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Imagining Philadelphia

Edmund Bacon and the Future of the City

Edited by Scott Gabriel Knowles

Publication Year: 2009

When Philadelphia's iconoclastic city planner Edmund N. Bacon looked into his crystal ball in 1959, he saw a remarkable vision: "Philadelphia as an unmatched expression of the vitality of American technology and culture." In that year Bacon penned an essay for Greater Philadelphia Magazine, originally entitled "Philadelphia in the Year 2009," in which he imagined a city remade, modernized in time to host the 1976 Philadelphia World's Fair and Bicentennial celebration, an event that would be a catalyst for a golden age of urban renewal.

What Bacon did not predict was the long, bitter period of economic decline, population dispersal, and racial confrontation that Philadelphia was about to enter. As such, his essay comes to us as a time capsule, a message from one of the city's most influential and controversial shapers that prompts discussions of what was, what might have been, and what could yet be in the city's future.

Imagining Philadelphia brings together Bacon's original essay, reprinted here for the first time in fifty years, and a set of original essays on the past, present, and future of urban planning in Philadelphia. In addition to examining Bacon and his motivations for writing the piece, the essays assess the wider context of Philadelphia's planning, architecture, and real estate communities at the time, how city officials were reacting to economic decline, what national precedents shaped Bacon's faith in grand forms of urban renewal, and whether or not it is desirable or even possible to adopt similarly ambitious visions for contemporary urban planning and economic development. The volume closes with a vision of what Philadelphia might look like fifty years from now.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

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Introduction: Revisiting Edmund Bacon’s Vision for the City

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pp. 1-7

When Philadelphia’s iconoclastic City Planning Commission director Edmund Bacon looked into his crystal ball in 1959—imagining his city fifty years in the future—he saw a remarkable vision, Philadelphia trans-formed into ‘‘an unmatched expression of the vitality of American tech-nology and culture.’’ In that year, Bacon painted a word picture in an...

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1. Philadelphia in the Year 2009

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pp. 8-18

The future of Philadelphia will be determined, not by technological advances but by the character of its leadership and by the strength and quality of the ideas it supports....

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2. Salesman of Ideas: The Life Experiences That Shaped Edmund Bacon

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pp. 19-51

Edmund Bacon wrote ‘‘Philadelphia in the Year 2009’’ just prior to what is generally considered the high point of his career. During the 1960s, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC), which Bacon directed from 1949 to 1970, would become known as one of the most...

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3. A Utopian, a Utopianist, or Whatever the Heck It Is: Edmund Bacon and the Complexity of the City

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pp. 52-77

In February 1965, University of Pennsylvania professor Paul Davidoff launched a withering attack on Philadelphia’s highly acclaimed city planning and urban renewal programs. Speaking before the Citizens’ Council on City Planning (CCCP), a local planning advocacy and...

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4. Staying Too Long at the Fair: Philadelphia Planning and the Debacle of 1976

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pp. 78-111

In 1682, 1776, or 1876, the optimism of Edmund Bacon’s remarkable 1959 vision for Philadelphia’s future—‘‘Philadelphia in the Year 2009’’—would have surprised no one. From its founding, Philadelphia’s unfolding futures were consistently dynamic, focusing the energies of colonial expansion, democratic governance, and industrialization in...

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5. Philadelphia in the Year 2059

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pp. 112-144

For nearly 300 years, Philadelphia had a brilliant run. From its founding in 1682 by William Penn as a proprietary colonial capital through the heady, federally funded urban renewal days at the end of World War II, Philadelphia was often at the forefront of national and international trends in city planning, public works, technology, industry...

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pp. 145-149

Edmund Bacon’s essay, ‘‘Philadelphia in the Year 2009,’’ offers enduring guidance in its first sentence, and it goes on to anticipate a glowing future for the City of Brotherly Love—it provides a vision that centers this book. Bacon’s words also exemplify his career—he was a leader and an ‘‘idea man.’’...


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pp. 151-170

List of Contributors

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pp. 171


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pp. 173-176

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pp. 177-178

If you want to get a conversation started in Philadelphia, just start asking questions about Edmund Bacon and his legacy, his imprint on the city—people have strong opinions. I entered the conversation in 2006 while doing research for an article about cold war disaster preparedness in Philadelphia. While working one afternoon at the University of Pennsyl-...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205961
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812220780

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2009