14 Ways to Make Philadelphia Better

Movie theaters, bike programs, ice rinks, trains: There are plenty of ways to improve our city. What would you like to see?

Not very long ago, I wrote a post about my retail wish-list for our city (speaking of which―Nordstrom! Crate and Barrel! DSW! Where are you, already?), and lots of people chimed in with suggestions of their own. Evidently, lots of us crave more and better for Philly, at least when it comes to shopping. And―no matter how much we love and take pride in our city―I suspect most of us still want more and better for our city in other realms, too.

When I do interviews with prominent Philadelphians, I always ask them what they think this city still needs (the answers are fascinating), and every time I travel to another city I take note of cool things that I think Philly could copy. It’s pointless, maybe, in these harsh economic (totally bankrupt) times, and possibly a little shallow given all the troubling local and national headlines lately to daydream about more stuff I want for my city. But then again, change often begins with a dream (plus a few ideas), doesn’t it? (And anyway, why can’t we work toward some new cabs?)

So here, then, is my running list of wants.* What’s on yours?

1. New lights on the Liberty buildings. I love America, too, but doesn’t that red-not-quite-white-and-blue scheme just scream 1987?

2. More things like that super Race Street Pier along the waterfront. More anything nice along the waterfront, really.

3. More awesome tours. Nothing against those double-decker buses, but a city with some of the most interesting history in the country deserves way more of the most interesting bus/bike/boat/walking tours, don’t you think?

4. More bike lanes, a bike share program, public lockers in Suburban Station for bike commuters, and better bike parking. More biking will be good for our health, good for our car congestion, and good for our image. Let’s embrace the future for real, once and for all.

5. New cabs. STAT.

6. A revamped, retro Sam Eric movie theater that plays classic films where currently the old, dilapidated, sad, empty Sam Eric stands on Chestnut, plus …

7. A big, new, pretty Center City cineplex.

8. An expanded subway with more than two lines. And power-wash it, please.

9. A Regional Rail train line to Reading that hits KOP and all of the underserved western ‘burbs like Phoenixville, Pottstown, etc. Think of all those cars it’ll take off the Schuylkill. Everybody wins.

10. The Ministry of Vacant Lots. A committee―made up of both elected and mayorally appointed spots―to plan productive uses for all of the neglected space and decaying buildings in Center City, with power to: lobby for tax breaks for business owners who take over such spots; matchmake community groups and schools who could use more outdoor or garden space (which could launch agriculture programs in our grade schools!); and plan more public gardens and urban farms. Which would also mean  …

11. More and more excellent work from the Philadelphia Horticultural Society. Keep the beautification comin’, guys.

12. An ice rink in Fairmount Park. A fun, picturesque way to get more people to the beautiful, weirdly underused park of ours.

13. The 25-Year-Long-Term Planning Department. A.K.A.: someone to make all this stuff happen. Possibly a bi-partisan, part-appointed, part-elected city department with committees to plan for the future of retail, housing, infrastructure, education and culture in this city. Or maybe such a department could be divided geographically, making sure that each sector of the city has a chance to thrive in all of the above categories in the long-term.

14. A Philly outpost of Hershey. Seriously. When the wind blows in Chicago, the whole city smells like chocolate, thanks to a chocolate factory on the river. Sorry, but it beats the smell of stale Whiz.

*The wants are the easy stuff. The hard things―better schools, fewer people with nowhere to live, less crime, fewer greedy/broken/corrupted public servants―are less wants for our city than needs, aren’t they?

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  • FYI – The Blommer Chocolate factory no longer offers Chicago folks it’s wonderful smells anymore – do to a filtration system mandated by the EPA.


    • *due not DO. Pardon my typo.

    • Christine Speer

      ah, sad news! i hear portland, OR smells like roses all spring … I would take that, too.

  • Jason

    Great ideas to make Philly better!

    In response to #3: Philadelphia Urban Adventures runs awesome small group, off-the-beaten-track walking tours in Philly. philadelphiaurbanadventures.com

    Definitely a great eco-friendly counter-balance to the big bus!

  • Jessica R.

    There are a ton of city tours! By boat, carriage, trolley, bus, bike, segway, subway, and foot. You can do traditional history tours, Italian/Reading Terminal market tours, mural tours, brewery tours, movie location tours, etc., etc. My favorites are the Preservation Alliance walking architecture tours and the Schuylkill river tours.

    See here for a complete list:

  • At Ignite Philly 8, I gave a presentation about making Sansom Street pedestrian and bike only. I need to have a conversation with the Streets Commish about it: http://cog.gd/2t6 and http://cog.gd/2t7

  • Ron K

    Who exactly is going to pay for all these things? The bankrupt government who wouldn’t be able to manage it anyway?

    The things that the private sector would do to make a profit wouldn’t do them anyway because of all the red tape and taxation our ridiculous city city charges.

    Nice ideas though…

    • Joey

      Ron K, You are an ass.

  • re: 3. More awesome tours.

    Here are some awesome tours! http://preservationalliance.com/events/walking_tours.php
    The Preservation Alliance’s guided walking tours interpret the past, present and future of the Philadelphia region as expressed through architecture, urban design and social history. Tours are led by a lively group of volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds who share their passion and knowledge of the region’s built environment.

  • Greg

    Loooooove #10. There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be something going on in those lots. There should be gardens galore. Here’s my addition to that thought. Sorry for the length…
    Heavy Fines for littering. If you’re caught throwing a piece of trash on city sidewalk/street, you get fined. If you get caught placing large bags of trash next to garbage cans, you get seriously fined. If you cannot pay your fines, you are required to do community service. Community service should include cleaning trash from the streets OR helping in the new gardens in the city’s old abonded lots.