Illustration by Alex Nabaum
There is in this city a coming-of-age narrative — the Story of Philadelphia’s Rise — and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know this story well. It’s been told and retold by everyone from realtors to corporate recruiters to this magazine to the New York Times, and the basic plot goes like this: Once upon a time, Philly sucked. Laid low by the death of manufacturing and urban flight after WWII, the city by the 1970s was a pretty dismal place — a ghost town, all empty storefronts and streets. And then, a shift. Ed Rendell kicked us out of near-bankruptcy. The economy started growing; so did the city’s appeal. John Street focused on neighborhood improvement; the Center City District cleaned the place up. Now? It’s a whole new Philly. Center City booms, as does University City. We’re green, clean, walkable and bikeable, with a thriving hospitality industry and vivacious neighborhoods. There’s Comcast, the Navy Yard, the emerging start-up scene, all those millennials flooding the place. But you already know all of this.
There’s another story, too, though it’s not as well known. It’s certainly not as cheery as the first. It’s about economic growth, or the lack thereof, and it goes like this: For years — decades, actually — we’ve grown new jobs too slowly. Other major cities are attracting more companies, more talent, more money, at much faster rates. And this problem, roiling against the backdrop of revival, is more than a dark cloud in an otherwise sunny landscape: It’s a direct threat to all of Philly’s progress.
Truth is, Philly’s remarkable resurgence is less a product of innovative long-term planning and more the result of, well … happy accident. Over the past decade, especially, we’ve benefited immensely from a renewed national interest in cities (especially among millennials and boomers), a handful of major players hitting their stride (thanks, meds, eds, Comcast), and an unexpected population boom (more births than deaths, those enthusiastic millennials, and a steady flow of immigrants). Read more »