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Letter: Making the Mall work through reconstruction, planting and tax credits
Two small ideas toward the solution of the Independence Mall problem:
- Reconstruct the President's House, where George Washington lived in the 1790s while Congress was in session at Independence Hall. The house stood on Market Street between 5th and 6th Streets, approximately where the Liberty Bell Pavilion is now. The scale of the house as well as its importance complement Independence Hall. Also, the house would be a bridge between the city's colonial buildings and the classic buildings of the early 1800s. Benjamin Franklin's house would gain interest with the President's House just a couple of blocks away.
- Plant trees on both sides of Chestnut Street in front of Independence Hall. The empty sidewalks now begin a desert stretching away as far as the eye can see. Tall trees – high, wide elms if they can be kept healthy – would give a suggestion of coolness to what is now a hard, hot, uniformly brick-red, dry, sterile environment.
One in a thousand will complain that they can't take an unobstructed photograph of Independence Hall from three blocks away. The rest of us will enjoy the shade, the activity, and the human scale.
Now the big idea:
Grant irresistable tax credits to people who relocate their traditional crafts to buildings on what is now the Mall. Philadelphia is still the national center of the stained-glass and flag trades. Some people in town still make the wrought iron that has graced New Orleans' galleries for 150 years. The Horticultural Society should come back to Old City and serve as a gateway to the region's extraordinary botanical history and gardens and agriculture. Let's add to such a list of potential tenants. Maybe someone would move the stables for the current tourist carriages onto the Mall; maybe someone would manufacture better carriages.
This would extend Old City into what is now the Mall/desert. The President's House would be a great counterpoint to Society Hill's beautiful old townhouses. The commercial activity would strengthen the good parts of Old City north of Market Street – the art galleries, the wholesalers, artisans, craftspeople, and suppiers of all kinds.
If the energy that went into redeveloping Society Hill went into redeveloping the measly three blocks of the Mall, we would have a fine new neighborhood that would quickly pay back its cost.