This week, GQ magazine named Philadelphia, “City of the Year.”
I think anyone living in Philadelphia right now can attest that there is a transformation going on that is unprecedented. New business has spawned new housing, which has spawned entertainment and events that arguably wouldn’t have even considered Philadelphia a decade ago.
There’s even more interest from city government agencies to do more. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Parks and Recreation, for all its faults in the inner city, more excited to bring attention to neighborhoods via its programs, mainly its Parks on Tap initiative, which has been a success. Also, pop-up bars, outdoor movie nights you name it, have all contributed to a new culture and way of thinking about life in Philadelphia.
Neighborhoods once deemed uninhabitable have been revitalized. Three of our sports teams have given us something to be proud of, and as the GQ article attests, the city is home to some of the most award-winning restaurants and chefs of said restaurants in the world.
Yes, it’s true. It’s a good time to be a Philadelphian.
If you can afford it.
What the article doesn’t mention is that we are still a city where a quarter of our residents live below the poverty line. People will argue well, that’s because the school system is so bad and old school residents aren’t getting a quality education. Well, perhaps that wouldn’t be the case if the city, which largely funds its own school system with minimal help from the state, didn’t lose out on millions in possible funding courtesy of abated property taxes and other tax breaks to entice young suburbia to move here.
A recent report notes that the School District lost out on $62 million in funding in 2017, one of the reasons being a direct result of the 10-year tax abatement. Imagine all the good that could’ve been done if $62 million was dispensed into the right hands to directly benefit the education of children in the city of Philadelphia?
I guarantee you those same poverty rates would decrease significantly over a generation.
Full disclosure, I myself am part of the problem. I grew up in Hunting Park for a large part of my life, but there’s an near-equally sized piece of my life pie that resided on the Main Line. I went to a great high school, attended a great college and when I decided to move back to Philadelphia and start a family here, I went for a house boasting an abatement in a developing neighborhood. It was a decision made with children in mind who needed a strong foundation, and at the time, I was able to afford it only due to the rebate.
I’ve talked to countless others from all over the city in the same boat as me who will tell you the same: the rebate was a game changer, allowing them to be able to afford to move into the city and purchase a house or buy a storefront for their small business. It’s been a difference maker, but one that has come to the detriment of long-term residents – young and old.
The trick now is to get families like mine to remain in Philly and help it grow. Too many young families are coming here, soaking up all the riches the city has to offer and then hightailing it for better schools, less litter and greener grass. What’s the solve to keep them here while serving the needs of lifelong residents who love their community for better or for worse? What’s the solve for them to not get “priced out” and to be a part of a community, able to vote long-term on whether to have another coffee shop or craft brewery invade their neighborhood?
That’s for minds greater than mine to figure out who sit in more prominent positions, too. But I do know it can be done. What I love most about my neighborhood is the diversity and richness that wasn’t there when I was growing up. Neighbors of all different races – and sexual orientations (which, yes, does matter) – commingling for common community goals. Growing up in North Philly in early 1990s, the only time I can remember seeing white people was when I went to school or when there was police activity.
But that’s all changed and I’ll argue that is what has made Philadelphia the new “IT” city. Along with a Super Bowl championship, a NCAA national basketball title, top restaurants on the Zagat list and, of course, an ugly ass orange fur ball named, Gritty, this a city of neighborhoods teeming with diversity. But we need to get it to a point of being old and new, not old vs. new. All of which relies on elected officials to ensure fairness and equality in the pursuit of an economic revival for every resident.
Not just for the ones who can afford it.