Happy August, dedicated readers of The Inquirer Morning Newsletter. (Yes, July is really over.) Here’s what you need to know today.

Philadelphia is trying to fix the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, again. The area was designed in the early 20th century to be a lushly landscaped boulevard lined with cultural institutions and schools. But now, it’s an eight-lane highway that doesn’t offer an easy path for pedestrians to cross Eakins Oval to reach the Art Museum steps. After reviewing three different proposals, the city is expected to select a design team this fall that will draw up a formal plan.

But this isn’t the first time Philadelphia has tried to reimagine the Parkway. Architecture critic Inga Saffron takes you through the design history of the Parkway.

— Lauren Aguirre (@laurencaguirre, morningnewsletter@inquirer.com)

The week ahead

This week’s most popular stories

Behind the story with Craig LaBan

Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with restaurant critic and columnist Craig LaBan about his work covering the region’s food scene.

Can you describe your job as a restaurant critic?

My task, at its most basic, is to feast through our awesome dining scene and tell readers where to find restaurant experiences across the Philadelphia region that are worth their hard-earned money - or sometimes not. At a deeper level, I’ve always viewed food and restaurants as a powerful lens through which to tell stories about people and culture, where we’ve been, and what we’re becoming.

What is your favorite part about your job?

I never stop learning, even after all these years. Every week, it seems, I taste something in a delicious way I’ve yet to encounter, or interview someone who teaches me something essential about their craft or culture or personal story.

What’s something many people may not know about being a restaurant critic? Got any surprising stories to share?

Trying to remain anonymous over the years has been a source of many amusing tales, even after I abandoned disguises early in my career (since they just don’t work). Masking-up for the pandemic actually had upsides for me in being able to go out in public openly as myself. But lately, my adorable pandemic rescue puppy, Buttercup, is to blame for the occasional reveal. Ever since my kids launched her Instagram page, more than a couple dog park acquaintances heard us call her name, then looked up and asked, “Wait, are you…?” Woof!

Are bell ratings making a comeback anytime soon?

I wrote a column recently saying that it’s finally time to start writing reviews again — but still too soon for ratings. Too much is still in flux while restaurants get back up to full speed, especially with staffing, and I don’t believe ratings with a pandemic asterisk are very useful. I’ve always been in favor of ratings and plan to revive them. But it’ll also be an interesting experiment to write without the bells for a while. We’ll keep reassessing over the coming months.

What’s something you’ve learned through your work reviewing and exploring restaurants?

The culinary talents in this region never cease to amaze me, but especially over the past pandemic year when their resources and fortitude were really tested, the hospitality community truly reaffirmed how essential food and restaurants are to the spirit and well-being of our lives. Their current comeback is thoroughly inspiring.

What do you do in your free time? What are you looking forward to this year?

I ride my bike into Fairmount Park whenever I can to cycle off some of those calories and try to remain healthy. But playing with Buttercup, who’s a Great Dane mix and loves to run, turns out to be a pretty great workout, too. So, more Buttercup, for sure!

Email Craig LaBan at claban@inquirer.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @CraigLaBan.

Through Your Eyes | #OurPhilly

Sometimes we all need un poco amor in our lives. Thanks for sharing!

Tag your Instagram posts or tweets with #OurPhilly and we’ll pick our favorite each day to feature in this newsletter and give you a shout out!

What the new CDC mask guidelines mean for the region

There isn’t a mask mandate in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, but areas in both states have recommendations from local and federal officials to wear masks indoors — regardless of vaccination status. The CDC recommends that vaccinated people wear masks indoors if they’re in areas with surging cases. Cases in Philadelphia aren’t surging right now, but they are going up. Here are your other mask questions answered.

What we’re…

Question of the week

Would an emergency declaration help reduce gun violence in Philadelphia? Philadelphia is on track to experience the deadliest year of homicides in its history. Some residents support the mayor declaring gun violence a state of emergency to encourage more urgent action. But others see it as a distraction from finding tangible solutions.

So, we asked our Instagram followers for their thoughts on a declaration. Here’s what a few of them said:

👍 “Yes. It raises awareness that this is a city where some kids are afraid to go outside.”

👎 “No. It’s a band-aid for the roots (socioeconomic inequalities, under-funded schools, etc.)”

☮️ “If it does in the short [term], it’ll mean nothing without substantial, meaningful social equity programs.”

🏛️ “No. But sensible gun regulation would!”

💵 “If it helps free up emergency funds for evidence-based community interventions, then yes!”

➡️ “Doing something OR anything is better than what our leaders are doing now, which is nothing.”

If you have thoughts or questions about gun violence in Philadelphia, DM us @PhillyInquirer on Instagram.

Your Daily Dose of | Ballroom dancing

Rita D. Redfern-Powell and Tony Demarko Powell have been dancing together for more than 20 years. They don’t plan to ever stop. Take a look inside Philly’s ballroom scene.