collingswood light, not boathouse row light

The Philadelphia Inquirer gave its Architecture Critic, the almost-always cranky (and usually justifiably so) Inga Saffron, a primo spot on the front page today (below the fold, but still) – and she blew it.

It seems that the Fairmount Park Commission has turned off the lights that adorn Boathouse Row. They hope by pulling the plug they will inspire locals to match Peco’s contribution and donate $150,000 so the current incandescent lights can be replaced by a state-of-the-art LED system. The Park Commission says that the incandescent bulbs blow out too often and drains $8000 a year in electricity, compared to $1000 for the new system. And hey, they can color the new lights any of 16 million gaudy colors like pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month or green for the Eagles or a vomit-esque brown for the Wing Bowl.

What bugs me about the Saffron piece is that she really has no opinion on the new lights. She repeats a lot of what is stated in an article by Thomas Fitzgerald (which could have easily been the front page piece), tells us that the project could come in over the projected $300K (you think?), gets assurances from the higher ups that the LED lights will look as “warm” as the current lights, tells us that she doesn’t want Boathouse Row lit up “like a Christmas display,” and then admits that “colored architectural lights have a long history” (without giving any examples).

The conclusion of her piece is: we need to discuss this. It would seem to me that a. it’s a little too late for that, and b. critics make their money telling us their opinion, not asking for ours. I don’t recall her (or any Inky critic) ever asking for public input to help make up his or her mind. That’s what she went to college for and it’s what the Inky pays her to do. I might not always like her opinion, but I want to hear it. And if you have a critic who doesn’t really have an opinion, it makes for a poor front-page article.

As for me, I’m not so attached to the old lights to not give the new ones a try. There’s so much architectural and historical destruction going on in Philly that I really don’t have a problem with someone trying to better a landmark rather than just tearing it down. To tell you the truth, when I’m passing Boathouse Row going down the Schuylkill Expressway at night what catches my eye aren’t the lights that work but the one’s that are out. I wish they could do all this without the stupid special-event colored lights (leave that to the skyscrapers), but if that’s what it takes to get the public into it, fine.

I don’t like the way that they just switched off the lights with little or no warning. It looks like they’re trying to hold the city hostage (and they’re asking for money when a lot of people are sending it to the Indian Ocean area) but it’s probably the most affective way. I would almost guarantee that it would go over budget, just like most of these projects do. They need to do what the organizers of the Ben Franklin lighting project did – get the lights up and worry about creditors later. They also run the risk of looking like fools if they have to can the project and turn the old lights back on, but I don’t see that happening. I think this project is perfect for showy corporate sponsorship and I assume a lot of the citizens who belong to the private rowing clubs down there have some Benjamins to spare.

There you have it, my opinion. Front-page stuff.


At 6:13 PM, Blogger Donna said...

I first heard that the lights were going off a few weeks ago. Next to the Art Museum, I think Boathouse Row is the prettiest thing Philly has to offer. At night, at least.


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