See William Penn on top of City Hall? A little Philly tale to tell…A while back, it was decreed that no building could be taller than Billy Penn atop City Hall. The colonial gent faces Penn’s Landing and presides over the City of Brotherly Love.
City Hall used to be the tallest building until the City and its buildings grew and grew with the construction of One Liberty Place in 1987. Legend held that no other building in Philadelphia should be higher than Penn’s protective outstretched hand, or the City would be cursed and the sports teams would lose every year thereafter. Poor Eagles, Phillies, 76’ers, and Flyers.
But back in 2008, the Phillies won the World Series after a statue of William Penn was affixed to the taller Comcast Building when the last beam was positioned. Then the run of luck changed for all the other teams too, all winning multiple times, or at least, the Eagles getting to the Super Bowl.
How can communities initiate change?
It obviously has nothing to do with placing a founder on top of a civic building, but if you want more beauty or nature (or winning sports teams) in your community you take a pro-active stance.
I don’t talk architecture on this blog, but an architectural project in which I was involved included the community of Buffalo back in 1994, so I know being pro-active helps. In it, design professionals gathered community representatives to mobilize citizen participation, those who would be affected by the design project. The objective was to brainstorm how the project will ensure that community needs will be met, compromising, and innovating to prioritize an agreeable outcome.
While in Philadelphia…
I saw a rather remarkable project by the art community that showed some brotherly love of which the city is known. The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is responsible for colorful murals painted in collaboration with locals. There are over 4000 paintings transforming Philadelphia’s neighborhoods into outdoor art museums. Each contribute to a walking art tour of the city’s culture.
Everyone from taggers, school kids, cops, prisoners, teachers, and senior citizens plan and paint murals accessible to everyone. The murals beautify their communities, connect with neighbors, fight graffiti and ultimately reduce crime in neighborhoods which are now swelling with civic pride.
Sure sometimes murals are lost in real estate deals, but Philadelphia continues to paint. If you are interested in knowing more, listen to the audio or search for images of these murals.
We were on a moving bus, so I could not get good photographs with my small Nikon camera. Just thought readers should know that communities can make a difference even in the worst parts of town to forever change the mind-set of the people who live in them – to make their places better. Whether waterfront development, garden walks beautifying a city like here in Buffalo, or murals changing perception in sketchy neighborhoods, all it takes is a collaboration of really motivated individuals.
If I walked the City, I would have shown you something else interesting about the Penn statue. When it rains, it looks like Penn is urinating on the City. With just the right angle, the position of his hand outstretched just makes the rain flow just right. For all the symbolism the creators instilled in the statue, they should have thought that one out.