Global Conversation with Paul Steinke

By Stephanie DeMarco, Global Philadelphia Ambassador

Paul Steinke, Executive Director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, recently transitioned into his new position after serving on the Alliance Board of Directors for almost 20 years.

In addition to his service on the Alliance Board, Steinke was General Manager of Reading Terminal Market, where he propelled its growth into one of the nation’s most successful markets. Paul served as Finance Director for the Center City District and the first Executive Director of the University City District.

Steinke took time out of his busy schedule to speak with Global Philadelphia Association about some of the work the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia is involved in and his view of working in a World Heritage City.

Can you tell us a little bit about The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia?

We stand for historic preservation in and around the Philadelphia area. The organization is twenty years old this year and our mission is to advocate for the preservation of our historic building inventory in the region.

Since taking over the role of Executive Director of The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia this June, what have been or are some of your goals?

My main goal is to make the case for historic preservation more strongly and more broadly throughout the area. The city is going through a boom in construction, development, and population. This is a very different scenario than what Philadelphia went through in previous decades. This is a great opportunity for Philadelphia to take stock in and appreciate our historic built environment.

My goal with the Alliance is to get that message out wherever and whenever possible and advocate for the reuse and rehabilitation of historic buildings, which only can enhance our status as a World Heritage City. It helps to persevere and protect the historic character of Philadelphia, which sets Philadelphia apart from so many others. Cities such as Huston, Dallas, or Phoenix, though all beautiful cities, lack texture and historical character. I along with many others believe that Philadelphia’s draw as a city has a lot to do with its historic character and preservation is an important aspect of that draw. My goal is to get that message out and tip the scales towards rehabilitation and preservation and away from demolition and new construction whenever possible.

What got you interested in preservation?

Having grown up in Philadelphia, at a very young age I became very interested in my surroundings and in the built environment. I derive great joy and satisfaction from exploring neighborhoods, understanding the history, and identifying the historic buildings in those neighborhoods. It led to a lifelong passion for architecture, design, and the built environment.

Last year, Philadelphia was designated as a World Heritage City. What does it mean for you to be working in a city with such a title?

As a Philadelphian, I have recognized the important role that this city has played in every era of the American experience. From the Colonial era to the Independence movement to the early Federal era when we were the Athens of America; the Financial Capital of the emerging nation, which was lost but was replaced by a major role in the Industrial Revolution. From there Philadelphia grew to be one of the leading cities in the world, utilizing our industrial might throughout World War II to support a successful war effort and fight against Fascism and tyranny.

Present day, Philadelphia is a leader in medicine, education, various industrial sectors, which enables us to interpret the American experience, not just for this nation but also for the world. In recognizing all of those things, I have been deeply interested in how Philadelphia is perceived around the world. What are seen as our strengths and our weaknesses? The designation as a World Heritage City reinforces my belief that Philadelphia is an important place on the world stage and this is another vehicle for us to tell that story.

What do you think it means to be a Global citizen in Philadelphia?

For me, it is important to recognize how we fit into our region, state, the nation, and the world. I have always paid close attention to the multinational companies that have a presence in Philadelphia and the ethnic and cultural diversity. I believe the saying “think globally, act locally” is something that I have tried to do throughout my career. Thinking in terms of what is going on in the world but devoting my energies to how I can make Philadelphia a better place within the world.