How Gen X and Gen Y Will Change Philadelphia

And why it’s time for boomers to step aside and let them

Nonprofit organization Campus Philly released survey results in December showing that more non-native university students than ever — 48 percent — are staying in the area post-graduation. When Claire Robertson-Kraft, who moved here from Texas to go to Penn, graduated in 2004, that figure was 29 percent.


“I was at Penn as an undergrad only because it was a good school,” says Robertson- Kraft, who at 29 is board chair of Young Involved Philadelphia, a group of civically minded folks whose typical ages are somewhere between 20 and 35. “Philly was a detractor if anything, because it didn’t have a strong reputation. But that’s changed. There’s a strong youth culture now. There are a lot of young organizations. Involvement looks different and feels different. The way people get their news and information is different. There’s been an explosion of online conversations and blogs.”

Take that, I say to the boomer editor who questioned whether today’s young people are too cynical to get involved.

“You don’t have to go to a community meeting at a certain time at a certain place to talk about certain things anymore. Social networking enables you to engage in different things at different times on the issues you want,” Friedman says. “I can’t make any meetings, but if there’s a PayPal account, I can give $100 now. Or, I don’t have time during the day, but I can give time from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.”
Take that, too. Besides, I argue we’re not that cynical after all. Despite the fact that our early presidential memories include a switch from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan. We’re just more practical. Friedman agrees: “The new culture, we tend to be more pragmatic about how we address problems, less idealistic, less political.”

Where boomers felt compelled to take over the system, we’re just as happy to work around the system. The popularity of charter schools is one good example of that Gen X practicality. The rise of neighborhood associations is another. After all, we’re post-Nixon, post-Vietnam. Boomers who grew up trusting in institutions, believing government acted in their best interest, felt betrayed when that trust was broken. But Gen X and Gen Y? We’re post-betrayal. We’ve never believed in good government. Up-and-coming civic-minded leaders won’t try to change the old Philly ways as much as we’ll just flat-out ignore them.

A lot has been made of Philly’s seeming power vacuum, but I think that’s because the city that owes its little slice of progressiveness to singular forces of nature like Sister Mary Scullion or Jane Golden or even Willard Rouse III is probably looking in the wrong place for leaders. Gen Y is decidedly group-fueled in contrast to the trademark boomer individualists. Instead of boldface names, we’ll have boldface organizations, like Young Involved Philadelphia. “There’s been an increase in civic engagement,” says Robertson-Kraft. “There are a lot of young organizations. Now our role is to connect those groups.”

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  • Elly

    You are a disgrace to the residents of Philadelphia, as is the publisher of this ‘rag,’ called a magazine.
    Unfortunately, we just may suck the financial blood out of you – and will die at an alarming rate.
    Too bad – we also are products of the greatest generation that ever lived. You should acknowledge that, and thank THEM. Although you obviously have no idea that anything in the world occurred before you were born, it did. And quite a bit. It kept you free. It kept you in fancy clothes, bottled water, a nifty smartphone, and the ability toloaf around on your friend’s balcony, dreaming of a new year.
    We will spend and take what you earn. Yes. Thank-you.

  • david

    I saw your magazine at the supermarket and was appalled at the cover. Have people became so lack of respect for others to put it proudly on a magazine cover, and wish others death. I used to buy your magazine all the time, but this just so what trash it is. Maybe the Gen Y will offer to end the printing of your “magazine” btw what a crass article. From a Gen Xer

  • Darcye

    Our jobs are gone, our homes and pensions are worthless. Now we should step aside for you miserable brats and “just die already???” You have no souls and this miserable rag is apparently your Bible. Well, I’ll be happy to die to ever buying Phila. magazine or spending one more nickel in Phila ever – including any charties based in Phila. You die!!!!!

  • Nicholas

    People seem to miss the point. When they say “die already”, I take that to mean figuratively. We don’t want people to literally die – we want their ideas to die. Baby Boomers helped elect people

  • Ellen

    First what a horrible statement second when you need something who will you be crying to us if the world is left to you maybe we should all die you’re spoiled disrespectful needy and whiners I resent this cover and the article and all I can say is SHAME SHAME SHAME

  • Judith

    I have lived in the city since I was younger than a gen-Xer–like, 34–and I am still here. No suburbs. Lived over a garage in Chestnut Hill for 2 years, and then in hard core South Philly for 11 years and have been in Northern Liberties for 12 years. BEFORE all the trendy hipsters showed up with their dogs.

    I thought the articlel was almost as ugly as the cover–though that was well-nigh unforgiveable. Wishing people who are in their 50’s and 60’s would DIE? Like death is some kind of SOLUTION, and not a deep grief? Do you know how bloody insensitive you have to be to think like that? And YOU are going to build a better world? I don’t think so!

    And, uh–issues of class and race here? Volvos? Huge houses? Suburbs?

    I’d say you sound 12, but I would hate to insult any twelve year old. But mentally–at their worst, yeah–that’s how 12 year olds think.

    GROW UP!

  • Vanessa

    Seriously. I’ve rarely read (actually, skimmed) so much self-absorbed, self-congratulatory drivel. Must have been a slow news week if you gave this pompous ass this much page space. Next time, but out a call. I’m sure one of those doddering, barely-breathing crones could pen a far more interesting article on, say, something relevant.

  • Marji

    You sound like a whiny kid who isn’t getting enough of the toys in the sandbox. Your diatribe is ageist and frighteningly self-centered. I’m 30 and bummed (yet unsurprised) to see such tripe being published.

  • Dannielle

    The Baby Boomers are stuck in the past! The writer is just saying what everyone is saying nationally….move over and stop dominating the headlines. Do you know what it is like to grow up hearing all about the greatness that is the Baby Boomers, then to have to hear about the greatness that is the retirement of the Baby Boomers, etc etc.

    It’s time to move on!!! I agree that the spoiled, entitlement that Baby Boomers complain about amongst later generations seems to be self-propogated because REALLY, who raised these spolied brats in X, Y generation? YOU people!

    It’s time for new. We “appreciate” the Baby Boomers. But enough!

  • Kathleen

    This article stinks of ignorance. This sentence right here is just simply appaling. Obviously no one taught the author about two very important things: compassion and the problem with stereotyping. This right here speaks volumes “True, with its poverty and illiteracy rates and looming bankruptcy and chaotic public-school system, Philadelphia’s a bit of a gamble, but we’ll take our chances. Like the city we want to live in, we relish a risky underdog — literally: We’re adopting beleaguered pit bulls instead of showy golden retrievers.”
    -What a crock. I guess just about anyone can publish an article in this magazine. I’ve cancelled my subscription.

  • Leila

    I’m 30 and disgusted by this article.

  • Steve

    It appears that as the “evil boomers” retired from jobs working at Philadelphia Magazine they took all of the class, dignity, resourcefulness, experience, and sense of fair play with them, for neith

  • Steve

    While many boomers disagreed with the lifestyles, culture and attitude of some of our parent’s generation, many openly rebelling against it, the vast majority of baby boomers admired and respected those of the “greatest generation”. They were excellent mentors, teachers, and leaders and their presence in the workplace especially is sorely missed. When they began to leave en masse in the mid-80s most of us dreaded to see them go.

    Now along comes some arrogant Gen X twit spewing her hate-filled rhetoric about those in line ahead of her needing to “just die already”. She’s obviously a hater, a term I hate to use as it’s tossed around by folks like her so arbitrarily, but totally applicable here.

    I WILL be calling to cancel my subscription to Philadelphia Magazine and I’m very certain I’ll have lots of company especially of those born before 1964.

    A note to the magazine staff; are you trying to become another casualty in the print media side of the business? Is your circulation so good that you can afford to lose such a large part of it?

  • Wes

    This is the kind of hypocricy that shames my generation. Our parents sold out for Volvos to make sure you were entitled enough to write this swill. It’s sad that Baby Boomers worked full time at K-Ma

  • Trish

    As a baby Boomer, I can freely note that part of the problemwith the younger generation is that someone fogot to teach mamny of them respect for their elders! No one gets out of this alive, and I recall a time when elders were valued for the wisdom of a long life well lived. Technology, while I enjoy it, has come to replace true, heartfelt, sincere communication. Wisdom from having “Googled” does not replace wisdom from having lived!

    Philadelphia Magazine…you should know better!

  • Trish

    As a baby Boomer, I can freely note that part of the problem with the younger generation is that someone fogot to teach many of them respect for their elders! No one gets out of this alive, and I recall a time when elders were valued for the wisdom of a long life well lived. Technology, while I enjoy it, has come to replace true, heartfelt, sincere communication. Wisdom from having “Googled” does not replace wisdom from having lived! Philadelphia Magazine…you should know better!

  • Laura

    The author’s friend probably wouldn’t have come to Grad Hospital at all except for Boomers like me who moved here in the Rendell administration and dealt with abandoned cars, trash-strewn vacant lots, crime, and all the rest. Sorry, child, but I don’t plan to oblige you by dying any time soon.

  • Candice

    As a late Gen X, I have felt similar frustration for years in the workforce and have wanted to write an article. Unfortunately, what many appear to take from this article is the focus on “death.” Whether this is due to the writer’s over-zealousness or the reader’s misunderstanding of symbolism, I cannot be sure, but I think more serious essays should continue to focus on the impact of a vast number of baby boomers choosing to “not retire yet” on the “X and Y” generations and their stunted progression to civic, cultural, and corporate leadership in many cases. Philadelphia Magazine, I hope you will continue to do this.

  • Rankin

    I agree with the author. The spawn of the greatest generation, when many were asked to do their civic duty (via draft) chose to get high and act like swine rolling in the mud while declaring college deferment unlike their parents who lined up when . Then they cleaned up when they realized that hippie life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and caused many of the economic issues we have today that have to be fixed. The author is right, they should just go quietly into the sunset.