Sunday, October 16, 2005

Edmund Bacon, 1910-2005

You have probably heard of his son Kevin. But unless you are a Philadelphian and/or someone who follows urban planning, you might not have heard of Ed Bacon who died last week. In case you haven't heard of him: he was the director of city planning in Philadelphia from 1949 to 1970 and was involved in nearly every one of the big projects that shaped Philadelphia (especially Center City) as it appears today. If you like Philadelphia, you have Ed Bacon to thank. If you don't like Philadelphia--well, I would question your judgement. Inga Saffron, the Philadelphia Inquirer's architecture critic has a thoughtful piece about Bacon's legacy in today's paper. I can't disagree with her about some of the flaws in Bacon's approach but I would point out that he was hardly alone in his thinking. He was certainly not the only mid-century planning official to support expressway bulding in central cities and (sadly) he was far from alone in seeing slums where later observers saw thriving "urban villages." But let's give credit where credit is due: if anything, Bacon stood out from the pack in appreciating some of the things that urban planners emphasize today. Given what the redevelopment of Society Hill could have turned into (cf. the West End of Boston or Southwest Washington), I can forgive Bacon for emphasizing the colonial period.

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