ROBIN POGREBIN - New York Times
Edmund N. Bacon, a leading postwar urban planner who remade much of Philadelphia, died on Friday at his home there. He was 95.
As the executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1949 to 1970, Mr. Bacon had an impact on his native city that some have compared to that of Robert Moses during his long reign in New York.
He also signified a bygone era when urban planners were considered celebrities, like Mr. Bacon's youngest son, Kevin, the actor. In 1964 Mr. Bacon was featured on the cover of Time magazine for an issue commemorating urban renewal in America. In 1965 Life magazine devoted a cover story to his work. His 1967 book, "Design of Cities," is still considered a seminal text on contemporary urban planning.
His mark on Philadelphia was perhaps most evident in the planning of Penn Center, a huge development of Philadelphia's downtown core in the 1950's and 60's. The center, comprising offices and hotels, was the largest such project the city had seen since the 1920's.
In replacing the so-called Chinese Wall, a network of elevated railroad tracks that divided the city, Mr. Bacon would eventually establish a stronger east-west spine. He added buildings to the area around 30th Street Station at the western edge of Center City. Mr. Bacon's design concepts also led to the development of Market East, Penn's Landing, Society Hill, Independence Mall and the Far Northeast. "It mixed the bulldoze-and-rebuild philosophy of urban renewal with the tentative beginnings of the historic preservation movement," Paul Goldberger wrote in The New York Times in 1988.
The planner's work was not always seen as a success by critics. In 1998 Herbert Muschamp wrote in The New York Times that Penn Center was "reviled as a prime example of disastrous modern city planning: lamentable in the spare geometry of its buildings, its disregard for the vitality of the traditional street."
Bacon's biggest success was in building a livable residential downtown that worked. His finest legacy is Society Hill where he helped transform one of the city's oldest residential districts from a slum into a mixture of restored colonial, federal and Greek revival era homes, new townhouses and high rise apartment towers. The downside was that he also destroyed what would now be considered a priceless collection of Victorian buildings.
His biggest failure - to me, though - was not Penn Center so much - since that was a replacement of railroad yards, but his wholesale bulldozing of too much of the historic fabric of the city, particularly for the sterile Independence Mall that not only destroyed some colonial and federal buildings that did not fit into the desired narrative, but which also laid waste to many of Philadelphia's finest Victorian buildings, including two of Frank Furness's masterpieces.
Still, even with all that, Bacon was still a pioneer in historic preservation at a time when even the next generation of planners to follow him such Ed Logue were still bulldozing pretty much everything in sight in places like New Haven (and later, in Boston), other than the much later Wooster Square project.