark Sky Association in Tucson, look them up on the web, that espouse low lighting to be able to see the sky and stars in cities. Their ideas make sense even for a big city like ours. And especially in our Chestnut Hill neighborhood where we are so close to nature all around us that it would be nice to see the sky, too.
  6. Cell Phone Lot for the Airport; I finally found it! How many others are still looking for that place? Put the signs up, to and from the lot, to and from the Airport, for goodness sakes. Now, there is not a single sign; still! How many years has this nonsense about no signs to the Cell Phone Lot gone on? Fix it immediately! This is embarrassing. And stupid! Who is responsible for that absurdity?
  7. West River Drive How many people are confused and disappointed with the loss of the very useful directional names “East” and “West” River Drives? Those directional names made more sense than any other street names in the city because they said exactly where you are. Restore the original compass names to these Park Drives and, of course, keep the newer, honorary names on the sign below, as has been done elsewhere when honors have been bestowed but where there is logic in keeping the historic or directional meaning of the original name. It makes our city easier to use since the Schuylkill River has these beautiful roadways on its east and the west sides. It just makes sense.
  8. And the Airport has the most frustrating signs in the Western World. Please hire a sign expert now to fix this problem. The Airport has, institutionally, always had horrible signs compared to any other international airport. No matter how many millions are spent on these nice new terminals, the signs to navigate the place are bad and have always been bad. I will walk you through it myself, if necessary, but the signs are so badly placed, so foolish and so stupid that it is hard to think of Philadelphia in our waning mayor’s unique language as a ”world class city” with this issue never getting fixed for our own sanity nor for welcoming our many guests/visitors.
  9. Septa R1 And add to this embarrassment, is SEPTA’s refusal to make getting to the airport easy and without panic. Oh, yes, after the 25 years of planning and fussing we do have a great R-1 line to the airport but it is the details that never get finished. Never! Like a luggage rack for bags on the R-1 when going to and from the Airport. And, most important, there is no way on the R-1 to tell which airlines are at which terminals…. the most important information for a visitor and the train has no signs, the conductor never knows and visitors panic and, often, get off at the wrong terminal. “World Class?” The conductor will announce, “Terminal A.” Well, who knows which airline flies from Terminal A or flies from any of the other terminals, B, C, D, E, or F? And how many years has the R-1 been operating now without providing this most important information? It is this maddeningly consistent lack of attention to details like these throughout Philadelphia that must be changed; especially because a lot of people are already being paid to do these things and they never do them.
  10. Fairmount Park trees, let us start a program with artists and sculptors to design, carve, assemble and build uniquely sculpted wooden park benches from the trees that are cut down in the Park. These benches can be used in the city parks and along the creeks to add delight to the Parks replacing the mundane concrete and 2 x 6 benches now out there. This can become an interesting collection of one-off public sculpture. And it can be fun, invigorating and creative.
  11. Police Uniforms; Philadelphia’s “elite” police ought to dress in respectable uniforms that make them look like they answer to the leadership of the citizens and that they respect and enforce the law. Do we need the Blackhawk and the intimidating look of the so called “elite’ forces, whose uniforms make them look like outlaw motorcycle gangs? Just look at the highway and motorcycle guys with the high peaks and pulled down sides of their caps wearing jodhpurs and riding boots, shiny leather jackets and too many commendation things like the boy scouts always wear. These uniforms represent images that are not appropriate for Philadelphia as a cosmopolitan and a respected city. The “I am going to bust your face” look of these outfits is a provincial portrayal of the good cops we have here. The costumes might be fun to dress up in but their image belies a respectability our city stands for. Time to go back to the tailor for some civilized looking uniforms for these “elite” policemen to be truly respected as elite.
  12. Limit the flight paths of news helicopters, by noise, privacy, sanity and general disturbance laws, from hovering over a so-called “news site.” Limit them just by any sense of common decency! The helicopters are quality of life nuisances with three of them, often, recording the same event every day and it is always either a fire, a car crash or a water main bursting. Use file footage; it all looks the same. And establish a “no-fly zone” over the wilderness areas of Fairmount Park. This just makes sense, too, for the serenity of our parks. These news helicopters are a noisy blight on the city and they rarely cover any useful news!
  13. City Hall Implement that innovative idea of opening the ground floor and courtyard and sidewalk of City Hall to engaging uses such as restaurants, a city history museum, galleries, pubs, information, music, and activity for all day long and late into the evening. The original Center Square, that was covered by the City Hall building, had been a place to meet at all hours, like Rittenhouse Square is today. It would add immeasurably to downtown life to have this part of City Hall vibrant all the time because the location is the exact center of the city, after all. Just makes sense!
  14. Venting the sanitary lines of commercial buildings in the city. Ever been in conversation standing near one of those round sidewalk vents of the building’s sewerage into the city sewer? Now, that is an urban experience! They are in front of every building in town. This will explain the fetid outhouse smell throughout town that breaks up many a summertime sidewalk conversation. Many other cities raise the vents high above the sidewalk level to disburse the outhouse odor. Why does Philadelphia have these vents, releasing sewer gases, at the sidewalk level to waft up to your nose? Seems a bit medieval and disgusting to me. Who knows why this still happens……..our favorite plumbers’ union, perhaps? But, lets fix it!
  15. Why is the city/state in the business of running crummy parking garages? These garages are all poorly run, they are all ugly, ugly and ugly, unattractive inside and outside and they are in competition with private companies. Sell them all! Why do we do these counter productive things here in America? People say it is to protect jobs. It is all false economy about protecting a few jobs at the loss of many better jobs, if many of these things were done privately and competitively. Which is better for our city? Fewer poorly done jobs, degrading the spirit of this city bit by bit, with every encounter with these moribund job holders at the state stores, at the Parking Authority Garages etc., or many more, well done jobs up lifting our spirits and the spirit of the person doing that job?
  16. City Boarding Schools is yet another innovation for the schools to improve the education for Philadelphia children. And like the need for privately managed schools and the charter schools, they can be another way to teach children by going around the decades of corrosive influence by the teachers’ unions. Girard College is our historic local model; Oprah has brought attention to the successful boarding school model by the new boarding school she just founded in South Africa. Philadelphia could benefit from several new boarding schools started here on the Oprah model, for children who are very bright, who really want the schooling and who are willing to work very hard and who need to get out of unstable and dangerous neighborhoods and homes. Boarding schools are already here in the States, mostly in the east, founded in country locations for a different mission then, but our country and city will be stronger now by having new boarding schools for contemporary missions in some cities.
  17. Free Library Sometimes, some things need another look at big issues. Asking the question is important; answering that question can be much more difficult, but the questions have to be asked. For example: should the Free Library’s Main Branch, in spite of all their enterprising new expansion plans, still be way out on the Parkway or would they serve the city better if they were closer to downtown such as on Broad Street or on Rittenhouse Square, for example? How can the library best serve the city? Or, should the Academy of Natural Sciences continue to be shoehorned on their corner site now that Moore is so vibrant next door? Should Barnes consider all the six, exciting and better locations closer to PMA than the one that is half mile distant away from PMA? Who will occupy the Family Court building next to the Free Library, when the Court moves out? Should the Library spend their expansion money next door in the Family Court Building? Should all that space inside the Eastern State Penitentiary be used for other compatible and profitable uses that could help pay for more restoration of the fascinating old Pen? Where should a new police headquarters building be located? Why is the Broad Street Concourse still empty and not developed immediately to further invigorate downtown after 40 years of thinking about it? Kind of another Penn’s Landing debacle? But still a major opportunity right under our noses. Many more strategic questions to be asked……………
  18. Some have said the prisoners come out of Philadelphia prisons with a worse drug habit than when they went in. How can that be? In prison? Who brings in those drugs to prisoners? If that is true, this must be stopped. Also, if more than half of the prisoners return to prison again and again after being released, why do we not make each return less comfortable and less attractive for them by progressively removing amenities and privileges? Would discomfort become an incentive for released prisoners to think long and hard about doing things that will send them back to prison again? It is a creative idea that is worth a try for prisoners’ benefit and for ours. And some others are already doing things like this. We need the spirit to try radical and, perhaps, effective new ideas.
  19. ambulance Another quality of life issue is the disturbing carnival of sirens that every private and city ambulance and fire engine uses. Some are like those one-man bands playing cymbals, drums, kazoos, horns and harmonicas, all at once. The ambulances actually instill panic using all their noisemakers and claxons instead of calming the traffic ahead so they can get through traffic for their patient’s benefit. Someone has to review the use of all this extra panicky noise, especially that electronic zapper noise that stops your heart, and use calmer, pleasanter and more effective alarms or bells in emergencies. Look to Europe for better examples of calming sirens we can borrow. Work with a music department. It makes sense for safety.
  20. Philadelphia police when being traffic cops; they seem to have had no training for traffic work. Every cop directing traffic needs reflective gauntlets, a flashlight, reflective paddles, a whistle or something so he can be seen, heard and he can direct traffic safely. There is an art to doing it safely and well. Most of our policemen make it worst because they do not take charge of the situation, they add to the confusion, they look like a kid lost and befuddled in the intersection and because, it is very difficult to see their hand gestures, they often make things more dangerous even for themselves. Train the policeman to do this job well. It is not difficult but they now do not do a credible or a safe job of it.
  21. Do we want two more parking spaces per city block! Any block! There is a standard bronze “T” fitting that fits every city fire hydrant that can be used to hook any hose to any hydrant, even if a car is parked right in front of the hydrant. The hose then leaves the hydrant parallel to the sidewalk instead of straight out into the street. So, it is safe and possible to park two more cars on every block in the spaces now set aside for the hydrants and allow the firemen to still do their job. Now, there is not a single fireman who will agree to this, just like there is not a single plumber who will tell you there is a solution to the outhouse odor from vents in the sidewalk, nor a single taxi driver who will want to change his Crown Vic for a car that serves his customer well. This is the same mentality that prevents installing the signs to the Cell Phone Lot and does not see the need to improve the Airport signs. Not a cop who wants to relinquish his dress-up Blackhawk costume. But, now that I have written these things, do you agree that these make sense to improve the quality of our lives in the city? In incremental small ways. Why not make these and other improvements?
  22. And how about this little annoyance? Get people to stand on the right side on escalators so people who are in a hurry can keep going from the subways, in the malls, in bookshops, etc! The rest of the world does this. SEPTA sent me a letter once, after I suggested a public relations effort and a reminder sign to help move commuters along faster, telling me how dangerous it is to move on an escalator and, in fact, SEPTA cited a city regulation saying it is illegal to move on escalators. Good Heavens! Where do these people come from? OK, this is a small matter but it is ludicrous and annoying habit to block the way for others by being inconsiderate and boneheaded. Am I right? In Europe, a sure way to spot an American these days is to see who is blocking the escalators.
  23. Deer in the Park; let us consider establishing a deer park preserve, as well as the wild deer already in the wilderness sections. Cadwalader Park, designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead in Trenton, has had a deer park as part of that beautiful city park for 100 years and it has always been an big attraction over there.
  24. It is about four decades overdue, so let us take a look now. Some of the one-way streets downtown may not make sense any longer. JFK Boulevard, that could restore its name honoring the Pennsylvania Railroad, may be better as a two way street. And west Market Street…does that make any sense to be one way for part of it when the east side is two ways?? The circulation around City Hall may be improved upon. Don’t we have a Streets Department to ask these questions? Generally, we should to ask “why” and, “can we do better” regarding these old habits that may need fixing as traffic increases and patterns change.
  25. We have done wonders with the Schuylkill River Path below the Art Museum. But we can do better with the path beside a river. There is only one small area at Locust Street where anyone can get to and actually touch the water. Inappropriate highway type barriers installed as clumsy hand railings and the high bulkheads keep us all from the water. The Schuylkill River is the cleanest it has ever been in our lives; let us design long areas like those in London, Paris and Lisbon to get down to and put our feet in the water! It is a tidal river below the dam and those comings and goings are the romance of nature that we need to be able to see and touch instead of being barricaded away from the river.
  26. police Police deployment! Recall that even John Timoney, when he was Police Commissioner, had little control over the police because of a tangle of authority and a tangle of Byzantine work rules that prevented appropriate deployment of the men and women under him. Consider, too, that we have just learned that several policemen had been tied up for years providing round the clock surveillance of the house built on the Move site. Did anyone even think of just not building that house in the first place?? Or now, just demolishing it for $5,000 and save the $300,000 per year to have police wasted over there if we are so afraid that the “Africa” tribe will come back. How many other odd and useless deployments, wasting our police manpower and budget, are occurring right now? Maybe, we just need better deployment instead of hiring more police? Percentages of police to the census numbers of our population, say we are on a par with the much bigger cities.
  27. And, perhaps, it is time to consult the “Wise Lady from Philadelphia” on these and other issues? What would she say? Something about making a fresh cup of coffee...


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