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Remembering city planner Ed Bacon’s unbuilt visions for Philly

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From pedestrian-only streets to aerial trams

A mural of longtime city planner Ed Bacon by Gaia sits in Center City.
Photo by Melissa Romero

In 1959, Edmund Bacon wrote down his lofty hopes and visions for the future of his city, Philadelphia. In his essay titled “Philadelphia in the Year 2009,” the city planner said by that year, the City of Brotherly Love would no longer be “ugly or depressed” and instead home to a pedestrian-only Chestnut Street and air-conditioned sidewalks.

Although Bacon had plenty of successes throughout his illustrious, 21-year career as executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, many of his visions put forth in his essay were never materialized.

Bacon, who died in 2005, would have turned 107 today. In honor of the famed city planner, here are just a few of the ways—many of them transportation-related—that Philly would have looked different today, if Bacon had had anything to do with it.

A car-free Chestnut Street

Long before Open Streets was ever a thing in Philly, Bacon envisioned a car-less Chestnut Street. He said that by 2009, the street would allow for “open-sided electric cars” and the storefronts would remove their windows, creating more outdoor activity.

That’s certainly not the case today, although there’s no doubt that Chestnut Street is one of the most highly-trafficked streets in the city, both by foot and by car. A recent Center City District report found that the intersection of 16th and Chestnut saw more than 36,000 people walk by on Fridays last fall, for example, making it the most popular area in Center City.

Bacon is responsible for implementing the revitalization of Society Hill in the 1960s.
Via Wikimedia Commons

An overhead cable car system

One of Bacon’s most ambitious plans outlined in his 2009 essay was the proposed 1976 World’s Fair to showcase the city alongside the Bicentennial Celebration. While much of the activities would take place in Fairmount Park, Bacon pitched it as a city-wide event. Notably, visitors would be able to go to and from Fairmount Park and the city via an overhead cable car system that would run from Fairmount Park to the west banks of the Schuylkill, then over the river to Chestnut Street.

But as Hillary Kativa writes for PhillyHistory.com, this transportation system nor the fair ever came to fruition, due to a host of issues that arose from government funding to criticism to red tape.

Air-conditioned, automated sidewalks

As part of Bacon’s proposed East Market Transportation Center, he envisioned a cluster of shopping from City Hall to “the Department Store cluster at Eighth Street.” While this vision would become reality—the $600 million East Market redevelopment project is sure of that—his plans for both street- and upper-level “air conditioned moving sidewalks” in Market East and along Broad Street never came to be.

Commuting by helicopter

“Helicopter service will operate regularly from the two heliports—on the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers at each end of the business district,” Bacon wrote in his essay. He went on to assume that this mode of transportation would be part of the mass coordinated transportation system of buses, trains, and subway lines that would bring Philadelphians to and from the centers of “outlying towns” throughout the region.