Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Long Range Planning Goes Wrong

At one point, the Reading Railroad was said to be the largest corporation in the world. Whether that was true or not is irrelevant; it was big. It was made so by starting the first industrial revolution along the upper reaches of the Delaware River by building on the land speculation of Robert Morris at Morrisville, followed by the War of 1812 making anthracite supplant Chesapeake coal for the benefit of the Girard Estate. The Walking Purchase and Ben Franklin had something to do with all this, although it remains unclear just what it was. Eventually, the wide upper Delaware and New Jersey political shenanigans diverted rail traffic to the foot of Market Street, where the Market Street subway (the first American subway) became the focus for Atlantic Coast traffic, and the Girard Estate built an industrial focus for it until 1926 through Philadelphia. Then the Pennsylvania Railroad and the construction of the Ben Franklin Bridge upset the geographic barrier to direct traffic through Philadelphia and from 1926 the whole set of rearrangements shifted to making Philadelphia a dying ghost town by 1933. The careful planning of William Penn, Stephen Girard, Ben Franklin, and Francis Bacon was upset in scarcely more than one decade. That's an abbreviated summary of a much more complicated history, usually condensed even further by saying the automobile riding on the new Ben Franklin Bridge changed the whole Atlantic geography on the back of World War II. Centuries of planning around the conveniences and obstacles of that happenstance -- went out the window. It remains to be seen whether Meds and Eds will rescue the situation. The rapid migration of the movie, the automobile, the computer, the publishing industry, the banking industry, men's clothing and countless other industries could not resist the speed and thoroughness of change.

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Originally published: Saturday, December 28, 2019; most-recently modified: Saturday, December 28, 2019