Once dismissed as a rusting industrial has-been—the “Next Detroit”—Philadelphia has enjoyed an astonishing comeback in the 21st century. Over the past two decades, Inga Saffron has served as the premier chronicler of the city’s physical transformation as it emerged from a half century of decline. Through her Pulitzer Prize-winning columns on architecture and urbanism in the Philadelphia Inquirer, she has tracked the city’s revival on a weekly basis.
Becoming Philadelphia collects the best of Saffron’s work, plus a new introduction reflecting on the stunning changes the city has undergone. A fearless crusader who is also a seasoned reporter, Saffron ranges beyond the usual boundaries of architectural criticism to explore how big money and politics intersect with design, profoundly shaping our everyday experience of city life. Even as she celebrates Philadelphia’s resurgence, she considers how it finds itself grappling with the problems of success: gentrification, poverty, privatization, and the unequal distribution of public services.
What emerges in these 80 pieces is a remarkable narrative of a remarkable time. The proverbial first draft of history, these columns tell the story of how a great city shape-shifted before our very eyes.
About the Author
INGA SAFFRON has served as the architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer since 1999 and has received numerous honors, including the Vincent Scully Prize, Harvard University’s Loeb Fellowship, and the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. She formerly worked as an Eastern European correspondent, witnessing the destruction of Grozny and Sarajevo, which sparked her interest in urban renewal.
"The dozens of columns in this essential collection illustrate the myriad ways Saffron's inability to accept business as usual have shaped her criticism and, ultimately, 21st century Philadelphia. From eviscerating mega-developments to decrying parking lots, Saffron makes clear that her first loyalty is to the people of Philadelphia and not the out-of-towers that successive mayors believed were more crucial to the city's success." — Alexandra Lange
"With penetrating insight and biting wit, Inga Saffron’s critiques leap off the page. In this collection, they take on even greater force, illuminating the revival of a historic American city and offering lessons about the use—and misuse—of power and planning that apply to all cities." — Blair Kamin
"Architecture critic, investigative journalist, historian, urbanist, humanist, public citizen, Saffron wears all of these hats, she wears them comfortably, and her highly detailed and opinionated columns are fascinating and satisfying to read." — Artblog
"If you, like me, are not intimately familiar with Philadelphia, you might wonder how engaged you can become in a discussion of urbanism rooted in a single city. Very engaged, it turns out. Jane Jacobs used her neighborhood in lower Manhattan as the starting point for The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Similarly, Saffron has constructed a Philadelphia story that reverberates far beyond the city limits." — Rein Reports
"Philly has become a thriving town because it built on old foundations, valuing history and investing in downtown. It cherishes the little niceties that bring people here. And a series of smart policy decisions has now helped burnish this town’s rep. That’s the tale Inga Saffron tells us in Becoming Philadelphia. More than an appraiser of buildings, she is a chronicler of the ill-advised, idiotic, humane, and beautiful. — Philadelphia Inquirer
"I was impressed, and moved, by the heart in these articles, and I look forward to reading more columns in this humanistic vein as we reimagine what kind of city Philadelphia should become in the future."