Friday, January 25, 2008

Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson Throws Mayor Street Under the Bus, Mayor Nutter Eats It Up

Recycle in PhiladelphiaWe were just getting ready to sing Mayor Nutter’s praises for wasting no time in getting shit done. He cleaned house on the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Planning Commission — replacing five last-minute appointees by Mayor Street and naming 16 new appointees to three zoning and planning related bodies (the ZBA, the Planning Commission and the Zoning Code Commission), only one of which is a holdover from the Street Administration. He brought in people from all over the country to fill top-level cabinet positions, conducting nationwide searches for several, from Police Commission to the city’s Managing Director,

But then we learnt that the one position he did not bring in a prominent national candidate to fill was the Commissioner of the Streets Department. In fact, he retained Mayor Street’s old commissioner, one Clarena Tolson.
When I first read that Michael Nutter would be retaining Tolson's services, I honestly thought it was a misprint.
"This is the very antithesis of a new day and a new way," said one advocate. "Tolson stymied every effort to create a viable recycling program," another added.
For recycling advocates, Tolson is the Dirt Devil incarnate. Their rage is so huge that last year the Recycling Alliance asked all mayoral candidates to pledge not only to replace the Streets commissioner, but her deputy and the recycling coordinator, as well.

In addition to demanding a "national search" for the "most qualified" candidates in their five-point agenda, the Alliance also had mayoral hopefuls promise "total transparency," by promoting cooperation between the new Streets commissioner and the very groups whom Tolson had shut out.

Nutter was first in line to endorse their agenda. He lauded the coalition as "an outstanding example of working together, inside government and outside." Now, these same leaders have been wondering how he could expect them to work with Tolson.
So what the fuck happened? How did Tolson come to convince Nutter that she was the right person to do, um, her job?

Well, apparently, she rather shrewdly appealed to a side of Mayor Nutter that’s sympathetic — the side that doesn’t think much of John Street.
"I have to state in the strongest terms that I did not break any promise," Nutter told me on the phone. "I did conduct a national search. I interviewed numerous people, and national still includes Philadelphia. Clarena was the last person I spoke with."
"The bottom line is this: Commissioners get to do what their boss allows them to do. If you have the resources, support and funding from the top, then departments can do a lot of things. But if you just give lip service and no support, it's virtually impossible for departments to do anything. And as a result, the commissioner is left holding the bag, and ends up in bad conflicts with the public."
So it appears Tolson blamed Street. (Someone must have shown her what to do with the proverbial mashed potatoes.) And Nutter bought it.

We can’t say whether that was the right move or not. We can, however, remind Mayor Nutter about two things.

First: One year ago today, he said he could fix the recycling debacle in 45-90 days. We intend to hold him to that.

And two, he also said he would raise the residential recycling rate to 40%. We definitely intend to hold him to that.

Ok. So maybe Tolson deserves credit for bringing Single Stream recycling to West Philadelphia, South Philadelphia, Center City and the Northeast, but she seems to have burned every bridge with local recycling activists along the way.

Moreover, when single stream recycling was introduced to Center City last month, no one knew about it. (We’re not sure anyone, aside from our three readers, even knows about it now.) The Streets Department didn’t even reach out to the Center City Residents Association to get the group to inform its members. How can you expect to improve recycling without any kind of effective community outreach??

And how can you expect people to recycle when you don’t even provide bins for them to recycle with???
Nutter reaffirmed his commitment to recycling, saying that "Philadelphians will be very pleased with the plan that's coming from the Streets Department."
We sincerely hope so.

Because it was only in February of last year (2007) that your girl Clarena Tolson professed that her Streets Department could achieve a residential recycling rate of 16% in three years!?!

(You’re telling us her three-year plan was that affected by Mayor Street?? Sounds a little suspect.)

Mayor Nutter — NB, you’re in for quite a surprise if you think a 16% recycling rate is gonna fly with us.

Because a 16% rate simply is not even gonna come close. Not by a long shot. In three years, Mr. Nutter, we need the rate to be 40%. We are dead serious.
Tolson, [Nutter] said, has a plan worked up to improve the city's recycling program. It needs time to get going, he said.
Woa, dude. What “time”?? And we thought you were the one with the plan? You know the one that could fix recycling in 45-90 days…

In case you haven’t noticed, Tolson’s plans don’t have the best track record.

As we stated way back when, Recycling, like Zoning and Transit, is a relatively simple issue that is easy enough to fix. And the good people at the Recycling Alliance, the RAC and the Next Great City have been trying to tell the city just how to do it. But Tolson and her cronies have been pretty unreceptive to the offers.

So we have to question the wisdom of retaining her.

But that’s the bed you made. So enjoy it.

In the meantime, here is some advice you should probably heed:

- Make it clear to Tolson that the onus is on her to put forth an olive branch to the recycling advocates and the RAC and to create a department that is much, much more approachable, collaborative and progressive. Community outreach, assistance and participation are key if recycling is to have any hope here.

- Make sure you allot the Streets Department enough (read “lots of”) money so they can afford new bins for every household in the city. You have no idea how many people ask us where they can get one of the city’s blue recycling bins. (The answer is nowhere.) And in our own experience, it seems like even though the Streets Department says you don’t need a blue bin and you can recycle with any mid-size open container marked “recycling,” more often than not, the stuff put at curbside not in a blue bin is picked up as trash and not recycled. We’ve even heard reports of recycling trucks confiscating blue bins that are filled to the brim, which is apparently too high for the likes of the recycling folk in the Streets Department. We shit you not.

- Don’t forget about RecycleBank. (They provide all households with bins.) Why have an inefficient city agency try to do what a private company already expertly does for profit and for the financial benefit of the city resident??

- Center City should be fucking BLANKETED in public recycling bins. Next to every trash can in Rittenhouse Square, Old City and every other trafficked pedestrian area, there should be a public, single-stream recycling bin where shoppers, diners, strollers, tourists, business people, etc. can recyle glass, cans, plastic bottles and newspapers as they cruise through our incredibly awesome and pedestrian-friendly downtown.

- Nine out of ten bars and restaurants in Philadelphia don’t recycle. There’s a law that say they have to, but what do you know, it’s not enforced. In a given week, the amount of bottles and cans that are thrown away in city bars instead of recycled is nothing short of tragic. You need to fix this. And fix it IMMEDIATELY.

- Do the math. The city pays $55-$60 a ton to send trash to the landfill. Blue Mountain will pay the city $25-$35 a ton for recyclables. Getting the rate up to 40% will SAVE THE CITY MORE THAN $20 MILLION A YEAR.

Mayor Nutter, you’re our boy. In the past year, you’ve given us more hope for the future of Philadelphia than we have had in years.

But greatly improved recycling is precisely one of the reasons for that. And recycling is an issue we feel quite strongly about. So we can’t just sit back and watch as nothing significant gets done.

To put it simply: we are expecting a sea change. A miracle even, considering this is Philadelphia. But, nevertheless, a miracle that is totally achievable.

You know how hard it is to currently recycle in Philadelphia?? Yes? Well, in one year, we want/expect it to be that difficult not to recycle. Weekly curbside recycling in every neighborhood. Coupon incentives for recycling more. Blue bins as far as the eye can see. My God, it will be beautiful.

We know you can do it, Michael. We just hope you’re right about Clarena.

Don’t expect a pass on this. We are definitely not fucking about.

From Whom the Belle Tolson [ City Paper ]
Letters to the Editor: Recycle This [ City Paper ]
Nutter Delays Budget Talk to Include Ramsey’s Plan [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]
Nutter’s Clean Sweep on Zoning [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]
Nutter: I Could Fix Recycling Program in 45-90 Days [ Greenadelphia ]
A Throw-Away Issue [ Philadelphia Weekly ]
The Same Old Story For Recycling in Philadelphia [ Dig Philly ]

Breaking: Single Stream Recycling — including plastic — finally comes to Center City. Hallelujah. Holy Shit. Where’s the Tylenol?
The Shame of Philadelphia: Recycling

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ryan Howard to Phillies' Brass: Shit… If It's Going To Be That Kind of Party, I'm Going to Stick My Dick in the Mashed Potatoes!!

Ryan Howard and Mashed Potatoes[ Apologies for the tardiness of this post — we experienced some technical difficulties last week. ]

When Ryan Howard asks for $10 Million, you offer him $12 million.

That's how you show your appreciation for the player that rescued your boring-ass, white-bread franchise from total fucking irrelevancy.

For fuck’s sake⎯ You were going to pay a geriatric Mike Lowell $12.5 million a year… and you’re telling us Ryan Howard is worth a measly seven mill?!?!

Fuck the standard “It’s-just-business” explanation.

This is a perfect example of why it's so incredibly, exhaustingly hard to be a dedicated and somewhat intelligent fan of any of Philadelphia’s sports teams… because the franchises are predominatly run by old, dumb, cheap, despotic fucks who really don’t care about winning at all.

These owners prey on the passions of this town’s fans, laughing all the way to the bank. They take advantage of fans’ undying passion for their teams and the amazing players that, in spite of the owners’ best efforts, play their hearts out trying to win this city a championship.

Theses owners don’t have any virtuous intrinsic tie to the city. Or an undying dedication to win.

They’re simply in it to make money. And to screw the proverbial shareholders (i.e. lifelong fans) along the way.

That means they’re more than content to run a franchise that wins between 85 and 89 games for seven straight years (OK, one year they only won 80) — the very definition of just doing enough to stay a little above mediocrity — while frustrating the living fuck out their fans with their seemingly impossible frugality. They simply refuse to go out and pay any significant amount of money for the type of talent that would make the team a perennial powerhouse.

And all the while, they’re pulling in mountains of cash from ticket, merchandise and broadcast rights sales.

Sure it was years ago but it’s still relevant today — Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen didn't demand to be traded because they hated their teammates… or because they hated Philly fans… or because they hated the City of Philadelphia. No. They both demanded to be traded because they could see that Phillies ownership was so tight, that if you stuck a lump of coal up their ass, in two weeks you’d have a diamond. Everyone in the Phillies’ front office was and still is operating with a “just-spend-enough-so-as-to-not-be-terrible” mind frame.

This is still very much the case today. Where’s Mark Prior?? (He’s on San Diego with Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Greg Maddux — hmm, wonder if the Padres are going to be any good next/this year…) Where’s Dontrelle Willis?? Where’s Livan Herndanzez?

Ryan Howard is worth more than $10 Million a yearSo, RyHo, honestly — we’d like to apologize to you on behalf of the Phillies’ totally classless ownership. They are a bunch of toothless douchebags.

Good luck with the arbitration hearing, RyHo — you’re worth the $10 million and then some. We hope that not only do you win, but also that the arbiter rules that Bill Giles, John Middleton and David Montgomery have to personally wipe your ass for the next six months.

Phillies’ Brass Not Worried About Howard’s Contract [ Allentown Morning Call ]
Bill Conlin: It would be unwise for Phillies to take Howard to arbitration [ Philadelphia Daily News ]
Who is Right, the Phillies or Ryan Howard? More than 70% say Ryan Howard [ ]

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

10 Arts to Rock and Reverberate the Ritz Rotunda With Ripert on the Wheels

Eric Ripert on the decks at his restaurant in New YorkWay back when, when we first told you about some forthcoming changes to the restaurant at the Ritz Carlton, we alleged that the change was to up the “cool” or “hip” factor of the restaurant. Think less Fountain at the Four Seasons and more Buddakan, if you will.

So now, almost a year and a half later, we’re finally learning some additional deets about the new project. And over at Foobooz, they’re not exactly ecstatic about the alleged name of the new restaurant that one Eric Ripert (of Le Bernardin fame) will bring to the Ritz Carlton later this year: 10 Arts, alluding to its address on the Avenue of the Arts, as first reported on Food and Drinq.

Meanwhile, over at the estimable Philadelphia Menupages Blog (god, they really could use a new name…), they’ve noted that Atlantic City may not be able to secure the same top-level star chefs as Vegas or New York. But in the article referenced, Mr. Ripert actually chimes in:
One chef who doesn't see his future in Atlantic City is Eric Ripert, the three-star Michelin chef of Le Bernardin in New York.

He has expanded to Washington and plans to open in Philadelphia this spring, but found Atlantic City a little tacky when he first visited in the early 1980s and hasn't returned. Ripert said was expecting an experience more like Monaco.

He said Vegas has been able to attract high-caliber chefs because casinos have been willing to invest a lot of money to bring them.

As for Atlantic City, restaurants, he said: "I'm sure they are successful and I'm sure they are enjoying their partnership over there and they have a good reason to be there. Myself, I haven't found a good reason."
Ok, so no A.C. for Mr. Ripert. It apparently is not up to the Frenchman’s standards. That’s pretty clear. We guess Philadelphia can kind of take that as a backhanded complement — i.e. Mr. Ripert won’t open a restaurant just anywhere and he’s doing one here so, evidently, we’re fairly attractive as a dining/restaurant/food destination/town. (Which is comforting to hear since we’ve known as much for, oh say, the past decade.)

So, ok — what kind of vibe is he going to bring to the majestic rotunda lobby of the Ritz Carlton??

Judging from the massive, six-foot speakers he sports in his living room and his self-professed partiality for beats…
"At one point I was a house and techno freak," [Ripert] said. "I actually cracked the walls of the house. I used to D.J. at the house and have these wild nights. Everyone wasn’t deaf at the end of the night, but ... affected. I used to dance so heavily that the floor is broken, too."
… we just may be OK to assume he’ll do just fine with the “hip” quotient… Yes? No? Maybe?

Perhaps we’ll see on the 22nd when the Ritz is supposed to unveil more info on the project. Stay tuned.

Possessed: Turn Down the Burner, Fire Up the Sound [ New York Times ]
Atlantic City Struggles for Celebrity Chefs [ Philadelphia Menupages Blog ]
Name Game [ Foobooz ]
Eric Ripert’s Restaurant’s Name Is… [ Food and Drinq ]

The Ritz Carlton Wants Some Hipster Too

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Eating the Illadelph: Grilled Cheeses Are For Rich People Edition

Grilled Cheese at the Foundry
- Cuba Libre’s chef Guillermo Pernot (formerly of Pasión!) got the Wall Street Journal treatment this weekend with a profile in the Pursuits section of the Weekend Journal. Cool to hear him describe a goal of his cuisine being “to suggest what Cuba's cuisine would be like today had it continued to flourish beyond the takeover by Fidel Castro.” Is right. Effing communists. [ Wall Street Journal ]

- Kudos to Reading Terminal Market for taking a solid step toward making itself and all of its vendors more green. (Duh, a local market should scream green.) The market is now recycling cans, glass, plastic, newspapers and plastic bags. Now, if they only would sell a dope reusable bag for a nominal fee and start charging people who use plastic bags, then we’d really be getting somewhere. Tough love, people. Tough love. [ Reading Terminal Market ]

- What up Kirsten?!?! Good to see you on the ‘sphere, yo. Rock that shit.

- Christopher Lee apparently learned a thing or two from Stephen Starr during his tenure working for the man at Striped Bass. Remember the $100 Cheesesteak at Barclay Prime and all the subsequent press it got? Well Lee (now in New York) has a $50 Grilled Cheese on his menu at the Gilt Restaurant and it just happened to make its way onto an episode of Gossip Girl, that ridiculous show on thhe CW your little sister insists is not awful. Anyway, after the cameo on the show, Lee got invited to appear on Today to make the same sammie for Al, the clip of which is above.

Now, while we love ourselves some grilled cheese — seriously, no joke: Royal, we’ll be by for one in, like, twenty min — we honestly can’t say we mind the new cult-gourmet status the sandwich has garnered. Grilled Cheeses are just plain sexy. Haute or not. [ MSNBC ]

Table 31 at the Comcast Center (Rendering)- First look at Table 31 indeed. The rendering of the dining room (above) looks alright. The bar area, however, looks a tad bit, um, garish. The steakhouse, by team Scarduzio and Perrier, is slated to open in the Comcast Center in May or June. [ Table 31 ]

Market at the Comcast Center- While you’re at it, might as well get ready for the opening of the Market at the Comcast Center, the first glance of which the rock stars at Philly Skyline snapped (above) back in December. Mexican Post will be there. So will Sook Hee’s Produce, La Scala’s and Godiva. That bad boy is scheduled to open in April. (No word on the Di Bruno’s outpost just yet.)

That’s it for now. Go on and steal some of that sunshine.

Happy 2008 B!!!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Say Hello to the Magnanimous Symphony House II, Um, We Mean, 10 Rittenhouse Square

10 Rittenhouse Square vs. Optimus PrimeSpeaking of Philadelphia’s propensity for red brick, does anyone mind if we pause for a moment to take a look at 10 Rittenhouse Square? You know, the mixed-use development at 18th and Sansom… The one that is just now peaking its head above ground level after construction was completed on the underground parking garage.

No? Super.

Ok, the first question has to be, does Rittenhouse Square's designation as historic also stipulate new construction has to resemble an inanimate cartoon version of Optimus Prime?

We’re sorry. We don’t mean to be negative to start off the new year.

But it is simply not a good looking building. Way too much brick. Not nearly enough glass. Case closed. (It is actually kind of reminiscent of another recent addition to the Philadelphia cityscape, unfortunately.)

Is the lego look in? Seriously. We don't understand. WTF?

Why, of all the buildings to choose from, did they choose the bland Alison Building to inform the design of 10 Rittenhouse? Sure, it is at the building’s base and frames the view of pedestrians from south of Walnut, but shit?! Totally unnecessary.

They surely didn’t have to let it dictate the building’s entire exterior motif, right up to the spacing between windows.

So who is the culprit? Robert A.M. Stern, the architect, or ARCWheeler, the developer??

Well, let’s see. Stern is not known as the most adventurous of architects these days, so a boring design wouldn't be out of question. But he can still yield a pretty mean T-square.

Case in point: Stern, who churns out tower designs pretty much weekly, also designed the Clarendon Back Bay in Boston, a project comparable to 10 Rittenhouse.

Robert A.M. Stern's The Clarendon Back Bay BostonThe Clarendon, at right, is a 30-some story luxury tower. So is 10 Rittenhouse. The Clarendon is a mixed-use development with more than 400,000 total square feet and boasts more than 100 luxury condominiums on its upper floors. So is 10 Rittenhouse and so does 10 Rittenhouse. The Clarendon has a red brick and limestone exterior. Wow — so does 10 Rittenhouse.

The Clarendon, however, pulls it off without looking like a tragic, post-modern attempt at a early-20th-century skyscraper. (Or a an autonomous robotic organism, e.g. transformer, extraordinaire, depending on who you ask.) Thanks, in large part, to its wealth of large glass windows.

It’s a shame ARCWheeler didn’t request something that looked more like the Clarendon. Or, basically, something that looked more awesome. Philadelphia would definitely be better off.

(After all, it's going to be with us for at least 30 years and the location is kinda premier: "But there is a civic interest, as well as a financial interest. Rittenhouse Square is the closest thing Philadelphia has to a town green, and what goes up on [its perimeter] will have the eyes of the whole city on it.")

It’s like our girl Inga says…
While that's all true enough, Symphony House's defenders operate on the belief that any new construction in Philadelphia is good construction.

But after a vigorous real estate boom, Philadelphia can't be satisfied anymore just to build new. The city needs to build well, with taste, integrity, creativity, and, whenever possible, real aesthetic ambition. Looks matter, especially as the city comes to depend on tourism for its livelihood.
Word, Inga. Word.

So, yea, this time we’re going to go ahead and save Ms. Saffron the grief of having to deal with the fallout of calling a spade a spade.

To be clear, 10 Rittenhouse is not bad.

(It has its positives: burying its parking underground; good, ground floor retail; added residential density to Center City — already the third most highly populated downtown in the country; etcetera.)

It’s just not good. Looking, that is.

And it definitely could have been.

10 Rittenhouse Square [ Official Site ]