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Keys to the dinosaurs' extinction in South Jersey?

Experts from Rowan University are digging into a treasure trove of fossils behind a South Jersey shopping center.

Behind a Lowe’s home improvement store here, scientists are methodically scraping and sifting through a quarry pit that may contain unique insights to the mass extinction that eliminated the dinosaurs.

Back then, about 66 million years ago, the oceans were higher, and this part of southern New Jersey was a shallow sea, 10 to 15 miles offshore from an ancient mountain range that rose from the water. Today’s quarry pit was once the sea bottom, and one particular layer about 40 feet beneath the surface contains a bounty of fossils.

Kenneth J. Lacovara, a professor of paleontology and geology at nearby Rowan University, calls the layer a “mass death assemblage.” He believes it may be the only known collection of animal remains that dates from the mass extinction itself.

But they are not the only fossil hunters here.

Once a year for the past four years, the quarry has been opened to the public, and citizen paleontologists have come in droves — about 1,500 for the most recent community event last fall...

The dating of the fossil layer puts their deaths tantalizingly close in time to the impact of a meteor off what is now the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Most paleontologists think that the climatic cataclysm that followed killed three-quarters of the species living on Earth — and all of the dinosaurs except those that evolved into birds.

Original source: The New York Times
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Philadelphia welcomes a new mayor

On January 4, Jim Kenney was sworn in as the 99th mayor of Philadelphia.

"Government functions properly when it is accessible and accountable to the people it serves," he said in a relatively short speech that touched on broad themes of service, education and job creation.

He also briefly addressed the charged issue of police-citizen relations, saying two things must be kept in mind.

"Black lives do matter," he said, to applause - and then added that it also must be remembered that most police officers are decent, honest, hard-working civil servants.

"The vision that will guide my administration is that city government should first and foremost deliver efficient, effective services to all Philadelphians; regardless if they live in the Northeast or Southwest; if they're a new transplant or if their family has lived here for generations," he said.

"That may sound like a 'back to basics' approach. But, in reality, it is as large and as difficult a goal as has ever been announced on this stage."

"To achieve this vision," Kenney said, "we will all have to work together. Government simply cannot do it alone - we need our businesses, our non-profits, our universities and everyday Philadelphians to come together and row in the same direction."

Original source: The Philadelphia Inquirer
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Philadelphia Eagles' long snapper used magic to overcome tragedy

Jon Dorenbos experienced unbelievable tragedy at a young age, and a love of magic helped pull him out. He's been with the Birds for 13 years. 

Soon after Jon Dorenbos’s mother was murdered by his father, he moved in with his aunt and returned to his hometown for a Little League all-star game where he witnessed his first magic show. Today, Dorenbos, the Philadelphia Eagles’ long snapper, says that 30-minute experience helped turn around his life...

After Alan Dorenbos was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to more than 13 years in prison, Jon and Kristina (who also have an older brother) moved to Garden Grove, Calif., to live with an aunt, Susan Hindman, who was Kathy Dorenbos’s younger sister.

Hindman, who was 32 and single, made sure her niece and nephew were active. Jon won the lead role as Charlie Brown in a community theater production, remained involved in sports and dreamed of playing baseball at Pepperdine University. But it was magic that won his heart...

For the past few years, he has toured the country during each off-season performing “The Jon Dorenbos Experience,” a small-audience show he created for corporate clients. He mostly does card tricks, but he says his main goal is to entertain.

“I don’t need you to think I’m some god figure,” Dorenbos said. “I’m not trying to sell you on the spirits of anything. It’s cool. It’s fun. Let’s have a good time, let’s laugh, let’s have some energy and let’s call it a day.”

Original source: The New York Times
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Land Bank simplifies the process for developing blighted properties

The New York Times delves into the tough situation Philadelphia faces when dealing with vacant and blighted properties -- the new Land Bank is hoping to help.

Abandoned properties, numbering an estimated 32,000 owned by both private and public sectors citywide, may be tempting targets for developers during a current real estate boom in some areas of Philadelphia. But potential buyers have often been deterred by delinquent taxes or by having to locate absent owners or determine that the owners are deceased.

Developers and city officials hope that the Philadelphia Land Bank, a recently created city program, will help sift through the labyrinth of records on vacant and abandoned lots like the Eubanks property and make them available for sale and redevelopment.

But some neighborhood residents and activists worry that developers’ efforts will lead to higher taxes and gentrification, forcing out longtime homeowners.

On Dec. 9, Philadelphia’s mayor, Michael A. Nutter, announced the transfer of deeds for 150 properties owned by the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation, a city agency, to the Land Bank. The transfer represented the first set of buildings or lots to be taken over by the new entity.

A further 1,135 city-owned properties are to be transferred to the Land Bank by the end of 2015, beginning a process that could shift about 8,500 publicly owned vacant properties from a number of city agencies to a single entity that would become a “one-stop shop” for developers...

The Land Bank will determine whether developers’ plans are appropriate to local needs such as more affordable units in neighborhoods dominated by market-rate housing, or more market-rate development in a neighborhood that already has a good stock of subsidized properties, said Beth McConnell, policy director for the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, which advocates for the Land Bank.

Ms. McConnell said the Land Bank had the potential to clear urban blight and return land to productive use in a way that conforms with neighborhood and citywide plans.

Original source: The New York Times
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Philly makes Fodor's 'Go List 2016'

Philadelphia keeps reeling in the travel accolades, including a spot on this travel company's list of places to go in 2016.

Philadelphia may be one of the oldest cities in the country—UNESCO recently named it the first World Heritage City in the United States—but the wave of new eateries popping up in seemingly every neighborhood is evidence of both a food renaissance and cultural revival in the city. Formerly under-the-radar areas like Fishtown and Northern Liberties have experienced an immense revitalization with the arrival of many new breweries and beer gardens, turning these once-quiet neighborhoods into hip nightlife and cuisine hubs. Meanwhile, Philadelphia continues its rising trend of development with the stunning new Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, as well as the soaring Comcast Innovation and Technology Center skyscraper that will house the much-buzzed-about new Four Seasons Hotel (expected to open in 2018). And, of course, the Democratic National Convention, taking place in Philadelphia in 2016, will usher in a wave of tourists and an even greater renewal of interest in this historic city.

Original source: Fodor's
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New York Times details four amazing art shows in Philly

It's an embarrassment of riches for Philadelphia art fans this season -- The New York Times profiles four shows at four local institutions. 

Rarely is it a better time than now for a trip to Philadelphia, where four of the city’s major art institutions are presenting exceptionally rewarding shows, each distinctively its own thing. ThePennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts offers a comprehensive retrospective of the career of Norman Lewis, the first such exhibition to be devoted to this African-American Modernist painter and one that invites viewers to consider Mr. Lewis’s place in the history of the country’s art. Dazzling the eyes and intriguing the mind, thePhiladelphia Museum of Art presents two centuries’ worth of American still-life paintings and sculptures, from John James Audubon’s images of birds and mammals to Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes. The Barnes Foundation has an astounding presentation of extravagantly ornamental antique works of wrought iron from a French museum, including door knockers with demonic faces and coffee grinders that look as if dreamed up by a steampunk artist. And the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania has a solo show of delightfully offbeat works by the self-taught New York artist Christopher Knowles.

Original source: The New York Times
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Spirit Airlines expands its offerings to and from Philadelphia

The budget airline will add new flights in and out of Philadelphia International Airport. 

Spirit Airlines  is expanding in Philadelphia, adding new nonstop routes to Detroit and Fort Lauderdale.  Once the flights begin on April 29, Spirit will fly to eight destinations nonstop from Philadelphia.

"We are excited to bring more low fare choices to more places for our customers," Mark Kopczak, Spirit’s Vice President of Network Planning, says in a statement. "Spirit continues to make flying more affordable in Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, and Philadelphia, enabling customers to visit places they previously couldn't afford."

Spirit will fly one daily round-trip flight on both routes, but it will face direct competition.

Original source: USA Today
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Local swimmer named Sports Illustrated's 'SportsKid of the Year'

Reece Whitley, a swimmer from William Penn Charter, earned the top honor in Sports Illustrated.

Reece had begun playing competitive basketball when he was seven — around the same time he began T-ball and swimming — and he was, of course, a post player. A self-described “solid mid-range shooter,” Reece could dunk on a hoop by the time he was 13, though he never dunked in a game.

While he still loves basketball, Reece, now 15 and 6' 8", is no longer on a team. But the sophomore at William Penn Charter School has won a junior national championship and holds five individual national age-group records in the pool, where he has become one of the top young swimmers in the country. His times in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke last year qualified him to compete at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials this June in Omaha, Nebraska. He’s also become a role model for young swimmers in his community and wherever he travels. “I’ve had so much fun watching him grow, continue to love the sport, and advocate for the sport,” says Crystal Keelan, the head coach at Penn Charter Aquatic Club (PCAC). “As he’s maturing, he’s wanting to spread the word about swimming and making connections with people of all ages.”

Original source: Sports Illustrated
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Shining a light on Stargazy, South Philly's remarkable new pie and mash shop

Local food writer Drew Lazor goes deep on Stargazy, the British-style pie shop that recently opened on East Passyunk Avenue.

But what really sets Stargazy apart is the pie and mash itself, a simple but incredibly satisfying dish that has yet to have its moment here in the States. Understanding the appeal of this beloved blue-collar meal, Jacobson and others will tell you, is key to understanding the DNA of London’s working class. It’s that city’s original fast food — and if the early reaction to Stargazy is any indication, Americans are picking up on it quick.

Jacobson, who holds dual U.K./U.S. citizenship, originally crossed the pond for work ten years ago and hasn’t left. He’s cooked in a number of restaurants around the country, most notably a string of small, critically acclaimed, chef-driven restaurants in the Philadelphia area. But when it finally came time to go all in on his own place, Jacobson knew it was an opportunity to introduce something completely different. That something: an American approximation of the “proper” pie and mash shops of his childhood.

While not an everyday thing, Jacobson has vivid memories of visiting these tidy canteen-style shops with his father, who himself was raised on the stuff in London’s East End. The single-plate combination of a flaky-cased beef pie, mashed potato, electric-green parsley liquor and a right scoop of eels is the type of comfort food that sticks with you as much as to you.

“It was something I became more nostalgic for after I moved away and couldn’t have it anymore,” says Jacobson, who began poking around to learn how other pie men in the States did it. He quickly came to a realization: “Nationally, I couldn’t find a single shop. I thought, there has to be room for one.” As far as he can tell, Stargazy still holds that distinction a little more than three months in. 

Original source: Food Republic
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The Boss is coming to Philadelphia

Bruce Springsteen has announced a 9-week tour -- and he's making a stop in Philadelphia.

On Friday the 66-year-old icon announced The River Tour with the E Street Band, which starts Jan. 16, 2016, in Pittsburgh.

Springsteen will play 24 dates and wrap the tour on March 17, 2016, at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.

Tickets go on sale Dec. 11. The tour also will visit Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and New York's Madison Square Garden.

Friday's announcement of the tour was made the day he released the four-disc "The Ties That Bind: The River Collection," which includes unreleased songs, the original 1980 "The River" album and more.

Before the tour, Springsteen will perform on "Saturday Night Live" on Dec. 19.

Original source: Associated Press via The New York Times
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The art gallery scene in Philadelphia is struggling

As multiple galleries close, the Philadelphia Inquirer seeks to explain what's going on in the local art world.

Rosenfeld Gallery, Gallery Joe, LGTripp Gallery, Artists' House, and Hooloon Gallery have all closed in Old City. The Vivant Art Gallery closed in October 2014, although it still operates online.

The closing of Rosenfeld marked the end of 40 years in the neighborhood where First Friday has defined the streetscape and embodied Philadelphia's claim as a city of art makers and sellers.

Gallery Joe, still operating privately by appointment, was in Old City for more than 20 years. Ditto Artists' House, which opened in 1991.
Is this just normal churn in a notoriously fickle and difficult business? Or does it herald something more momentous?...

"The traditional gallery setting and process of selling is not successful," said [sculptor Katherine Stanek]. "Patrons are changing. The greatest impact comes from the Internet. People are buying on the Internet. They can find whatever they want. They don't visit galleries.

"At the same time, these art fairs are going up. You can go to Miami or Chicago or New York and find a whole shopping mall of art."

Stanek hopes the prospect of constantly changing aesthetic sensibilities reflected in curated shows, plus the possibility of seeing art made and hung in a living-room-like space, will coax collectors away from their screens and the art malls.

Original source: The Philadelphia Inquirer
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'Creed' earns rave reviews, spotlights revitalized Philadelphia

The latest entry in the 'Rocky' franchise soars, and shows off a fresh Philadelphia. From A.O. Scott's New York Times review:

“Creed” is a dandy piece of entertainment, soothingly old-fashioned and bracingly up-to-date. The punches fly, the music soars (hip-hop along with Ludwig Goransson’s variations on the old Bill Conti brass) and the ground is prepared for “Creed II.” We’ll see how that goes. But for now it is sweet to have this lesson in the importance of fast footwork, brute power and brotherly love.

Reuters, meanwhile, took a look at how the depiction of Philadelphia has evolved since that original Oscar-winning film:

In the final scene of the movie "Creed," aging boxer Rocky Balboa stands atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and surveys the gleaming steel and glass office towers of the city's skyline.

The 72 stone steps look the same as they did when Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone, ran up them in the famous training montage from 1976's Academy Award-winning "Rocky." But the view in "Creed," which opens on Wednesday in theaters nationwide, is clearer and brighter, reflecting Philadelphia's revival.

"In the 1970's, this city was right in middle of half a century of population decline," said Larry Eichel, director of the Pew Charitable Trust's Philadelphia Research Initiative. "In the last eight years, the city has grown by 72,000 people. That's not as much as other cities, but when you put it in the context of a half century of decline, it's an achievement."

Even the city's hipper side gets a shout-out.

In the original film, Rocky hung out in a bar so run down that in one scene his best friend struggles to comb his hair in a bathroom mirror so broken that only a fragment of glass remains.

In the new film, Adonis Johnson, the son of Balboa rival-turned-mentor Apollo Creed, leaves behind a life of privilege to walk in the footsteps of a father he never knew. The title character, played by Michael B. Jordan, hangs out in Johnny Brenda's, a bar whose 2003 renovation as a live music venue marked a turning point in the gritty Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown.

Original source: New York Times, Reuters

Philly's red panda cubs have names!

The Philadelphia Zoo's adorable balls of fur have finally been officially named.

There wasn't much suspense over the recent mayoral race in Philadelphia, but voters waited with baited breath over the results of a more recent election: what should we name the two panda cubs born at the Philadelphia Zoo this summer?

The Zoo announced the winning names on Friday, after tallying over 40,000 votes online. The brother and sister pair will now go by Betsy and Ben, and if you need that reference explained to you, go back to history class.

Betsy and Ben destroyed the competition, garnering 17,000 votes in a field of five name pairs. General Curator Kevin Murphy said he was "thrilled" to see so many people get excited about naming the cubs.

“There were some really great submissions and paring down the list wasn’t easy but we are happy with the end result. This was a great way to build excitement as well as welcome these two important cubs to the Philadelphia Zoo,” he said...

The pandas' birth isn't important just because they're so darn cute. The Philadelphia Zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan, a collaboration between zoos around the world to maintain healthy, genetically diverse populations of threatened or endangered species inside zoos.

Original source: Philly Voice
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Is Philly the saddest sports city in America right now?

Things are certainly woeful for Philly's four major spots teams right now. USA Today's For The Win makes the case that we're currently the saddest sports city in America.

The Philadelphia Eagles got embarrassed on Thanksgiving...and it underscores a sad truth: Philadelphia is the saddest pro sports city in America right now.

Some caveats, before everyone yells at me on Twitter: I am only speaking about pro sports cities, i.e. cities with pro sports. I agree that people in Twin Falls, Idaho have no pro sports, and thus are probably a sadder pro sports city. But for a city like Philadelphia, with a proud pro sports tradition and teams in all the four major sports, things are dire right now...

There are bad situations in other cities, for sure. But Philadelphia deserves better than this. They have proud fans (some of whom may be terrible people) but they’re loyal. These fans care. And they deserve better than what this city is giving them right now.

Fight on Philadelphia, good times are coming soon.

Original source: USA Today
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Five-story mixed-use project proposed for contested Bella Vista lot

A sure-to-be-contested project has been proposed for the long-vacant triangle-shaped lot at 6th and Christian Streets, right at the nexus of Bella Vista and Queen Village. The main issues are height and parking.

Developers are hoping to build a 5-story apartment building with a ground-floor restaurant on a vacant, triangular property...Neighbors spent years trying to get the property dedicated as a park. The property’s owner, Stuart Schlaffman, had previously allowed neighbors to clean up the property and plant flowers and shrubs there, though he says that he’s always intended to sell it. The Redevelopment Authority briefly made moves to try to acquire the property from Schlaffman, who also owns Condom Kingdom on South Street, but those plans were never realized...

Now, two developers really are hoping to build on the property. Dan Rosin and Raphael Licht met with near neighbors to discuss the proposal last week, according to Sam Olshin of Atkin Olshin Schade, the architects for the project. The purpose of that meeting was to get early feedback from the most-affected residents before a formal presentation to Bella Vista Neighborhood Association scheduled for next Tuesday.

Renderings of the proposal show a 57-foot building, rising to 64 feet at the top of a pilothouse, with glassy restaurant space on the ground floor. A commercial kitchen is included in the floor plans. The renderings don’t include a number of residential units, but a zoning appeal says the developers are hoping to build 12 apartments. No parking spaces are included.

Original source: PlanPhilly
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