Thursday, February 17, 2005

Wilmington Diary, Day One

Well, make that Day Three, as I've spent most of the past three days in Delaware's largest city, prepping for this honest-to-God Day One of an indefinite temporary assignment at MBNA, the giant credit card issuer headquartered in the heart of downtown Wilmington.

Even if this assignment runs no longer than the one-week trial period my employer-at-one-remove and I have agreed to, this is already a learning experience on several fronts. It's my first exposure to the corporate sector and to the world of banking. It's also a chance for me to take the measure of a new city and see what I can discern about the place from looking around.

Herewith, the first of a bunch of observations on what the redevelopment of Wilmington, as exemplified by MBNA's move into the city, might tell us about cities in general.

Jane Jacobs--who wrote with dismay about the deadening effect some uses have on a cityscape, with the four banks located at Broad and Chestnut in Philadelphia in 1961 as an example--would probably be amused by what downtown Wilmington has become. The large banks that moved their credit-card operations to Delaware have transformed the Wilmington skyline, giving this small (roughly 90,ooo population) city a big-city appearance.

But it's gone beyond that. The banks have even annexed the public square--literally.

Rodney Square--downtown Wilmington's epicenter, featuring a statue honoring its namesake, Caesar Rodney, who rode through mud and storms to cast Delaware's vote for independence in 1776--used to be dominated by civic institutions. On its east side was the New Castle County courthouse; on its south, the Wilmington Public Library; on the north, the city's main post office; and on the west, the Hotel DuPont, owned by what used to be the biggest company in the state. (That honor now belongs to the one where I'm now working.)

The library remains there, untouched. The hotel spruced itself up. But the post office is now relegated to the basement of its own building; the rest is now the front door to the headquarters of Wilmington Trust, the biggest full-service bank based in the city. And the New Castle County courthouse has been annexed to the MBNA headquarters--the county's moved to new digs four blocks away--and the company is trying to figure out what to put in it.

I'm not sure I like this development any more than Jacobs did. But it appears to be paying off for the city, in some way. But perhaps not the way the leaders hoped it would, if what's inside MBNA headquarters is any guide. More on that tomorrow.

1 comment:

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