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Drama at the Philadelphia Inquirer garners national attention

The ouster of editor William K. Marimow from the Philadelphia Inquirer precipitated a week of drama at the local institution -- publications across the country took notice. From the New York Times:

But the promise of an ownership group with deep pockets and an agenda driven by civic purpose collapsed in an unsightly heap last week. Mr. Marimow was fired, and a raucous war among the owners broke out into full view. Two of them, Lewis Katz, the former owner of the New Jersey Nets, and H. F. Lenfest, a former cable TV mogul, filed suit against the newspaper, as well as its publisher, Robert J. Hall, claiming that Mr. Marimow’s firing was a breach of contract. They and Mr. Marimow claim he was dismissed at the behest of their partner George E. Norcross III, a businessman and power broker in Democratic politics, as part of a pattern of interference.

While the battle may seem like one more bit of denouement for an industry on the wane, it is less a business story than a fight for the soul of not just an institution, but of a city as well. Philadelphia deserves better.


Philadelpha Magazine covered an ensueing change.org petition.

Original source: The New York Times; Philadelphia Magazine

Philly company institutes 'zmail' policy to keep workers off the clock

Vynamic, a Philadelphia-based health care IT company, has instituted "zmail," a system that makes work email off-limits to employees on nights and weekends. Could this be the future of work-life balance?

The policy, which the company dubs "zmail," began after employees complained about stress in the annual engagement survey. Constant email contact played a role in that. Calista describes it this way: "You get an email. You're trying to sleep. You happen to look at it right as you fall asleep, and next thing you know you're up thinking about it. All it takes is that one." And so the policy began: "Let it wait until the morning."

The roll-out required some thought. Managers had to go first. After a month, they evaluated it, and "everyone became a believer in it," says Calista. So the email blackout zone went into the employee handbook. "We're not going to fire somebody if they violate it," he says. But it's pretty effectively self-policed.


Original source: Fast Company
Read the complete story here.

Inventing the Future: Penn's new Singh Center for Nanotechnology pushes the boundaries

Hidden City takes a deep dive into Penn's innovative new nanotech center. The architecture of the Singh Center for Nanotechnology inspires, while also showcasing a slate of high-tech bells and whistles. It was especially important to Penn that the building be integrated into the urban fabric, while also protecting intensely delicate work.

Penn officials wrestled with the project’s site, on the 3200 block of Walnut Street. They wanted the facility to be centrally located, close to scientists in the School of Arts and Sciences (co-developer and operator of the Center), biomedical researchers and engineers (at Penn and Drexel), and innovating firms at the Science Center. With only a handful of similar facilities on the east coast, Penn’s competitive advantage would be the city itself. “We planned to bring Center City to our door and create an urban context for the center,” says Glandt.

But nanotechnology research requires almost complete isolation. Even the slightest air current or vibration can distort the cellular or sub-cellular matter under the microscope. Nanotechnology fabrication requires a still more sanitized environment: the removal of all UV light waves. Fabricators use UV light to etch the strands of atoms and molecules.


Read the complete story here.
Original source: Hidden City

The University City Science Center has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia through the "Inventing the Future" series.
 

Move doc 'Let the Fire Burn' earns rave reviews

A new film detailing the Move bombing debacle -- and the surrounding circumstances that existed in 1985 in Philadelphia -- garners high praise. The New York Times gave the documentary a starred review.

Like an extended flashback or a prolonged bad dream, the film draws us into the story of Move, a separatist black organization and commune led by John Africa, which entered a cycle of belligerent resistance to authority, and suppression by the police, in the mid-1970s. Part of the achievement of the film’s director, Jason Osder, and its editor, Nels Bangerter, lies in orchestrating dual gripping dramas in constant dialogue, using footage from before, during and after the standoff.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete review here.

Inventing the Future: Monell scientists help analyze 'new baby smell'

The Monell Chemical Senses Center -- profiled here in Flying Kite -- was instrumental in a study that examined the power of "new baby smell."

Researchers asked 30 women -- 15 who had recently given birth, and 15 who had never given birth -- to identify mystery scents while their brain activity was monitored. When given the smell of newborns taken from pajamas, the women all showed activity in the same dopamine pathways that light up after ingesting cocaine, enjoying food, or other reward-inducing behavior...

Johan Lundström, a biologist with the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and a study author, believes that women’s brains are hardwired this way to provide an evolutionary incentive. "We think that this is part of a mechanism to focus the mother’s attention toward the baby," he said. "When you interact with the baby, you feel rewarded." A similar process may apply to men as well, Dr. Lundström said, though he lacks the data to prove it.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here

The University City Science Center has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia through the "Inventing the Future" series.


Amazing pictures of the abandoned Spring Garden subway stop

The Atlantic Cities highlighted the local blog Streets Dept and their images of the abandoned Spring Garden subway station. The space is now covered with street art. Check out the amazing pictures. 

Riders can still get a glimpse of the old station, dimly lit and covered in graffiti, as their trains pass between Fairmount and Chinatown stations. Recently, local photographers Austin Hodges and Meredith Edlow joined Conrad Benner (who runs Philadelphia blog Streets Dept) to check out the former station as well as the portion of neighboring Fairmount station no longer in use.
 
Proclaimed by Benner on his site as a "mecca for graffiti artists and urban explorers alike," the former station was easy to find since it remains visible for SEPTA riders. "We had to walk on the tracks past a station being used," says Hodges. "Other than that it was fine."

Original source: The Atlantic Cities
Read the complete story here



Parsing the data on how people use The Porch at 30th Street Station

The Porch already feels like a local fixture after only a couple years in existence. University City District, lovers of data, have made an effort to examine how exactly people use the space -- there are infographics!

"But there are choices," says Seth Budick, the policy and research manager for the University City District. "There are a lot of choices people can make. They can decide to sit in the sun or in the shade, they can decide to sit on any one of three or four different seating elements, they can decide how to move through the space. And that’s really what we’re looking at, that’s the interesting question about a lot of urban design: What factors in the environment impact people's choices?"

Here's one example of what they learned:

Noise levels measured closer to busy Market Street were 10 times louder than those along Little Market Street immediately adjacent to the station – a partial explanation for why people tended not to linger there. The louder noise (70-75 decibels) was akin to a vacuum cleaner in your living room, the quieter sound (60 decibels) more like a conversation at close range... Instead, UCD is learning that a farmer's market doesn't quite work here, but a food truck rally does. Bistro chairs are nice, but Luxembourg chairs are even better. Also, no wants to relax right in the middle of a pedestrian highway.

Original source: The Atlantic Cities
Read the whole story and check out all the infographics here.
 
 

Philadelphia Land Bank effort could serve as a national model

Philadelphia's effort to consolidate vacant properties into a land bank could serve as a national model for cities.

If the City Council votes this fall, as expected, to establish the land bank, Philadelphia will join Syracuse, Macon, Ga., and a number of other cities that have adopted plans like it to encourage buyers who are committed to making improvements, instead of speculators, to acquire tax-delinquent properties...

Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, like those of some other older cities, are pockmarked with derelict buildings and overgrown lots that have been abandoned because of foreclosure, unemployment or the decline of manufacturing. The vacant properties cost the city millions of dollars to maintain, and they reduce the tax revenue that could come with occupancy. About 75 percent are privately owned, officials say, and many of those are tax delinquent.

If Philadelphia’s proposed land bank succeeds, its scope will become an example for other cities, like Detroit and New Orleans, that are struggling with large numbers of vacant properties and multiple city agencies that are responsible for them, said Frank Alexander, a professor of real estate law at Emory University and an author of many land-bank laws in other cities.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.


Manufacturing output in the region was up in September

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, manufacturing in the region was up in September -- firms reported a pickup in new orders, shipments and hiring.

The survey’s broadest measure of manufacturing conditions, the diffusion index of current activity, increased from 9.3 in August to 22.3 this month (see Chart). The index has now been positive for four consecutive months and is at its highest reading since March 2011. The percentage of firms reporting increased activity this month (36 percent) was greater than the percentage reporting decreased activity (14 percent).

The demand for manufactured goods, as measured by the current new orders index, increased 16 points, to 21.2. Shipments rebounded from last month: The current shipments index increased 22 points. The diffusion indexes also suggest that, on balance, inventories and deliveries were near steady this month, while unfilled orders increased slightly.

Labor market indicators showed improvement this month. The current employment index increased 7 points, to 10.3, its highest reading since April of last year. The percentage of firms reporting increases in employment (21 percent) exceeded the percentage reporting decreases (10 percent). Firms also reported a longer average workweek compared with last month, and the index increased 15 points, to 12.2.


Via The New York Times
Original Source: PhiladelphiaFed.org
Read the complete report here.

Philadelphia's cultural boom has led to expensive upkeep

Philadelphia spent time, money and effort transforming downtown into a hub for culture and the arts, complete with stunning institutions. All those assets require upkeep -- hence the city's next challenge.

Thanks to the arts, Philadelphia feels different today. But now that the building boom of new facilities is over, the question is whether the city and its benefactors can muster the support to become savior to the arts.

With operating costs up and philanthropy and ticket sales failing to keep pace, stress cracks are appearing in institutions all over town. Some groups, saddled with debt payments, are adjusting offerings to become more commercial. Others have declared bankruptcy or are contemplating it.


Original source: The Philadelphia Inquirer
Read the complete story here.

Adam Erace reps Philly's restaurant renaissance in the Guardian

Local food critic Adam Erace wrote about Philadelphia's ascendent food scene in The Guardian -- and gave some credit to the latest wave of non-native chefs.

Formerly the chef of the trendsetting Torrisi Italian Specialties in Manhattan, [Eli] Kulp is part of a recent wave of acclaimed chefs who've moved from New York to start a new life in the city that has long lived in the Big Apple's shadow. His fellow expats can be found captaining Philly's hottest restaurantsSerpico, former Momofuku chief Peter Serpico's solo smash, and Vernick Food + Drink, a two-storey dining room in ritzy Rittenhouse Square from Gregory Vernick, a veteran of Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

The new cooks on the block are discovering what homegrown chefs such as Marc Vetri, authority on Italian cooking and owner of five restaurants, including Pizzeria Vetri have known for a long time: Philly's easy-going pace, small-town vibe and affordability make it a great place to live – and eat. Immigrants, whether from New York or much further afield, have always been the reason for this.


Original source: The Guardian
Read the complete story here.

Globe & Mail details Philly food scene

Canada's top paper took a trip to Philadelphia and had great things to say about our local eats. (Though if we never hear the phrase "more than cheesesteaks" again it will be too soon.)

But it’s at Reading Terminal Market, a city institution since 1892, that I find perhaps the finest innovation of all. I’ve been told there’s a vegetarian cheesesteak to be found, and while my low expectations feature some sort of faux meat product (or maybe cheese on bread if I’m lucky), I’m game to seek it out. An inquiry at the front desk leads nowhere, so I follow my companion to "regular" cheesesteak seller By George. There, a small sign promotes a "veggie steak": roasted peppers, mushrooms, broccoli rabe, onions, tomato, spinach and cheese on a sesame-seed bun. After a hunt for a table – it’s lunchtime on a weekday – I open the foil wrapper and take a bite. This sandwich is no half-hearted concession to the meatless crowd: The vegetables are flavourful and warm, the provolone perfectly melted, the bread chewy yet yielding. Turns out, even the humble cheesesteak is up for improvements. I think the founding fathers would be proud.

Original Source: The Globe & Mail
Read the full story here.

Mighty Writers moves into Hawthorne Hall on Lancaster Avenue

Curbed Philly reports on an exciting development: Mighty Writers is moving into Hawthorne Hall on Lancaster Avenue.

While Hawthorne Hall patiently awaits its anchor tenant, a surge of youthful creativity is bursting forth just a few doors down.

On the western edge of the building cluster is the former home of Truelight Missionary Baptist Church, where its once-abandoned pews have been replaced with collaborative workspaces, a small performance area, and the seasoned influential voice of Annette John-Hall, Director of Mighty Writers West Philadelphia campus at 3861 Lancaster Avenue.

Founded in 2009 by former Philadelphia Weekly editor Tim Whitaker, Mighty Writers is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that offers SAT prep courses, homework help, mentorships, and writing workshops to Philadelphia students between the ages of 7-17. The volunteer-rich organization has been a tremendous benefactor of academic growth in the wake of massive budget cuts to Philadelphia schools in recent years.


Original source: Curbed Philly
Read the complete story here.

Resourceful Levittown drama program earns high praise

Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown has one of the country's strongest drama programs. It was the subject of a lengthy profile in the New York Times.

[Drama director Lou] Volpe is one of those people who create astonishing success in the most unlikely of settings. Generations of his students heard him say, “If all we had was a bare stage with one light bulb, we could still do theater.” And the thing is, they believed him.

As the community was going to pieces, Volpe built Truman’s drama program into one of the best in America, and the school itself into something like a de facto high school for the performing arts. He and his assistant director, a student of his in the early ’90s, taught nothing but theater — three levels of it, plus musical theater. A third teacher, also a former student, taught theater to ninth graders....

Even though he didn’t speak in the idiom of the movement, much of what I observed in Volpe’s theater program could fit comfortably within the muscular language of education reform — with its emphasis on problem solving, standards, "racing to the top" and accountability. Theater is part of the "arts," an airy term, but the time his students spent with him was actually the least theoretical part of their day. With each production, they set an incredibly high goal and went about building something.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

The Atlantic Cities asks why water infrastructure is so neglected; Philly is an exception

Water infrastructure has been neglected nationally in recent years; Philadelphia, with its Green City, Clean Waters initiative, is actually an exception.

On its 2013 report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. water infrastructure a D. Even the nation’s best water systems are ancient -- we have over 240,000 water main breaks each year -- and unprepared for a mix of current challenges that includes climate change, tightening budgets, growing urban populations, and pharmaceutical contaminants. This spring, after record-setting rains, Detroit had no choice but to pour several hundred million gallons of raw sewage into the Great Lakes...

Occasionally, the political stars align. In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter has turned a green infrastructure initiative designed to reduce combined sewer overflow -- the same phenomenon that has plagued Detroit -- into a quality-of-life issue and one of his signature achievements


Original source: The Atlantic Cities
Read the complete story here.
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