Mayor Nutter Is Going to the Wrong European City

London doesn’t care about us. But another city in England may.

united states flag and united kingdom flag merging


So Mayor Nutter is going to London in a couple of weeks.

I get it. He wants to improve the city’s business relations. He’s looking for new business to attract here. He’s trying to better our image. People can debate the actual value of these kinds of trips. Do they really help? Does it really make a difference if our mayor goes? Can’t he be more productive and valuable just by staying at home and working on our own enormous challenges? Should taxpayers, even political contributors, be paying for these things? Will British Airways even upgrade him (trust me, it isn’t easy)? No one really knows. But that’s not important. Because the Mayor’s mind is made up. The reservations are made. The tickets are booked. He’s going.

The problem is he’s going to the wrong city.

Philadelphia is not and never will be London. London is five times our size, the seat of the UK government, the center of world finance and theatre, the home to celebrities like Paul McCartney and Madonna, and has the most expensive property on the planet. Philadelphia’s got the Liberty Bell. And Bam Margera. That’s about it. No one in London cares about Philadelphia. We are the ugly step-sister down the road from New York. We will never be New York either, so let’s get over that. Not that Philadelphia’s a bad place.  In fact, it’s a great place to live and work. But the Mayor should be setting his sights lower. He should be visiting government officials and CEOs located at a more comparable city. A city that’s gritty and post-industrial and far enough away from the capital to not be the capital. He should go to Leeds.

Leeds? Damn right. Leeds. Think about it: Mayor Nutter visits London and no one notices. Mayor Nutter visits Leeds and he’s given the keys to the city, a free pint of lager and a copy of the Who’s best live album ever (kids take note: It’s called Live at Leeds). Why Leeds? Because who the hell wants to go to Leeds anyway? Bingo. Think about how grateful they would be.

And also think about all that our two great cities have in common:

  • The population of the Leeds metro area is about 2.3 million, or the fourth largest in the UK. Our population is about 1.6 million in the city (3.8 million metro) and we’re the fifth largest in the U.S.
  • They are envious of London. We are envious of New York.
  • They are two hours from the capital and so are we.
  • They have terrible sports teams (their only football team went bankrupt in 2007 but are clawing their way back to respectability). We drink champagne when the Flyers actually win a game.
  • Their rugby team is called the Rhinos and our baseball team is called the Phillies so we each share stupid names for our teams.
  • They have lousy, tasteless British food. We have greasy, over-hyped cheesesteaks from Pat’s and Geno’s.
  • They have a small, backwards airport. We have an airport where passengers get into actual fistfights over an electrical outlet and can’t get connected to the Internet unless they break into the air traffic control tower.
  • They have Barbara Bradford Taylor and we have Jennifer Weiner.
  • They have Mel B of the Spice Girls and we have The Hooters and… oh you get the point already.

Leeds happens to be a very nice place, with very nice people who are happily living and working there. They are close to great attractions like the beautiful old cities of York and Harrogate and Betty’s Tea House. They are on the doorstep of the incredible countryside of Yorkshire. The city is home to the University of Leeds which boasts more than 30,000 pale-but-hard-drinking students with names like James, Ian and Maggie. They have a strong business community started by families who have built their lives there for generations. Sound familiar? It should. Because I could be describing Philadelphia, too. Our parks. Our nearby mountains and beaches. Our business community. Our universities with hard drinking students named Bud and Steffie and “The Dude.”

Leeds certainly has its share of challenges. It is not a perfect city. But it would be interesting to understand how a city that is relatively the same size and stature as Philadelphia is doing things. Because not only could we forge some business relationships with people who would be more likely to want to partner, but we could also learn a few things about what they’re doing well, and where we could be possibly helpful.

For example, I’d like to understand how their transit system can get someone from just about anywhere to just about anywhere without driving. It really works well. It works better than SEPTA.  I’m interested how their police force keeps order without guns. I’d like to understand the challenges their school system faces. Why do they seem to have fewer budget issues than us? Why are their students scoring higher in math and English than our own? And how the hell is cricket played anyway?

I’d be looking for opportunities for Philadelphia businesses, both big and small. There are no hoagies or cheesesteaks in Leeds, can you believe it? Not only that but there’s not a single Wawa in all of England. My God, how do these people live? My wife is British so I’ve suffered for more than 20 years with bad British food and bad British teeth (although frankly her teeth are really good and much better than mine so I’m being very ignorant here), so there’s plenty of opportunities for the Philadelphia entrepreneur if a path is opened up. I’m sure there are plenty of Philadelphia companies that would enjoy personal introductions to Leeds-based companies that could provide supplies, open doors, create partnerships together. There’s already direct flights from Philly to Manchester, which is only an hour drive from Leeds, so the road has been established.

The Mayor’s going to the wrong city. He should fly-over London and go straight to Leeds. Let’s set our sights on cities that better match up with ours. People that find things in common are more apt to work together. If anything, we can commiserate over our terrible sports teams.

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  • Jason Knight

    How is Philadelphia Magazine still in business, writing (apart from a few fair points) anti-Philadelphia drivel like this? Philadelphia and Leeds are “comparable” because Philly’s city population is 1.6 million and Leeds’ metro population is 2.3 million? Uh, no. Philly’s metro population is around 6 million, so NOT comparable. And cheesesteaks aside, Philly’s food scene is truly world-class. PHL International has its issues, but the examples you cite in no way equate to the “small, backwards” airport you describe for Leeds. PHL ranks around 10th busiest in the world for air traffic movement. The fact is, Philly IS more like London than it is Leeds. The GaWC ranks both London and Philadelphia as Alpha World Cities (London ++, Philadelphia -), and then below that are Beta World Cities (Rome, Berlin, Houston, Seattle, Minneapolis), and then below THAT is Leeds in the Gamma World Cities category (along with cities like Phoenix and Baltimore.)

    The biggest thing holding us back from improving is this false “we’re not worthy” mentality that you’re propagating. No wonder the vice-Mayor of Roseville CA recently wrote an article stating that Philadelphia was the size of Sacramento. Seriously, look it up. And then google information on the 2 cities; google images of aerials of each city and compare. There is no comparison! But this concept of little, insignificant Philadelphia has permeated national and international perception – frequently because we ourselves spout nonsense like this Philly mag article. Stop it. Now.

  • Ben Stassen

    I agree 100% with every word Jason has said. The self-hatred displayed in the article is sickening, and truly misrepresentative of Philadelphians’ feelings for the city. It is media coverage like this that maintains the inferiority complex pinning this city down, so much that Philly is purposefully ducking beneath New York’s shadow. How is the city going to improve if its own new sources are telling its citizens there is no hope, this city is not worth anything.

    Moreover, if Philly got the same media bias as NYC and DC, many of the positives would rise into view, out of the filth unfairly attached to Philly’s image currently.

    • GlassJawn

      I’ve often said that some of the biggest woes this city has can be fixed overnight and that is its local media. From the indie (citypaper, gun crisis) to mainstream (CBS3, 6ABC, etc). Most people in the Delaware Valley have no clue Philadelphia is on its way to have its lowest rate of homicide since LBJ was president. Most people in the Delaware Valley have no clue Philadelphia is the 5th safest big city in the USA. The local media has no interest in improving this because all they care about is the almighty dollar.

    • gourd

      we just need to drown some of the lowlife scum that lives here and is ungreatful.

  • Brandon

    As pointed out, your population numbers are wrong. The 3.8 million refers to only the PA counties in the metro area. The Delaware Valley does not only include areas west of the Delaware River and north of the 12 Mile Circle. The entire metro has about 6 million people; more than twice the size of Leeds’ metro population.

    • gourd


  • GlassJawn

    How does Gene Marks have a job writing about Philadelphia when he knows so little about it. Hate to to break it you Gene but Philadelphia was the most powerful city in the new world and the modest gents such as yourself tried bringing it down to mediocrity. Philadelphia was the 2nd largest and 2nd most important English speaking city in the world behind London only two hundred years ago. Leeds isn’t even half the size of Philadelphia, doesn’t have the history (in comparison to its own country), and has a 1/3rd the population density. People like YOU are the reason why Philadelphia hit the lows that it did and have ZERO to do with its recent resurgence. If you don’t shoot high you’ll never go anywhere. Apparently you’re fine with that but the new Philadelphia isn’t and for that I’m grateful.

  • gourd

    WRONG. We are laughing at how AWFUL NY is. We are NOT envious of new york. Maybe you are, so you should go and take your whiny a** with you. The worst city on the planet is NY and has the worst excuse for transit which is highly mismanaged, has the worst food, and is just a total sh*thole. NY pays none of its bills. Philly is very fiscally managed though we do have many needs that Harrisburg won’t give us thanks to Mr. Corbett and the GOP.

    Also, the transit in Europe is AWFUL. DEPLORABLE. It’s privatized garbage and as a civil engineer, it’s unsafe. The US has the Highest standards for rail travel in terms of safety. SEPTA does a fantastic job. They do so much with so little and yet they are the only system to have such an impressive multimodal network in the world. 7 modes is unheard of. In europe all they have are light rail and bus and that’s taking into consideration that everything there is more modern and built to a lighter and lesser standard.

    Go away, Gene Marks. You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.

    • kclo3

      You’re right on with New York, but you’d have to be trolling just a little bit with that sentiment. Tell me, if SEPTA does such a good job, why do German cities get a minimum 20 minute frequencies with S-Bahnen and SEPTA struggles with 1 train per hour on their intracity lines? Why is SEPTA’s fare structure so hopelessly retarded? Why is more modes, meaning more unique equipment, more specialization, more resources, and more money needed, a GOOD thing?

      • Brandon

        The reason S-Bahnen does better than SEPTA is simple: it is properly funded. SEPTA’s shortcomings stem from disinvestment from the state. The multiple modes exist because SEPTA inherited its various parts from private operators instead of centrally planning one system. The fare structure also exists because of disinvestment, though they are debuting the new fare system soon–which will hopefully help.

        All in all it is a fantastic system considering the Commonwealth tries its hardest to kill it.

        • kclo3

          Only after the proverbial funding is passed with the latest transportation bill and SEPTA spends 10 years or so bringing the entire system to a state of good repair. And nothing good’s going to come out of NPT if SEPTA is still pursuing those idiotic pass cap limits and transfer charges, led by a top-heavy managerial system that will hinder future developments. During the last fare restructuring, many SEPTA employees were clueless and misinformed on the new fares, leading SEPTA to embarrassingly allow the old tariffs until Dec 31 — just another case of fundamental mismanagement and relaxed standards. So yes, SEPTA has been dealt the worst cards, but they way they’ve been playing them has been less than ideal.