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Opera Philadelphia commissions work based on saxophonist Charlie Parker

Opera Philadelphia has commissioned Daniel Schnyder to create a chamber opera about the jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker.

The opera, “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” is set on the day Parker died — March 12, 1955 — but takes place in his imagination as he is dying. The tenor Lawrence Brownlee will play Parker; Angela Brown, the soprano, will portray his mother, Addie, and Will Liverman, the baritone, will play Dizzy Gillespie, a frequent collaborator. Casting has not been announced for the other roles, which will include Parker’s patron, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. Corrado Rovaris, the company’s music director, who suggested Mr. Schnyder for the commission, is scheduled to conduct the premiere.

Original source: The New York Times
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Innovative Philadelphia clinic offers healthcare to undocumented immigrants

Puentes de Salud, a Penn-funded clinic, provides health care to those outside the system, including undocumented immigrants.

Puentes de Salud, which in English means “bridges of health,” was founded to provide low-cost but quality health care and social services to the growing Latino population in South Philadelphia and began treating patients in 2006. A co-founder, Dr. Steve Larson, said the organization distinguished itself from other community-health groups by addressing the underlying causes of illness, like poor nutrition, illiteracy or urban violence.

"It’s not about me writing prescriptions," said Dr. Larson, 53, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who said he began to develop his approach to community medicine while working in rural Nicaragua in the early 1990s. "This is an underground health system."


Original source: The New York Times
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Keeping a brewery small can reap dividends

Small-production breweries can create demand for their products -- it might be a good lesson for future craft brewers.

Hill Farmstead, in the hamlet of Greensboro, produces just 60,000 gallons of beer annually. The beer is available for purchase only at the brewery and in roughly 20 Vermont bars. In addition, Mr. Hill sends 12 kegs to distributors in New York City and Philadelphia a few times a year...

From the start, his philosophy has been to make the best beer possible without pursuing what he calls “infinite, boundless growth.” He operates under the belief that beer is a perishable item, “just like lettuce or broccoli,” he says, and should be consumed locally, not shipped long distances.


Original source: The New York Times
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Announcement of new Comcast tower has city abuzz

A new skyscraper will rise above Philadelphia thanks to Comcast. The city was abuzz with chatter about the new addition, including Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron.

Until now, America's most glamorous tech companies have largely been housed in suburban oases, velvet prisons that offer employees endless supplies of vitamin water and protein bars, but require lengthy commutes in company caravans from San Francisco to the cluttered highway strips of Silicon Valley. There's plenty of interaction inside the bubble, but hardly any with the wider world.

With its new 1,121-foot-tall loft building, designed by Britain's Norman Foster, Comcast fashions a rebuttal to all that. Think of the towering waterfall of glass that was unveiled Wednesday as a skyscraper version of the great, light-filled factory lofts of the early 20th century, but wedged into the unpredictable heart of Center City atop the region's densest transit hub. In the six years since Comcast embedded itself in one of the city's more straight-laced corporate towers, it has done a complete 180: Its second high-rise should be a glorious vertical atelier where employees can make a mess while they invent and build stuff.


Original source: Philadelphia Inquirer
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Do animals have a sweet tooth? Monell scientists are on the case

How do animals experience sweetness? And what does that tell us about how sugar effects the brain? These are just a few of the questions being examined at the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

Some mammals have lost the capacity for sensing either sweet or savory: In 2012, a team led by Peihua Jiang of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found this to be the case among marine mammals like Asian otters, bottlenose dolphins and sea lions — species that tend not to chew their food. “It kind of makes sense,” says Paul Breslin, another taste physiologist based at Monell and Rutgers University. “If it looks like a fish and swims like a fish, and it’s hard to catch, they’ll swallow it whole. So they don’t need to taste.”

But what about substances that mimic sugar, like the noncaloric sweeteners many of us depend on? The human flytrap clamps down on sugar, but it also grabs Sweet’N Low and Splenda and lots of other chemicals — both artificial and natural — that approximate the flavor. Do other animals have the same response? If a dog likes the taste of Coca-Cola, will it show the same response to Diet Coke?


Original source: The New York Times
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Philly photographer paints portrait of Rust Belt town in 'Homesteading'

Noted local photographer Zoe Strauss -- of "Under I-95" fame -- has a new project, 'Homesteading,' that examines life in a post-steel mill town.

“Homesteading” combines landscapes, street photography and formal studio portraits to explore over generations the history of those who built Andrew Carnegie’s wealth, the ways their fates were intertwined and the current lives of Homestead’s residents. After a year of research, she found it daunting to blend themes of globalization, a mythic past and the trauma of that past in a mundane 21st-century community. She actually felt she had reached the limits of what she could do with photography. So, she did what she always does when overwhelmed: Let strangers show her the way...

Ms. Strauss is not your typical Magnum photographer — she describes herself as a lesbian anarchist from Philadelphia and is unfailingly humble. She is interested as much by theory as by photographic practice, and she loves and is influenced by science fiction, art theory and epic poetry.


Original source: New York Times' Lens blog
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Philadelphia Museum of Art receives major gift of contemporary works

Keith L. Sachs, the former chief executive of Saxco International, and his wife, Katherine are giving a major gift to the Philadelphia Museum of Art from their contemporary collection.

The couple are also major buyers of contemporary art, working closely with museum curators to amass a top-flight collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures from the 1950s to the present. This week, the museum announced that it had been promised a lion’s share of the Sachs holdings. Included in the gift are 97 works by contemporary masters like Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden and Gerhard Richter, worth nearly $70 million, according to auction house experts asked for their assessment. Timothy Rub, the museum’s director, said it was one of the most important gifts of contemporary art in the institution’s 138-year history.

Original source: The New York Times
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Recently digitized historic maps depict much smaller Philadelphia

The University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab has digitized and made available online the entire Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States. By viewing the maps on top of contemporary images, you get a unique picture of progress. Check out Philadelphia.

The old paper maps have been geo-rectified so that they can be viewed atop digital maps. The atlas contains several series of maps across the years, which have now been animated. In one, you can watch the center of the U.S. population migrate from 1790 to 1930 (in the 1920s, the center of America's urban population was located in western Ohio).

As you might imagine, the newly accessible collection is full of arcane trivia about American exports in the 1790s, but also a wealth of knowledge about the early growth of U.S. cities, and what their first planners had in mind for them. One particularly delightful chapter is devoted to the "plans of cities" – all of them, of necessity, from the East Coast – dating back to as early as 1775
.

Original source: The Atlantic Cities
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The New York Times shines a bright light on Philly's new land bank

Philadelphia's recently passed land bank legislation got some big-time press in a New York Times feature.

The new city ordinance aims to consolidate ownership of the properties under the roof of the Land Bank. And to encourage developers to buy through one-stop shopping, the city ordinance also gives the Land Bank power to acquire title to privately owned vacant properties if they are delinquent in taxes. Officials said about three-quarters of Philadelphia’s vacant properties were privately owned and many were behind on taxes. That has deterred prospective buyers who have trouble tracking down owners of long-abandoned properties or dealing with liens on the buildings.

Once the Land Bank is operational later this year, developers will be in a better position to take control of whole blocks that currently show a “gap-tooth” patchwork of public and private buildings and land, proponents say.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Hope for redevelopment at the SS United States?

People are working hard to save the SS United States; the behemoth has been docked in South Philly since the mid-'90s.

Donors from around the world contributed at least $205,000, and another $116,000 was raised by scrapping obsolete pieces of the ship that would have had to be cleared eventually by a developer, said Susan Gibbs, the conservancy's executive director.

The influx of cash should cover the ship's upkeep bills for the next six months or so. By that time, Gibbs said, there's hope that a redevelopment deal will finally be close at hand.

"We aren't yet able to make an announcement about a final deal, but we're very hopeful 2014 is going to be the year for the SS United States," she said.

Unfortunately, that future might happen outside of Philadelphia -- perhaps in New York. Time will tell.

Original Source: Philadelphia Daily News
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GQ's Alan Richman weighs in on the cheesesteak wars

The renowned food critic drafted his list of the 10 best cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. (Ed note: the presence of Pat's and Geno's on the list is a disgrace; the omission of Dalessandro's is even worse.) 

So many cheesesteaks, so much to learn, even for a Philadelphia native, which I am. Who makes the best, a debate that has consumed the city for decades? Which is the best cheese, sliced provolone or Cheez Whiz, the legendary goop invented by Kraft in the early fifties? (American cheese, a third option, is too feeble to be a viable choice.) Which establishment chops, caramelizes, and adds the correct quantity of onions, which is my particular passion, given that the grilled beef in these sandwiches tends to be bland?  And, finally, just how good is the bread, a judgment we tended to leave to Maria Gallagher, a former restaurant critic for Philadelphia magazine?

Original source: GQ
Read the complete list here.

Huge Mount Sinai plan revealed at public meeting

Developers have let the public in on their plans for the massive, abandoned Mount Sinai campus in Pennsport. 

Jeff DiRomaldo, Project Manager and Architect for Barton Partners out of Norristown, provided some background on the "urban repair project" and went over the early plans and designs. The key theme he wanted to stress -- filling the "voids" in the street scape that plague the area. The hope is to construct the town homes as a border around the property that "re-integrate those edges" of the site back in to the neighborhood.

As usual, parking was a major concern for neighbors:

The plan calls for the site to contain 137 spaces, all but five will be within the interior of the development and that number includes the garages in the town homes. However, as Developer Gagar Lakhmna explained, the existing curb cuts will be reduced from ten to nine in the process as a different curb cut at 5th and Dickinson will be necessary to accommodate a front-loading garage for those units due to space. Basically, the fewer curb cuts means more street parking. He also mentioned that they drew up plans for an interior parking deck but it would have only given them about 10 more spaces. They will look to have "80 bike spaces and two car share spots" as well. 

Original source: Pennsporter
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The 50K 'Rocky' run earns national attention

A 'Fat Ass' run stemming from a Philly Mag blog post -- plotting Rocky's run from the film Rocky II -- took place a couple weeks ago, and earned some national press.

The run through distal parts of the city seems almost impossible, even for someone as tough as Rocky.

Enter the ultra-running movement to show it is possible. Nearly four decades after the first Rocky movie, a group of runners set out Saturday to re-create Rocky's training run—all 31 miles of it, the equivalent of 50 kilometers...

Before sunrise Saturday, about 150 runners huddled in the cold near the South Philly house that Rocky moves into with his bride, Adrian, played by Talia Shire. This is where he starts his training run, hoping to beat Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers.

Many runners were decked out in old-school gray sweats and red headbands like the ones Rocky wore. Phil Yurkon of Scranton, Pa., wore boxing gloves and had "Lithuanian Stallion" written on the back of his sweatshirt, a play on Rocky's "Italian Stallion" nickname and a homage to Mr. Yurkon's ancestry. The 32-year-old hadn't run more than 17 miles before this run; he heard about the Rocky run the day before and decided to try it.


Original source: The Wall Street Journal
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SEPTA gets into the holiday spirit, with help from their operators

As we personally witnessed on a recent Broad Street Line ride, some SEPTA trains have gotten super festive this holiday season. CBS looked into the story behind these cheery decorations.

The company is decking out several trolleys, buses and even a Norristown High Speed Line train car for the holidays with lights, ornaments and boughs of holly. Riders should keep an eye out for the decorated “sleighs” on certain routes, including Trolley #9052, which operates on Route 10, and Bus #9253, which runs on Route 35. Routes 101 and 102, the Media/Sharon Hill Line, will also have decorated trolleys, and the Norristown High Speed Line will feature a decorated car.

Original source: CBS Philly
Read the complete story here.

Huffington Post Travel calls Philly a 'City of Makers'

Philadelphia gets props for its proclivity for hands-on activities -- many of them available to tourists.

Philadelphia's diverse neighborhoods have been the bastion of artisans and craftspeople since their very beginnings. In the early 1700s, immigrants sought their fortunes in the one colony that didn't require a tithe to the Church -- Pennsylvania. By 1740, Philadelphia was the largest city in the colonies -- an engine of industry. One German observer wrote in 1754: "Pennsylvania is heaven for farmers, paradise for artisans and hell for officials and preachers." This "paradise for artisans" has gone through a rebirth in recent years, revitalizing Philadelphia's flagging neighborhoods and bringing a distinctive creative energy to each.

Original source: The Huffington Post
Read the complete story here.


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