Philadelphia is resurgent at the moment, and for good reason: It’s a layered city that rewards the careful urban reader with splendid insights into its past.
That’s the theme of a new book written by Nathaniel Popkin and Peter Woodall, with lush photography by Joseph E. B. Elliott. It’s called “Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City,” and it’s just been released by Temple University Press.
It’s a winner – both in prose and in images. Popkin is a novelist who knows his city well, and a senior writer on the documentary “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment.” Woodall is a former journalist, public radio producer and co-founder of “Hidden City Daily” website. Elliott is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design.
Together, the three have managed to unveil an urban puzzle that’s hidden in an accretive cityscape. “It developed by layers – it’s adaptable and capable of moving forward without announcing itself,” Popkin says. “The soul of the city is kind of hidden and it’s okay with that – and we take the reader on a tour of that.”
There’s the Reading Railroad City Branch, largely in ruins; the fabulous John Wanamaker Department Store, now a Macy’s; and the no-longer-functioning Germantown Town Hall with a World War I monument in its rotunda.
They all tell the different kinds of stories about a city that’s constantly adapting and moving forward on understandable foundations laid long ago. “Even in a 135 square mile city, it’s still an intimate place,” he says. “There are Victorian houses next to the most amazing textile mills and churches.”
It offers a one-of-a-kind texture and fabric to those now exploring ways to bring new life to the city – a place where people can inject their own lives into it in an especially meaningful way.
“They’re inspired by what they’ve inherited – people are connecting themselves to what others have built,” he says. It’s a humble place for anyone to dig into, and that’s how it’s survived – with imagination and a little bit of resources, you can do something.”
And a lot of people are doing exactly that, right now.
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