Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Time Lapse Philadelphia

Here’s a pretty new time lapse of Philadelphia from Angelo Leotta. Great to see this city get a quality time lapse. I particularly like the way workaday scenes like dirt being loaded into a dump truck or a juggler were included to complement the typical architecture/streetscene/waterway shots. The music is nice too. As always, viewed best in full screen high definition. If the video doesn’t display, click here.

h/t @justupthepike

Topics: Architecture and Design, Urban Culture
Cities: Philadelphia

22 Responses to “Time Lapse Philadelphia”

  1. Peter Brassard says:

    Good video. I’m always surprised or rather I forget that Philadelphia is really a big city. It’s not that obvious even when you’re there in person. It’s not that the city off the radar but more on the back burner of big American cities. New York, LA, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Boston, Houston among others you hear about regularly. Often, you hear more about much smaller cities, but Philadelphia not as much. Philadelphia has an ample supply of sports franchises, some very good universities, and WHYY, but still you don’t hear too much about it. It’s a sleeper city. Aaron you’ve mentioned that cities often reflect the people that founded them. Perhaps the city’s low key presence is due to its tolerant Quaker heritage or lack of flashiness.

  2. Peter, you are right about Philadelphia. You may recall this post:

    in which I said that Philadelphia is the biggest city in America no one would notice disappearing. It’s not that the city is irrelevant, but it isn’t on the mental map.

    The Quaker heritage is a huge factor. This has been amply documented. See the book I told you about, Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia by E. Digby Baltzell.

    It’s a dense read but informative. Also a cautionary tale as basically America has embraced the Philadelphia model, which had some good elements like diversity and tolerance, but also bred plutocracy, anti-intellectualism, cynicism about civil society, and a lack of commitment (and self-sacrifice to the native soil.

    It’s worth considering how this dynamic affects Rhode Island. Providence is close to Boston, but was founded on a philosophy underpinned by the same antinomian impulse behind Quakerism.

  3. Lou says:

    Three things.

    Philadelphia is not anti-intellectual in anyway for any part of its history. The region is second to Boston in the number of university students and the universities are the major employer in the city and the main reason for the city’s resurgence (there are many reasons).

    Second, it’s easy to be cynical about the city council because they are generally idiots who refuse to deal with the tax situation realistically. Some are just career thugs against anything that will improve the city.

    Third, when you look at the video you see I76 hugging the river with just two lanes in each direction. This freeway is the main artery from/to Philly the west and north. It is the regions greatest strength and greatest weakness. Its low impact on the landscape saves neighborhoods and encourages alternative transit while shortening commuting distances. But it is terrible to drive on and much productive time is wasted on 15 mile traffic jams.

  4. John Morris says:


    In spite of the universities, it was really a big working class manufacturing town, wasn’t it? The average college, in the pre WWII era was a pretty small, elitist institution so only for a very small part of the city’s long history where the schools ranked as the major employers.

    The relative % jobs in those sectors today also tells you the city itself has not done well at leveraging that intellectual capital into a dynamic tech and business sector. A lot of that power, is in the suburbs.

  5. Chris Barnett says:

    I’d love to see an infographic with “lane miles of freeway per capita” for various large metros. To underscore Lou’s remark above, I think Philly metro would be the lowest of the 10 largest metros. The downtown expressway (Vine St.) wasn’t even built until the late 80’s, likewise the western and northwestern outer belts (Blue Route and US 422).

    Working from my mental map (HS/college in the metro and 30 years of return visits), I’d guess that the total Philly expressway lane miles are similar to each of the 3Cs in Ohio (which are vastly overbuilt systems) and serve 3-4 times the metro population. This is partly because the density is higher, and partly because SEPTA is so pervasive in the Philly metro.

  6. John Morris says:

    The commuter rail system & strength and wealth in the old line suburbs show one the potential that’s there.

    We saw this in NYC when it was a small core with lots of wealth in the suburbs. (NY is much more complicated- with a huge number of grey area livable area even in the worst times) When the money came back in, it was powerful. D.C. is an even more extreme example. Few people saw the rebound even though all the potential was there.

    Getting back to the issue of anti- intellectualism; it’s not just a working class thing. Albert Barnes’s art collection was laughed at by city elites. People who were more curious seemed to move to New York.

  7. Lou, you should read Baltzell’s book. He digs into the number of distinguished scholars from Philadelphia vs. Boston, etc. Clearly low. Just think about the difference of Penn vs. Harvard and that says it all. Few of Philadephia’s elite where the types of “gentlemen scholars” that populated other cities.

  8. John Morris says:

    The Barnes story seems instructive.

    Barnes is often portrayed as isolated, eccentric and bitter. Very little about his life indicates that. He made medical discoveries, founded and sold a company by his early thirties and had intellectual relationships with William Glackens, Gertrude Stein, Mattise and the first black president of Lincoln University.

    Yes, he did seem to grow bitter and angry at Philadelphia elites.

  9. John Morris says:

    Today the tradition of looking backward continues.

    Instead of focusing on gutting, NYC’s dynamic arts community by aggressively pushing the city’s potential as the affordable, 6th borough. Philly powers, with the help of a sleazy governor spent vast amounts to move the Barnes and create a museum tourist trap.

  10. John Morris says:

    The central lessons for investors are.

    Philly has no respect for private property or the rule of law

    Philly is corrupt

    Philly is more obsessed with the past than the future.

  11. @John Morris, prior to Barnes, the Weidener collection was also lost to the city. Apparently it forms one of the three great core collections of the National Gallery in DC.

  12. John Morris says:

    Of course, If Pittsburgh had what it lost between the Andrew Mellon W. Collection and The Frick Collection, wow.

    Now, on to the positive trends. It does seem on some level that the grip of the elites seems to be breaking down.

    A really big % of “big time” NY artists now live in Philly. The city even gave a big show to the awesome local photographer Zoe Strauss and she even got a big grant from a local foundation early in career- before she was well known outside of Philly.

    There is a huge demand for the kind of dynamic, affordable- if gritty life, Philly should be able to provide.

    Still, all in all something has gone wrong and the city can’t seem to understand and exploit the available opportunities on a large scale.

  13. John Morris says:

    Philly also seems more like Newark, in that you really can’t talk about the city without talking about the total region.

    The Philly region is still really, really important. The Philly Fed manufacturing survey remains one of the most important in the U.S.

    That’s why Philly reminds one of old D.C. in a way- with a still troubled city with some tourist attractions and stable core neighborhoods surrounded by many successful or semi successful suburbs.

  14. John Morris says:

    Actually, it’s a lot like Newark, in that many firms in Philly suburbs like King of Prussia, don’t really seem to be fully in the orbit of the city. I mean, you have an Airport, and then in many ways you can do business without stepping into Philly. It’s more a part the larger east coast metroplex.

    D.C. is different in that so much revolves around Washington’s power and influence. Like Newark, it would be a shame if Philly declined, but it seems like the world could go on.

  15. REALTOWN says:

    When people talk about NY, Boston, LA etc. are they talking about the actual places or about the pop-culture images?

    There’s truth in Baltzell’s theory, but as an explanation
    for the differences between Boston and Philadelphia it seems too ethereal.

    Was Boston always wealthier than Philadelphia? I don’t know. Did Boston always have a smaller “under-class”?

    Maybe Philadelphia made things while Boston manufactured culture. You read your New England intellectuals while riding behind a Baldwin locamotive. Maybe.

  16. Baltzell lived in Philadephia and was a professor of sociology at Penn for decades (dead now). He’s arguably the foremost historian of American elites. The book I referenced has a wealth of actual data and historical research extending back to the pre-founding roots of the cities in their respective European communities. It’s not based on contemporary stereotypes.

  17. DBR96A says:

    PennDOT could widen the Schuylkill Expressway to six lanes as it should, and Philadelphia would still have the fewest highway lane miles per capita of any of the 10 largest MSAs in the United States. Even the first nine miles of I-476 north of I-95 are only four lanes, as is the PA 309 highway heading north.

    ASIDE: Widen it, but do a cut-and-cover in South Philadelphia and the vicinity of the University of Pennsylvania. That way South Philadelphia will be seamless, and the University of Pennsylvania will have riverfront access. For that matter, do a cut-and-cover of I-95 between Front Street and Oregon Avenue as well, and put a few more covers on I-676.

  18. DBR96A says:

    ERROR: Not “Front Street and Oregon Avenue,” but rather “Market Street and Oregon Avenue.”

  19. REALTOWN says:

    I’m familiar with Baltzell and his massive work. Of course Philadelphia’s cultural history shapes the city. Elite kids still go to the original old Quaker private schools. I just feel that the the cultural attributes of the prosperous are only part of the story in a city and history of millions

  20. Lou says:

    I never said that the university system in Philly was better than Boston. Boston has alot of advantages that Philly will never have like being the state capitol and the population center of the state. The city is on the edge of Pennsylvania and the rest of the state hates the region.

    I 76 can never be expanded due to the fact it runs between a river and cliffs/active rail lines/dense urban neighborhoods/lots of other stuff. Just deal with it.

  21. Alon Levy says:

    Data from the TTI, freeway lane-miles per thousand people in major urban areas:

    Chicago 0.35
    New York 0.38
    Miami 0.41
    Los Angeles 0.43
    Phoenix 0.44
    Philadelphia 0.45
    Washington 0.46
    Detroit 0.49
    Seattle 0.58
    Atlanta 0.59
    Boston 0.6
    San Francisco 0.62
    Dallas 0.72
    Houston 0.82

    And the total congestion cost per capita as measured by the TTI is higher in Dallas and Houston than in Philly.

    The question, traffic-wise, is whether Philly has unusually little freeway infrastructure in the biggest capacity bottlenecks or whether it’s middle-of-the-pack there too. For example, the Vine Street Expressway doesn’t really have an analog in New York or even in Chicago, where the expressways into the Loop stub-end.

  22. Carl Wohlt says:

    Aaron, thanks for continuing to share these videos. I thought the video started out well by including images of water, kind of drifted away with a number of urban pans that really didn’t distinguish the city from other large urban centers, and then hit stride mid reel with images of a number of places that distinctly captured Philly’s unique character.

    I suspect videographers of this genre feel a tension between featuring images that some might define as cliche and showing images that validate cities as a hip, urban place with contemporary amenities. The trick, I think, is to do is both – and know it’s difficult to get to the essence.

    I thought street scene at 2:24 followed by the view of the steps at the Philadelphia Art Museum nailed it. Something uniquely local followed by an iconic image of the city. Good stuff!

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