Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Don't let murals decide development

Among Philadelphia’s thousands of outdoor murals, many are worth restoring when they become battered by the elements over time. But there are some that should not be saved.

Don't let murals decide development

Cars parked in front of the "Autumn" mural.
Cars parked in front of the "Autumn" mural.

Among Philadelphia’s thousands of outdoor murals, many are worth restoring when they become battered by the elements over time. But there are some that should not be saved.

The city’s iconic Common Threads mural by Meg Saligman at Broad and Spring Garden Streets is one worth preserving. So it was welcome news that funding was found to conduct repairs that enabled the city’s Mural Arts Program (muralarts.org) to rededicate the mural recently.

Mural Arts director Jane Golden also took the occasion to announce a new push to bolster a much-needed restoration fund. The aim is to triple the number of restorations possible each year — from 10 to as many as 40 — so that the city’s most cherished murals do not simply fade away.

Another mural-preservation campaign, though, demonstrates that there are some murals the city simply has to let go. Case in point: the lovely Autumn mural, by artist David Guinn, at Ninth and Bainbridge Streets in Bella Vista. Like hundreds of other city murals, Autumn fronts a vacant lot that — but for the stunning artwork it heralds — stands as a challenge to a city struggling to grow and prosper.

With or without a mural, most vacant properties represent gaps in neighborhoods that would be better filled by residential or commercial development, or perhaps a vest-pocket park.

Yet, building over a vacant lot in a rowhouse city inevitably means that a mural wall could be blocked. That’s the threat to Autumn now that a developer proposes erecting a single-family townhouse on the lot.

As admirable as the efforts of some community residents to raise funds to preserve the site are, it hardly seems like a strategy in the city’s best long-term interests.

Cities have to grow, and creating more housing means additional taxpaying families for the city. So, no matter how stunning, murals cannot be the deciding factor as to whether adjacent properties are developed with appropriate projects.

One Bella Vista business owner sensibly noted that “murals on walls that neighbor lots might be temporary.”

As for the nearly $250,000 in pledges from the Bella Vista community to purchase the Bainbridge site, such generosity might well go toward restoring dozens of other murals that do not stand in the way of Philadelphia’s progress.

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