How Gen X and Gen Y Will Change Philadelphia

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

OUR REVOLUTION — again, different from that of the boomers, who made their mark splashy and citywide — will be more block-by-block, not skyline-altering. Instead of Stephen Starr dominating the food landscape with big-production restaurants, 30-somethings Brendan Hartranft and Leigh Maida open neighborhood joints like Resurrection Ale House, Memphis Taproom and Local 44. (Of course, Stephen Starr’s savvy enough that he’s ventured into the neighborhood restaurant biz and has plans to expand beyond the traditional Center City borders. Though this again demonstrates the younger generations’ consumer power.) Brandywine Realty recently converted the old 30th Street post office building into IRS offices, but Anthony Rimikis points to younger real-estate hands shaping up-and-coming neighborhoods with smaller-scale work, noting developments in places like Port Richmond, Kensington and Mount Airy, all areas once deemed unlivable by his generation. In a January article called “Small stuff makes Philly better, a bit at a time,” Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron announced the “year of small,” touting projects like the Race Street pier park that she says “[make] urban life better.” Saffron cites the economy, but I think it’s just as much about a values shift.

 

“I read a study recently that said more people would rather engage socially than get a car,” Jeff Friedman says. Well, where better to engage socially without a car than a city? Incidentally, PhillyCarShare was cofounded by a Gen Xer, Tanya Seaman, in 2002.

Our wanderlust could someday finally spur the building of infrastructure that will allow us to hop quickly from NYC to D.C. to Philly by train. Our passion for city living will demand that we send our kids to public schools. Such a critical mass of new students with young, involved parents — parents with access to those in power — could fix the school district, once and for all.

We’re connected, and technology — not surprisingly — is certain to be a factor in Philadelphia’s change. While the “Digital Generation” kids today are growing up totally and relentlessly plugged in, even Gen Xers possess a tech edge the boomers didn’t. We had computers when we were kids. (Sure, they were Commodore 64s, which had less memory than a 50-cent jump drive these days, but we had computers.) That comfort level could allow us to bridge the digital divide between the haves and the have-nots in this society. Everyone must have accessibility. We’ll insist upon it, and we’ll make it happen.

“There are a lot of challenges,” Robertson-Kraft admits. “I’m Texan, so I’m optimistic by nature. But I do think the city is ready for new leadership. I think it’s an exciting time.”

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.

And we’re ready. The boomers should be cheering us on. They should be doing everything they can to grease the way, because at the end of the day, our success is their success (if only to support them in retirement). Maybe they won’t want us to succeed where they couldn’t. Well, boomers, you can paint us as slackers. You can call us complainers. You can call us entitled brats. We’ve stopped listening to that record. Because, you know, we don’t listen to records at all anymore.

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