When Philadelphia's iconoclastic city planner Edmund N. Bacon looked into his crystal ball in 1959, he saw a remarkable vision: "Philadelphia as an unmatched expression of the vitality of American technology and culture." In that year Bacon penned an essay for Greater Philadelphia Magazine, originally entitled "Philadelphia in the Year 2009," in which he imagined a city remade, modernized in time to host the 1976 Philadelphia World's Fair and Bicentennial celebration, an event that would be a catalyst for a golden age of urban renewal. What Bacon did not predict was the long, bitter period of economic decline, population dispersal, and racial confrontation that Philadelphia was about to enter. As such, his essay comes to us as a time capsule, a message from one of the city's most influential and controversial shapers that prompts discussions of what was, what might have been, and what could yet be in the city's future. Imagining Philadelphia brings together Bacon's original essay, reprinted here for the first time in fifty years, and a set of original essays on the past, present, and future of urban planning in Philadelphia.
In addition to examining Bacon and his motivations for writing the piece, the essays assess the wider context of Philadelphia's planning, architecture, and real estate communities at the time, how city officials were reacting to economic decline, what national precedents shaped Bacon's faith in grand forms of urban renewal, and whether or not it is desirable or even possible to adopt similarly ambitious visions for contemporary urban planning and economic development. The volume closes with a vision of what Philadelphia might look like fifty years from now.