When I left in March 2005 — 26 months after I’d arrived — I had a vastly different view of Philadelphia from when I started. I had seen a city of much more complexity and diversity than I’d ever imagined. Each day was like peeling back an onion, finding a new layer. And that onion could move me to tears when I saw the inequity in a city of haves and have-nots.
I tried to experience firsthand what city workers did. I worked on a trash truck. I went to the city morgue, where the victims of our streets are brought. I rode with the police, explored our underground sewers with the water department, visited health clinics where people waited for hours. I went to the prisons, visited homeless shelters, monitored 911 calls and observed how quickly life-and-death decisions had to be made.
I became impatient with people who demean city workers, who profess easy answers to difficult problems, whose view of the city is confined to their own neighborhood, job, race or income level.
I believe in the potential greatness of our city. But I think that potential will only be realized when we see Philadelphia as one large garden that we all have a stake in tending, regardless of where in the garden we live. A managing director is responsible for overseeing all that acreage. Why, with so much aggravation, would someone want to do that? Well, if you relish challenges, are eager to make a difference, are egotistical enough to think you might succeed, like the unexpected, and get bored easily, it’s the perfect job.
And virtually every managing director I’ve talked to says it was the best job he or she ever had. But we all say it as we’re on our way out.