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.