Favorite Spot: Sunset behind the Philly Skyline
Neighborhood: Best seen from Old City (particularly from the Race Street Pier or Ben Franklin Bridge)
Address: The big sky above
I am: An architect/urban designer who is obsessed with how people experience and move through space, the way people shape their world, and why the places we live in are the way they are (ie, human and natural history).
Years in Philly: 3
Current home: Physically, I live in New York City. Mentally, in Philly.
My love note: The Philadelphia skyline is a strange thing. With the “gentleman’s agreement” broken long ago the skyscraper cluster in west Center City still feels like a half-finished endeavor, or that it’s trying to change the city into something that it’s not. But, there is one thing that almost makes the developer-and-speculator-driven mess of Philly’s skyscrapers worthwhile, and that is the summer sunset.
A sunset occurs everyday, but how many have you actually watched in your lifetime? Its funny to think that we tend to reserve witnessing a daily occurrence for special occasions, like vacations or cliched romantic moments. People are busy, they’ve got to get home from work, microwave dinner, turn on the TV, look at a screen to read a book, look at a screen to shop from a store, look at a screen to watch a sunset…look out the window, ya dummy! Or get outside, or on the roof and look westward, young man.
The result of a city consisting of 95% three to four story buildings and 5% high-rises in the center is the creation of a great theater for the sunset to do its thing, at least for the eastern half of the city. It’s particularly powerful in the summer. There’s that moment, after a long, sweltering, humid day in July or August, when it feels like someone just flipped a switch and all your suffering under the sun transforms into anticipation for the cool, cool night, and it quite naturally coincides with the sun setting to the west. Standing on a roof top, along the Delaware, the Ben Franklin Bridge, or a place like Race Street Pier is where I feel you can take in the full glory of a Philly summer sunset (potential beer name?), but I’m sure everyone has their own favorite spot. And I’m sure many people in west Philly enjoy their sunsets sans skyscrapers, but I simply can’t accept that.
Because the sunset does the unthinkable: it turns the banal monstrosities that hover over the city into beautiful, other-worldly mirages. Every other moment of the day I’ll think “What did that view look like when all you could see was City Hall?,” but on a day when the sun paints the glass of Liberty Place and the Comcast Tower a darkened yet radiant, hazy yet crisp orange and amber, all of those misgivings fade away. It’s amazing what a drastic change a little color can bring into your world. That glow might last twenty minutes, tops, and even then it’s only at it’s brightest for a few minutes. But those few minutes are worth stopping for. They are the one gift that mother nature gives us after kicking our asses for twelve hours a day. So find a spot, sit back, feel the heat slip away, and enjoy as man and nature combine into something unique to Philly for one brief moment each day.
(Top two images by Thomas Faust, middle images by Conrad Benner
, bottom image by me)