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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sour Economy Puts Philly Skyscraper on Hold: From The Philadelphia Bulletin

Why Not Philadelphia?
By Thom Nickels, For The Bulletin

Many questions have been asked about the proposed American Commerce Center since it was unveiled by Garrett Miller in the spring of this year. But of them, the most important was the first, pondered by Mr. Miller himself - "Why not Philadelphia?"

He remembers sitting at his desk, leaning back with feet raised, late in the day on Sept. 18 of last year, having just closed on the acquisition of a property owned by Verizon. The 1.5-acre site lies directly adjacent to the Comcast Center, Bell Atlantic Tower, One and Two Logan, and the Mellon Bank Center. It sits squarely in the heart of the Central Business District and from a distance marks the missing piece in the skyline of Philadelphia.

Mr. Miller, born and raised in Philadelphia, graduated from LaSalle High School in 1995 and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in 1999. He is now the president of Hill International Real Estate Partners, the owner of 1800 Arch St. He spent nine years rowing on the Schuylkill River, is a three-time World Rowing Champion, and competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. He spent five years working in the real estate markets of New York City before returning home to Philadelphia. He is also the visionary and driving force behind Philadelphia's most exciting addition to its storied skyline, the 1,510-foot-tall American Commerce Center.

ACC, as many now call it, was born out of Mr. Miller's simple question: "Why not Philadelphia? Why not here? Why not now?" Upon hearing him speak about the project, it quickly becomes clear that it is his vision, passion and intensity that drive this project forward.

The first step was a call to Gene Kohn, a Philadelphia native and fellow graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

"Gene and I first met on a cool fall day in late October of last year on the corner of 18th and Arch," Mr. Miller said. "We walked the site while I explained my vision for Philadelphia and the site to him. He asked me many questions that day, including what I love about Philadelphia."

After an hour wandering the site, the men sat down to develop some ideas.

"I watched intently as Gene's mind went to work," Mr. Miller said. "He sketched out on a napkin a number of design ideas, and amazingly one of them was not too dissimilar from what became the American Commerce Center."

It took five months before anyone got a glimpse of the design.

"Everyone knew that the site had been sold by Verizon to a developer but I don't think anyone, other than Garrett Miller, had been envisioning this" said Tim Conrey of CRESA Partners.

Although he is young - 31 years old - you get the sense that this project is not just about Mr. Miller and his ambitions, but, rather, it is the embodiment of his hopes and dreams for Philadelphia.

"I love this city. I know this city's heart and soul," he said. "Unfortunately, we've been beaten up the past few decades, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly but regardless, we need to come together to break away from this second city mentality, we are known for the underdog mentality embodied in 'Rocky.'

"I love 'Rocky' too, but the gritty city that is portrayed in the films is not the Philadelphia of today. We've grown up and evolved into a great American city, and are now starting to be recognized as such by those looking from the outside in. Philadelphia needs to start taking the same view of itself from within, and start asking the question, 'Why settle for our past when we can embrace such an exciting and dynamic future?'

"Cities are dynamic environments," Mr. Miller continued. "They either improve or they decline. Philadelphia needs to put itself into a position to change for the better. Although we have a great historical past that we should respect, it's important for us to realize and embrace our future. The thing to remember is cities don't stay the same. When you choose to live in an urban environment, you choose a dynamic area that is always evolving."

Mr. Miller is referring to a small but vocal group opposing the ACC, a contingent of mostly older residents of the Kennedy House in Center City.

"We have received broad support for the project. However, there has been some limited opposition from a few local residents," said Peter Kelsen, the attorney for developer Hill International. At a previous City Planning Commission meeting, opponents of ACC wanted the project scrapped or the height of the tower scaled back to traditional and "safe" Philadelphia building heights. Opponents of the project apparently fear that the iconic gleaming tower, which will be one of the tallest buildings in the nation, will block views of the city from their Kennedy House windows, or cast unsightly shadows. Opponents also insist that the building's height is out of scale with the neighborhood.

The proposed skyscraper, however, is not in the Logan Square neighborhood, but smack in the middle of the city's Central Business District.

For Christopher Paliani, a resident of the Logan Square neighborhood at 19th and Arch streets, the notion that the new building is in somebody's neighborhood is far from but valid.

Mr. Paliani created a website in support of the ACC (www.LSN4ACC .com) and says that many Logan Square neighbors think that the project will be a huge benefit to the neighborhood.

"This area is really the central business district, but the opponents are making it seem like it is being stuck in the middle of Fairmount," he said. "This is one of the best places they could put this building. This is the kind of building that people would move to Philadelphia from New York for. This is not a neighborhood issue. It's a regional issue, and having one small group having veto power over something is not something that benefits the entire region."

The idea of quashing a proposed skyscraper project because it would potentially block views from another high-rise ignores the fact that all buildings in cities do just that.

"There was the same kind of opposition when they wanted to build Liberty I and II," Mr. Paliani added. "Detractors said those buildings were too big or too tall and now that they are there they are a spectacular addition to the city."

The fate of the American Commerce Center now lies in the hands of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. There have been two information-only presentations before the Commission by the development and design team in recent months. A formal hearing will be held tomorrow.

The past sessions included presentations and studies by the development team on parking, traffic, loading, shadow studies, economic impact, the architectural design and pedestrian interaction. "The most important part of the design of any building is how it interacts with the pedestrian on the street and it was my charge to the architects to create a podium and retail presence that engages and excites Philadelphia," Mr. Miller said.

The artful "ground scale" design makes the rising tower above look even more fantastic. No matter what school of architecture you subscribe to, this is no vertical glass canyon that "slams" the face of the sidewalk like a footprint left by Frankenstein. The building engages the pedestrian at the street and encourages interaction. The ACC's signature design feature is the "urban room" situated between the 63-story office tower and 26-story hotel.

"While the retail is designed to draw pedestrians to the site, the elevated green park spaces are designed to draw them into it," explained Bill Louie of Kohn Pedersen Fox architects.

A City Planning Commission meeting is a grandstander's paradise. At the last ACC City Planning Commission meeting, opponents voiced their opinion that Philadelphia doesn't need the American Commerce Center because "Philadelphia isn't that kind of city."

But what does "that kind of city" mean?

City Planners heard arguments like this in 1986, when the debate raged over Center City buildings exceeding the Billy Penn's hat height limit. Those debates were loud, passionate and sometimes vicious.

What are the prospects for success?

"It's a beautiful building and an incredible design. It's a piece of art," said Andi Pesacov, the broker in charge of leasing the retail space at the ACC.

Plans are underway for a gourmet food store, two or three restaurants, a boutique cinema, a theater and a high-end gym.
And what about the prospects for the always ubiquitous "anchor tenant?"

"Garrett now has a team of people with the economic capability and the expertise to do a project of this magnitude," Mr. Conrey said, when asked about the tower's prospects for success. "In a small way, you have a perfect storm of a few events happening that can make this a viable project."

That might not bode well with the opponents of the ACC, who want Philadelphia to be aware of its limitations.

The website for the American Commerce Center (www.acctower .com) bluntly states, "This Changes Everything." Truer words may have never been spoken about Philadelphia.

It might also be the perfect answer to Mr. Miller's question.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Germantown Cricket Club; Bradley Manning, and Clergy Sex Abuse: ICON Magazine column, April 2011

In the somewhat rundown landscape of Northwest Philadelphia, the Germantown Cricket Club has seen it all.

Founded in 1854 by a group of ardent cricket players, the Club was designed by architects McKim, Mead & White in 1879. The date is important because some critics consider the firm’s work from 1879 to 1887 to be superior to the design of the firm’s later buildings which copied post 16th Century Italian Renaissance styles and which quickly became the firm’s signature style (Boston’s Trinity church and the Public Library are two fine examples of this). MMK, in fact, produced so many “Renaissance” buildings in Manhattan that architects such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright found it hard to hide their contempt. Wright, for instance, once remarked that the firm’s post 1887 work was “No more beneficial to humanity than the bubonic plague.”

The Germantown Cricket Club follows MMW’s “shingle style” design used in the construction of a number of seashore homes, casinos and villas, such as the Newport Casino Tennis Club in Rhode Island.

In its heyday, MMW boasted so many wealthy clients that some wondered how other architects ever got a chance to earn a living.

The Club’s Manheim building, with its Grand Ballroom, spacious outdoor dining area and manicured lawn, all of it evoking the atmospheric qualities of an Evelyn Waugh novel. Taking a tour of the place recently with (the Lou Kahn-trained) Germantown architect Robert Crouh, made me wonder how this imposing structure-- which was granted National Historic Landmark status in 1987-- managed to survive Germantown’s long devolution.

Germantown in the late 1800s was a moneyed place when visitors entered via a rose garden (where today there’s a parking lot). By 1891, when 7,000 or more spectators converged at the Club to watch the Philadelphia Cricket team beat England’s Lord Hawke’s boys, the Club had become world famous. Exponential growth required the addition of an athletic wing (with lockers, squash courts and an indoor pool and lounge) in 1903-4, also designed by MMW.

The manicured lawn behind the Manheim building, though covered with snow the day of our visit, cannot be walked on without special shoes. It’s easy to imagine a large hated, white-gowned Vanessa Redgrave “floating” over this space in some 19th century epic.

“Cricket is not a sport one associates with Philadelphia. Before the Civil Wart it was really immigrants who played cricket. Prominent Philadelphians didn’t want their kids playing cricket with kids who didn’t speak English,” Couch told me. “After the Civil War it became a sport that the people on the Gilded Age side of things didn’t feel that bad about playing.”

The Ladies clubhouse was torn down in the 1950s when women were incorporated into the Club while the cricket stadium, which held a pool and underground bowling alley, was demolished 45 years earlier.

From the beginning, Couch says, membership was far more open “than you’d expect a Philly club to be…there were Jewish and Spanish members long before such things were common.”

When the Big Bill Tilden sex scandal hit the 1940s, and the star was given a prison sentence, Couch says the Club archives were “purged of anything related to him. “The only time you found something was when you went into the ladies scrapbook and you found a little invitation to a celebrity dinner because Bill Tilden had arrived back on the boat after winning Wimbledon.”

It was Couch, in fact, who “redesigned” Tilden’s legacy when he replaced the picture of Tilden in the Club’s hallway that was removed decades again. “Everything you see in here with Bill Tilden’s name on it, I bought on e-bay,” he said.

As for Big Bill Tilden, he was arrested on Sunset Blvd. in 1946 for having sex with a male teenage prostitute (underage). Not more than a year later he was slapped with a morals charge for propositioning a 16-year old male hitchhiker. Before these scandals he was voted the greatest athlete of the first half of the century by American sportswriters. He died at age 60, alone and in squalor.


Support for PFC military intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, thrown into solitary confinement at the Quantico Marine Brig last May for allegedly releasing a classified video that depict U.S. troops murdering civilians in Iraq, has increased in recent months. For almost a year now the 23-year old soldier has been in solitary confinement, deprived of sunlight, exercise and human contact despite the fact that he has not yet been formally indicted. The situation has even aroused the concern of military psychologists who worry that the torture may create long term psychological injuries. According to Glenn Greenwood of, the young soldier isn’t even allowed to sleep at night but is awakened by guards around the clock, presumably for his own protection.

Bradley’s “crime,” the release of a video showing soldiers from Bronco Company 2nd Battalion 16th Infantry Regiment, shooting civilians from an Apache helicopter in Iraq in which 12 people were killed and two children injured, has garnered worldwide attention. The video, which was released to Wikileaks, has been compared to Daniel Ellsberg’s October 1969 7,000 page Vietnam War secrets document Ellsberg smuggled out of his office and then published as The Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg, who just barely escaped a fate similar to Bradley’s, is now considered an American hero by most. The Pentagon Papers helped not only to end the Vietnam War but to terminate the presidency of Richard Nixon.

Recently 22 additional charges were brought against Bradley by the military, almost assuring further abuse by the young hero’s jailers. The additional charges, as reported by The Times, include ambiguous categories like “Aiding the enemy,” and a recasting of old charges but in a different form.

Some contend that because PFC Bradley is seen wearing a rainbow wristband in an early Facebook photo, that he’s being persecuted because he’s gay. Those who side with the government’s treatment of Bradley insist that the treatment has nothing to do with his sexuality but that the fact that he “betrayed America.”

“If this young soldier had not leaked the video, we would have no evidence of what was clearly a serious abuse on the part of the U.S. military,” stated Reporters Without Borders.


Recently I visited the basement chapel of St. John the Evangelist parish in Philadelphia. The time was late afternoon, when the Capuchin-Franciscan monks have a Latin Benediction service. Usually there are many people in the chapel at this time but I found that I was only one of three people in the pews.
So where were the people?

Call it coincidence, but only days before Philadelphia DA Seth Williams and a grand jury charged 2 priests, a former priest and a Catholic school teacher with molesting young boys. It was the first time in the United States that a high ranking Church official had been charged with failing to protect children from abusive priests.

Fire was added to the scandal when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia suspended 21 priests from active ministry because of accusations involving inappropriate behavior with minors. This caused the blogosphere and message boards throughout the city to explode. Many left messages boasting that they were former Catholics because of the scandals. Others encouraged Catholics to quit the Church or eliminate financial support.

While priests who abuse children should be prosecuted, people who use the scandal to enflame anti-Catholic bias are out of bounds.

Catholics who choose to renounce their faith because of the scandals have every right to do so, but I would then ask them: Where are you going to go? If that answer is “To some Protestant denomination,” I’d remind them that an AP report in 2008 stated that sexual abuse among Protestant clergy may be higher than among Catholic clergy.
The 2008 report, published by, states that Protestant abuse statistics “are harder to come by because the hundreds of denominations are less centralized than the Catholic Church.”

Similarly, should an ex-Catholic hope to find refuge in [a sex abuse free] Orthodox Church, he or she would be sadly mistaken. The problem of sexual abuse has no denominational boundaries. Several years ago, the Hellenic Communication Service stated that not only has the Orthodox Church been affected by such scandals, but “in America, individuals have already contacted the archdiocese asking for monetary compensation in [the] millions of dollars.”

In many ways the world of religion has a tendency to attract people who are maladjusted sexually. This is not to disparage Protestant or Catholic religious life, although it does point to the necessity of finding a better way within "religion" to keep potential predators out. It's also true that while religion and sex are close cousins -- how often has sexual passion been described as something linked to the religious experience?--in the western world the dualism between the two continues to be the source of many problems.

Within Catholicism, for instance, seminaries did not have pre-admission psychological testing until 2008. Prior to this, Catholic boys were urged to enter the seminary directly from high school, having no idea who they "were" as sexual beings.
Today, the average age of the Catholic seminarian is older, somewhere in the late 20s or early 30s, so there's plenty of time for him to sample the pleasures of life, or at least figure out who he "is," before considering celibacy.

The clergy sex abuse crises in the Catholic Church doesn’t mean that there’s something inherent in Catholicism—a bug in the holy water? -- that changes priests into pedophiles or ephebophiles. Unfortunately, anything less than an outright condemnation of Catholicism these days is seen as being soft on abusers.

I experienced a little of this leaving St. John’s when a passerby gave me a disapproving look, as if just entering a Catholic Church in some way made me a sinister co-conspirator.

“What boy have you abused?” the glare seemed to say.

Earthquakes in Philadelphia: STAR Column

Not long after the almost 9 point quake in Japan a friend of mine commented, “Say what you will about Philadelphia, but at least we don’t have any problems like that.”
This is something we’ve all heard before. Our region may be susceptible to blizzards, high humidity in summer, hurricanes and Northeasterners, but we rarely if ever get earth tremors, and a tsunami is definitely out of the question.

This is far from the truth, according to Prof. Simon Day of University College London. Day and a number of his colleagues at University College point to active volcanic activity in the Canary Islands as having a very direct and possibly devastating influence on cities like Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. A so called volcanic collapse in the Canaries (that’s when a volcano aborts and explodes underwater) would have the ripple effect of a rock being thrown into a pool of water only in this case there would be tons of rock sliding into the sea to form a mega “ripple” tsunami. Day says that based on global test results and geological studies, volcanic activity like this occurs during very warm weather cycles.

A volcanic collapse in the Canaries could then result in a 2,000 foot high mega tsunami that would make Philadelphia especially vulnerable because of the flat Chesapeake Bay inlets. A wave like this has the potential to move up the Delaware, causing fatalities in the millions, Day says.

Since there’s not much high ground in Philadelphia (with the exception of Manayunk), moving to the mountains, in advance of a natural disaster, is probably the only solution. This doesn’t seem to bode well for the Riverwards.
We’ve been lucky, disaster-wise, in Philadelphia, but history tells a different story. On December 10, 1968 a 2.5 quake shook Philadelphia and the suburbs. The quake, according to The Earthquake Information Bulletin by Carl A. von Hake, broke windows in New Jersey and shook the toll booths on the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges. And just a few years earlier, on December 27, 1961, a small tremor lasting about ten seconds affected Harrisburg, Reading, Philadelphia, and York. “Bridges shook, dishes rattled and other objects were disturbed,” von Hake writes.

I was in grammar school at the time and remember the rumbling sound that seemed to cover our house like an imploding freight train. It was as if the earth itself had decided to cough up its insides.

Historically, the Philadelphia region has been vulnerable to both quakes and huge Delaware River swells caused by earth tremors. In 1884, “The Landmark,” a newspaper in Stalesville, North Carolina, reported on the Great East Coast Quake of the same year.

“In Philadelphia, the shock was very perceptible….the strongest buildings in the city were shaken, rickety chimneys toppled over on the roofs and bricks tumbled down upon the pavement in all parts of the city….Nervous people were frightened to such an extent that many thought the destruction of the world was at hand.

“Huge waves,” the report continues, “backed up by the rising tide, overflowed many of the wharves, and considerable property was flooded.”

The last quake to hit Philly was in October of 2009. Philadelphia, in fact, is one of the ten most earthquake endangered cities of the world. Number one is San Francisco; Philly is number nine, coming before Osaka, Japan.

Japan, of course, has also had to deal with the defective General Electric Mark 1 boiling water nuclear reactors that may cause a major radioactive meltdown. For decades since this type of reactor was built in the 1970s, experts have questioned the Mark 1 containment system. Many experts also warned that this type of reactor was subject to rupture.

There are twenty-three GE Mark 1 reactors in the United States, and one is located in Delta, Pennsylvania. The reactors at Limerick, Pennsylvania and in Salem Township are of the Mark II or III design. Both reactors are not far from Philadelphia.

While we should not opt to live in fear, we still cannot say with any certainly that what happened in Japan cannot happen here.
“Boast not for tomorrow,” as Proverbs cautions us, “For thou knowest not what the day to come may bring forth.”

Organized Trash Picking:STAR column

On Saturday, April 2nd I finally did it. After writing about the trash problems in the neighborhood for a number of years, I put my muscle where my writing hand is and joined a handful of volunteers from the Olde Richmond Civic Association (ORCA) and spent a few hours cleaning up the neighborhood.

We met at 9 A.M. behind the Wawa on the 2400 block of Thompson Street where we signed waivers, received a pair of work gloves and then split up into teams of 2 or 3. Equipped with brooms, rakes, trash picking hand extensions and industrial strength trash bags, we set out like determined missionaries to rid the hood of debris.
What struck me first of all was how quiet the streets were on this cool, sunny morning. Do people really sleep this late?

Those of us with brooms got to work right away sweeping the curbs until we had significantly high trash piles. When a pile seemed sufficiently high we’d sweep another long stretch of the street and then make another one. It wasn’t long before our eyes became accustomed to food wrappers, iced tea bottles, half eaten sandwiches and discarded articles of clothing. Sweeping the streets you very often get a lot of dirt so the process isn’t as easy as sweeping your kitchen.

When my little group hit the area behind Wawa and Applebee’s restaurant—that stretch of green grass bordered by the East Thompson Street fence—we encountered a heavy concentration of trash.

The number of cigarette butts alone could very well have matched the plague of locusts that hit Salt Lake City during the great Mormon migration of the 1800s. Picking up individual butts with those E.T. extension arms would have taken all day; not only that, it probably would have had a deleterious mental effect on the picker. As a result, we decided to let most of the butts go. In the meantime, some of us had to dislodge large pieces of cardboard stuck into the ground from the Wawa and Rite Aide properties. But the big cinematic trash moment came when we cleaned Applebee’s backyard, an area that the Applebee’s General Manager told me later is regularly cleaned by his staff at least once or twice a week and then given an in-depth cleaning once a month. But more on Applebee’s later.

I don’t know what it’s like for everyone, but I went through a couple of different mental stages as I was picking up trash. The first stage is the reluctance to get started stage because of the daunting task ahead. The second is the “God awful!” stage when your eyes settle on something unusually disgusting or offbeat. It’s as if your hands, though gloved, were in full revolt at the mere thought of reaching out, if even by proxy, to the conglomerate of garbage. This stage soon passes, and suddenly everything changes as a ‘trash killing’ instinct kicks in. I compare it to going to the gym and experiencing muscle resistance for the first 5 minutes before feeling an all consuming adrenalin rush. Suddenly you and the rest of the volunteers are like synchronized dancers in some cosmic You Tube video, especially as you watch members of team throwing large cardboard pieces over the Wawa fence.

“You’re wasting your time,” a passerby snorted to one of the volunteers.
Had we listened to this advice we would have promptly given up and gone home and effectively killed any plans for future spring time cleanups. “Yes, you’re right, lady,” the ORCA volunteer could have replied, “This is a total waste. I switch my allegiance to trash.”

The plan was to cover as much of the neighborhood as possible. At first there was talk of going under I-95 but in the end we decided that that area was a day’s work in itself. We still stuck to the tributary streets around Thompson like the stretch to Richmond and then north to Cumberland Street and the Conrail tracks. But there was also Sergeant Street, Albert Street, parts of Webb Street, and of course the Vatican of Trash itself, Thompson Street behind Wawa, where most of this stuff seems to have mimicked evolution in its breeding capabilities.

The cleanest street was Salmon Street and parts of Edgemont. Give these streets the Gold Medal Award.

It’s hard to think of a family restaurant as being a magnet for trash, but when we tackled the backyard of Applebee’s, we got more than we bargained for. With Lisa, the volunteer in my group, I extracted a full set of wet, half decayed sweats—shirt, pants, undies—as well as an entire encampment of contemporary archeological finds: crack pipe, beer cans, condoms, half eaten Wawa wrap sandwiches, combs, suspicious plastic bags, and more condoms. If the early Native Americans could come back and compare our culture’s archeological findings with theirs, they’d regret that Penn Treaty deal with William Penn.

When I phoned Applebee’s GM after the cleanup and asked him what his take on the situation was, and if he could do something to help, I got good news.

“In the winter people camped behind the restaurant and drank beer all night, and sometimes things got rowdy when we would ask them to leave,” he said. “One night they even lit a bonfire. Unfortunately, much of the trash blows in from Wawa, and if we don’t clean it then it all blows into the parking lot. But I really want to work with the community,” he said. “I support your efforts.”
But the next time ORCA does a cleaning, let me know and we’ll arrange a free lunch for the volunteers at Applebee’s.”

That’s saying something in my book.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


On March 21, Philadelphia police had to close John F. Kennedy Plaza (or Love Park) because there were threats of flash mob activity. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News, police spent some time chasing bands of young people in an attempt to curtail rowdy behavior. Disturbances on South Street also punctuated the day.

While police reported no violence or destruction of public property during these episodes, several arrests were made. Love Park was also closed for several hours in anticipation of further flash mob activity. The closure prevented visitors, tourists and office workers from enjoying the park on a beautiful spring day.

So what gives with the City of Brotherly Love?

In the days of Mayor Frank Rizzo, this sort of behavior would have been nipped in the bud. School kids, although minors, would have been hauled into jail and then turned over to their parents, or maybe the parents would have been arrested. The candy-coated, velvet glove “Ah, come on, they’re just kids” treatment would not have played out in Rizzo’s Philadelphia. But then was then and now is now as they say, and now is not so good, especially with the warmer weather coming.

Mayor Nutter’s promise to crack down on flash mob activity comes after the horses have left the stable. The kids, or the culprits in question, don’t seem to mind his threats.

When gangs of school kids have the police chasing them around Laurel and Hardy style, you know those threats are basically meaningless.

When flash mobs first surfaced over a year or so ago, many nervous liberal types made all sorts of excuses for the behavior. There were Op-Ed editorials calling for more “after school” programs. Voices calling for the arrest of the students or their parents were criticized as being “racist” and “cruel.” But where is it written that any kid, be they Asian, Italian, Irish, African American or Indian, can team up with ethic or racial peers and hold a city hostage?

The Nutter Administration seems to be handling the problem on a case-by-case basis, as the incidents occur. This “damage control” approach to the problem has not prevented the mobs from reinventing themselves. Again, the kids do not feel intimidated or frightened.

Two weeks ago, while crossing Market Street in Center City on a late Wednesday afternoon, a group of African American female students were crossing in the opposite direction. Walking beside me was a middle aged white woman, probably coming home from work. Suddenly and without warning one of the students jumped in the woman’s face and began screaming at the top of her lungs. The incident took all of five seconds, and may not have been much by “Grungy city” standards, but it displayed an attitude that’s become all too common these days: callous disregard for other people’s rights and feelings. That small action, despite the fact that nobody was touched or physically harmed, constituted a kind of assault.

It would have been the same thing had a white girl screamed in the face of an older black woman-- same offense; same ignorance.

The woman was understandably shaken, but what could she do? Scenes like this have become normal in the City of Brotherly Love, and that’s the sad part. As a city we are building a tough collective hide that processes incidents like this and then tunes them out. We’ve come to accept outrageous rudeness as “part of what it’s like to live in the city,” although if we were to compare Philadelphia to other cities we would discover that this is anything but the case, even though violence-prone flash mobs have occurred in Boston and New Jersey. That’s not true, however, in Baltimore, New York, Los Angeles, or even Detroit.

Frank Rizzo in the 1970s sometimes went overboard when it came to maintaining public order, but one thing was certain: Philly was a safe city then.
As I see it, the way to eliminate flash mobs or random (group) teenage hooliganism, such as the March 4, 2011 incident at the Shops of Liberty Place when at least two dozen teens kicked over food and display tables in the Food Court, is to immediately implement the following:

Eliminate the “free ride” Septa transpass system for students, prohibit teens from gathering in groups of ten or more, and hold parents responsible for injuries or damages inflicted on homes or businesses during a flash mob
Since we can’t bring Frank Rizzo back from the dead, we can at least implement some useful, workable Rizzo-like solutions