Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What Happens When the Republican Machine Falls Apart

Gregory L. Heller. Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics, and the Building of Modern Philadelphia. Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

As Philadelphia City Planning Commission Director, Ed Bacon saw success and failure in getting his plans implemented. He helped preserve a colonial neighborhood (Society Hill), oversaw major office space creation (Penn Center), and saw an urban shopping mall with mass transit access (Market East) developed. Residents were displaced leading to major criticism of Philadelphia’s planning efforts.

According to author Alexander Garvin, Bacon had a complete vision for Philadelphia. He strongly favored allowing pedestrians easy access to move about the city His ideas were aligned with his complete vision for Philadelphia. Bacon believed he established the vision and it was up to the city leaders and developers to create the steps towards his vision, Bacon would lead the fight to have his vision presented and hopefully emerge. Bacon viewed his role as an advocate for his vision.

he author concurs that Bacon saw himself primarily as ad advocate whose role it was to promote his plans. Bacon did not believe that cities develop on a laissez faire basis but that they are shaped by people’s ideas are influences.

In the 1960s, it was a dominate idea that urban development was driven by large projects with Federal government funding. Circa 1969, only New York City had receive ore Federal urban development funds than did Philadelphia.

Philadelphia was unique in using slum clearance funds to preserve some structures while tearing down others. Bacon fought for historic preservation and for affordable housing. The City Planning Commission sought advice from community groups.

Bacon guided private sector development. Bacon and other public leaders encouraged the Pennsylvania Railroad to develop its own land into office space known as Penn Center. Bacon and others encouraged a private developer James Rouse to create an urban shopping mall known as the Gallery at Market East.

Bacon’s first job was working for architect Henry K. Murphy. whose designs blended Chinese and American styles. Bacon followed the writings of Lewis Mumford and Catherine Bauer who argued that physical housing styles could alleviate social ills. Bacon was a major designer of a city planning show in 1947 , the Better Philadelphia Exhibition. The exhibit showed some goals of the city’s then growing reform movement.

At age 38, Bacon became Director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. He was fortunate that soon after he took the job, the Federal government provided redevelopment funds. Further, the political reform movement elected Mayors Joseph Clark and Richard Dilworth who moved the city government form passive machine politics to more active city reforms. Bacon served as Planning Commission Director form 1949 to 1970. He then worked for a private developer where he noted “The true planners of the city today are in private enterprise.”

During Bacon’s tenure as Planning Director, Robert Moses in New York and Edward Logue in Boston were known for their redevelopment efforts. Moses and Logue were in positions directing the projects. Bacon was a planner and not in charge of creating any public projects. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission is mostly an advisory body. William Rafsky oversaw many Philadelphia development projects. Rafsky had the power yet Bacon gained more public attention.

Few of Bacon’s ideas were original ideas. Most were projects suggested decades prior. Bacon took the ideas he supported, redid them, and campaigned for them. It is noted many decision makers are reluctant at first to support new ideas. Ideas required promotion to gain acceptance. Bacon promoted his favored proposals. Many of Bacon’s efforts led to their being implemented.

Bacon would compromise so long as his original goals were met. This at times led to some contradictions as his goal of reducing vehicle traffic was not served by his support of expressways.

Bacon held to some previous ideals while resisting then emerging planning concepts of social planning and neighborhood consensus planning. He concentrated on physical planning while emerging planners sought to create antipoverty programs. Bacon defended government actions while Jane Jacobs, Paul Davidoff, and Herbert Gans urged neighborhoods to resist government actions.

Bacon studied architecture at Cornell. His thesis included creating a plaza beside the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, an idea he carried forth later in life. He also proposed removing the Pennsylvania Railroad’s viaduct. He worked for an architect in China and then in Wallingord, Pa. Bacon received a full scholarship to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Arts. It was taught by Ellel Saarinen at Cranbook that architecture can assist in solving social problems. Bacon agreed that “the architect has social responsibility.”

Bacon worked on a traffic study in Flint, Michigan He asked the public for information on how they drove about the city. He was criticized as this method was then unorthodox. He received responses from about given the card surveys. Bacon’s used this input to urge for investment in Flint’s downtown in order for the downtown for survive. Bacon would have similar ideas while support Philadelphia’s downtown investments. His conclusion that a proposed bridge should be built at a location different from where a City Commissioner wanted it. Bacon learned a lesson in politics as city leaders then dissolved Bacon’s planning group.

Flint’s real estate industry was supportive of Flint’s Republican City Commissioners. The industry had built substandard housing for Flint workers, with about one eighth lacking toilets and about a third lacking baths. The industry was opposed to public housing that would be of better quality. Bacon worked on creating public housing. He sought allies in the Chamber of Commerce, labor groups, church groups. etc. He shows photographs of the substandard housing at meetings. Bacon and others successfully fought to create the Flint Housing Commission, which was a step towards obtaining Federal housing funds. Bacon and others sought $10 million of Federal funds for Flint. Flint received $3.5 million. A referendum to build affordable housing was opposed by real estate and business groups. The referendum lost by a 2 to 1 margin with under 10% voter turnout. Bacon was out of a job yet learned “that city planning is a combination of social input as well as design.”

In 1940, Bacon published an article recommending cities take ownership of abandoned property that wasn’t paying taxes, then rehabilitate the property, and sell it to developers on the condition that it meet “sound neighborhood planning principles.” Bacon became Director of the Philadelphia Housing Association, a non-profit advocacy group. Bacon learned Philadelphia, like Flint, needed affordable housing and required urban renewal and it did not have an updated City Planning Commission.

The Philadelphia Planning Board began in 1912 yet dissolve in 1919 when the City Planning Commission and Zoning Commission were created. The Zoning Commission began in 1919 but the City Planning Commission did not begin functioning until 1929. The City Planning Commission had no professional staff, no budget, and thus had little if any influence. The Commission created a 50 year plan.

Philadelphia was nearly bankrupt in 1940. One third of the city lights were out and water quality was poor.

A civic reform group, the City Policy Committee, formed in 1940. Walter Phillips was its President and Bacon was Vice President, Bacon fought to have city planning with funding along with a professional staff, as a part of the Committee’s efforts.

The American Society of Planning Director determined in 1941 that Philadelphia was the only big city with ineffective planning. Mayor Robert Lamberton even turned down $19 million in Federal funds for low income housing. City Council approved there being a Planning Commission for long term planning and six year spending plans on special projects, Lamberton died before approving this proposal. The new Mayor, Bernard Samuel, saw planning as a potential thorn in his abilities to govern. He feared it would interrupt the goals of the Republican political machine, The City Policy Committee continued fighting for a City Planning Commission and obtained support for the proposal from 55 organizations. Mayor Samuel and City Councnil then approved the bill and allowed $40,000 for its first year. Edward Hopkinson, a business leader, was named Chairman.

A private group, the Citizens’ Council on City Planning, was established to link grassroots groups with the Planning Commission. Phillips was the Council’s President and Bacon its Secretary. Ironically, when Bacon later worked for the Planning Commission, he sometimes clashed with this group.

The City Planning Commission worked on a bid for the United Nations to locate in Philadelphia, but lost to New York. It also worked on plans for new highways and it approval areas for redevelopment.

Bacon served in the Navy in World War II. In October 1946 he was hired as a Senior Land Planner with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. A newspaper poll found only 10% knew what the City Planning Commission did. Bacon worked on an exhibition to inform the public about the Commission. The result was the Better Philadelphia Exhibition held in 1947 at a $300,000 cost that had 385,000 guests. 68% attendees surveyed responded positively regarding the exhibit.

Bacon became Land Planning Division Chief in 1946. The Planning Director Raymond Leonard died. His position was not replaced for awhile until Bacon was promoted to the position. The Commission then had 51 employees in three divisions, namely Land Planning, Projects, and Planning Analysis.

A grand jury uncovered city government corruption. The Americans for Democratic Action, led by Richard Dilworth and Joseph Clark, successfully fought o change city governance through reforming the City Charter and allowing Home Rule. Bacon was among those involved in writing the new City Charter. The Planning Commission continued as an independent agency that advised the Mayor and City Council. Clark was then elected Mayor.

Philadelphia had the third highest Black population in the U.S. in 1950 at 380,000. Over a third of Philadelphia Blacks lived in substandard housing, according to Census figures.

The Housing and Redevelopment Assistance Law became Pennsylvania law in 1949. 20% of $150 million statewide was allocated to Philadelphia. Under this law, the City Planning Commission first determined where blight existed. The Redevelopment Authority would find private developers and oversee the removal of homes and relocation of those displaced. Bill Rafsky was named Hosing Coordinator by Mayor Clark. Rafsky was the contact person for developers. Bacon called Rafsky his “enemy”. Bacon sought to improve neighborhoods through selective destruction of buildings. Bacon also sought citizen participation in create redevelopment plans Citizen planning committees were created,

The City Planning Committee designated 10 redevelopment areas in 1948.This increased to 27 by 1960. Philadelphia was the first city to have a Federal Housing Act project ready for Federal government loans and grants. 778 families were displaced. 203 low rent homes were constructed.

A redevelopment project in Mill Creek used an architectural team led by Louis Kahn. A new streets system was incorporated into multiple housing types, parks, commercial areas, and pedestrian green ways. The project was ruined by an underground collapse that killed three and displaced 500.

3,000 acres with 19,000 people in Eastwick were developed. Mixed housing was created The subway was extended to reach Eastwick. 2,379 families were displaced. Eastwick was envisioned as a mixed race neighborhood yet few middle class whites moved in. Redevelopment in places such as Eastwick and Yorktown attracted many middle class Blacks.

Bacon argued for scattered public housing units around the city instead of placing many units near each other.

Many public housing units were in high rise towers. Philadelphia is a city known for its row houses. Bacon argued for developments with less density.

The Federal 1954 Housing Act passed under a Republican controlled Congress and a Republican President. It reduced funds for public housing nationally from 58,000 units in 1952 to 24,000 units in 1964. Funds were increased for highways.

Public housing was opposed by some angry whites who did not want Blacks brought into or near their neighborhoods.

The Far Northeast used affordable row houses, preserved a stream, and despite many variances that were granted that upset Bacon’s vision, it did create a stable middle class community with private development.

Elevated commuter train tracks divided the west side of center city. The Planning Commission could not plan for private property. Bacon encouraged the American Institute of Architects to make recommendations. Bacon attended these meetings. Penn Center was not what Bacon envisioned yet it was a positive outcome using private sector investment.

Bacon supported a height limit ordinance. Until then there has been no push to build tall buildings. Developers opposed the limits and they were not enacted.

Bacon found much success in the Society Hill project. Much of his vision carried forward with private sector funding and general private sector cooperation with government plans. Mayor Dilworth supported the project.

Bacon’s Market East plan helped Philadelphia to not lose substantial business to suburbs.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation was a prime moves in deciding highway funding allocation. Bacon was not a big fan of highways, Bacon wanted mass transit and pedestrian traffic to have larger roles. During Bacon’s time with the Planning Commission, the Schuykill, Roosevelt Boulevard, Vine Street, an Delaware Expressways were built. A proposed Crosstown Expressed was sopped from being built.

Bacon favored bringing suburban residents to the downtown area with highways. He favored a proposal that Planning Director Robert Mitchell made in the 1930s of a ring of parking garages along the downtown’s edges.

The Schuylkill Expressway did not require destroying residential areas yet it was controversial for going through Fairmount Park. The Roosevelt Extension was controversial as it was proposed to dislocate 1,500 people. The project was scaled back from 6 to 4 lanes and displaced about 500. Bacon criticized that neighborhood involvement in the project planning was very limited. Bacon had reservations about the Delaware Expressway. He proposed it be placed next to Delaware Avenue instead of being an elevated highway.

Bacon sought to create a conference about a future without cars and without petroleum based transit. He foresaw people would use electric mass transit and bicycles. The conference never materialized under Bacon.

Bill Rafsky arranged for an evaluation of the Philadelphia Planning Commission in 1954. It was concluded staff spent too much time on special projets and not enough on comprehensive planning. he next year, Bacon directed working on a master plan for Philadelphia. A Comprehensive Plan was published i 1960.

Bacon was critical that suburban residents lacked exposure to cultural institutions and interactions with different types of people.

Declining Federal funds diminished City Planning efforts nationwide. Political scandals diminished the role of Philadelphia public officials. Bacon’s Deputy Development Coordinator Paul Winberg criticized that Bacon was not focused enough on poor and middle class residents. Some press commentary claimed Bacon was more involved in physical planning than on social planning. At public hearings, the City Planning Commission was often criticized for its lack of community input.

District Attorney Arlen Specter believed Bacon showed preferential treatment towards an underground parking garage owner who build a ramp Bacon supported The city made a payment for the ramp. Specter called it a “giveaway” and Bacon called it “legitimate compensation”. Bacon was called before a grand jury. Bacon was not charged. Yet all these negative events led Bacon to decide to retire in 1970.

The City Planning Commission was less effective after Bacon left.

Bacon later argued against allowing buildings taller than City Hall be built. His side lost the argument as the buildings were approved.


Post a Comment

<< Home