Elise Vider began her journalism career in Hartford, Conn., in the late 1970s, at a time when downtown stores were seeing their customers lured away by suburban shopping malls. To counter the competition, city officials ordered the demolition of blocks of old buildings to create parking lots for shoppers. Horrified by the destruction, Ms. Vider started writing columns that focused on the intersection of historic preservation and real estate development.
Those stories, which examined Hartford’s self-destructive urban renewal policies, shaped Ms. Vider’s worldview and would ultimately lead her to a career in Philadelphia as an impassioned advocate for preservation and urban design. As a founding member of the Design Advocacy Group, and later as the chair of its steering committee, she fought the construction of a massive Thomas Jefferson University Hospital parking garage on Chestnut Street and advocated for the preservation of homes and stores in the Sharswood neighborhood.
Ms. Vider, who worked for many years at the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, died Saturday, Oct. 2, from complications caused by a benign brain tumor, just two months shy of her 70th birthday.
She had also spent nearly eight years as director of communications for the Center City District and later helped the Building Industry Association manage its messaging. Until she became ill in 2020, she was a member of Philadelphia’s Civic Design Review board, which evaluates and makes recommendations on development proposals. Ms. Vider was one of the few to object to the construction of a glass apartment tower behind the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Logan Square.
Ms. Vider, who was married to The Inquirer’s former political columnist Dick Polman and was a friend to dozens of people in Philadelphia’s urban design community, including me, came relatively late to her career as a design advocate. After spending the late 1980s raising two children with Polman in Haddonfield, she decided to enroll in Penn’s master’s program in historic preservation. She was nearly 40 when she graduated in 1991.
“She didn’t just want to report and observe; she wanted to make a difference,” Polman said. “She knew the degree would give her credibility, and she saw it as a way to enhance her advocacy for the built environment.”
Even before obtaining her master’s, Ms. Vider was active in the preservation movement. She was the chair of Haddonfield’s preservation commission, which had the power to examine the impact of proposed developments on the town’s historic buildings. After the commission held up a large project to demand design changes, she had to face down a room full of construction workers who were unhappy with the delay, Polman recalled.
Ms. Vider was also deeply interested in Philadelphia and its struggle to manage its rich architectural heritage. In 2002, she joined with several prominent …….