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Inga Saffron is the Architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The U-shaped steel bike rack is surely the unsung workhorse of urban street furniture. U racks - more accurately, upside-down U's - are so plain, so recessive, you don't really see them until you need one. (And then, invariably, they're full.) U racks are cheap. Their streamlined form takes up very little space. Except in extreme circumstances, they're also indestructible. All that makes them a nearly perfect design.
This is a column for those who believe Philadelphia's historic, but decrepit, white elephants aren't worth keeping around. It concerns two large boardinghouses on the Mount Airy-Germantown border built more than a century ago, in an era when seniors lived out their days taking in the air on Victorian porches and staging music recitals in the parlor.