Four Lessons Philadelphia Can Learn from The Simpsons

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A scene from The Simpsons, “Jury of the Damned.”

I’m not (necessarily) proud of it, but I spent most of my weekend with The Simpsons. At best, I’m a casual fan, but on a rainy Saturday, FXX’s 24-hour, 552-episode Simpsons marathon proved to be a pretty seductive mix of cozy nostalgia, surprisingly timeless writing, and non-judgmental hangover company.

Then, things got weird. After six or so uninterrupted hours in Springfield, it became apparent that the allegedly fictional town is based on none other than Philadelphia.

Officially speaking, series creator Matt Groening claims that Springfield is inspired by a number of generic small towns, and the ambiguity of where, exactly, it could exist is a long-running joke on the show (trust me — I haven’t got off my couch in days). Briefly, the honor went to Springfield, Vermont, when Fox held a contest promoting The Simpsons Movie.

However, Philadelphians will recognize the mix of casual corruption, enthusiastic alcoholism, rabid fandom, and blood-sucking, soul-crushing monopolies as, well, home sweet home.

Personally, I’m OK with this — I can get down with a place where my jeans stay in style for 25 years. My issue is that Springfield has, over the years, figured out how to do Philadelphia better than Philadelphia.

Here’s what we could learn, or at least stand to remember, from our four-fingered friends.

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The Top 5 Things Smart Philly Residents Care About [UPDATED]

UPDATE: The below has been clarified to reflect the fact that PlanPhilly was concerned only with issues around the built and natural environments, as they wrote in their post. Another clarification: My original title for this post was “Top 5 Things Planning Nerds Care About,” but I chose to make it more positive. Readers of PlanPhilly, in my experience, are all very bright. Who else would read devotedly about planning and zoning?

In order to create a more perfect Philadelphia as we move toward an election year, PennPraxis and PlanPhilly presented PlanPhilly’s readers with a list of what they described as the “most important issues facing Philadelphia’s built and natural environments” and asked their readers to answer one important question: “Which three of these issues do you feel are the most important for Philadelphia’s future?”

“We’ll use this information to help shape research and civic engagement by PennPraxis staff and reporting by PlanPhilly journalists,” writes Evan Croen, PlanPhilly’s website administrator and A Person Who Moved Here From Brooklyn.

The survey results showed that the top 5 issues are:

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The Big List of the Worst Philly Lists of 2014

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They’re called demolisticles. Or, at least that’s the name FiveThirtyEight editor Chadwick Matlin came up with for them. The idea is that you appeal to a limited target audience, but a large percentage will click on it and share it. “19 Signs You Went to Penn,” for example.

It’s no surprise Buzzfeed is best at these. Buzzfeed gets a lot of flack for lists, and I sometimes think it’s misguided: There’s nothing inherently wrong with a list. They can be fun to read. Readers clearly like them. Not everyone wants to read a 3,000-word essay all the time (or ever). I’m not even at 200 words yet and some of you have already checked out. Lists can be just as informative or witty (or stupid) as articles.

The problem is when Buzzfeed’s lists are stupid as heck. This list about Penn explains that “you know not to sit and take pictures next to the Ben Franklin statue” but doesn’t explain that’s because drunk people pee on it. I guess the audience is just people who went to Penn and want to look at photos and GIFs and don’t care if they learn no new information about their alma mater. But to me, though, the Penn article is boring — and not just because it says I should’ve been mugged on the block where I lived.

But that doesn’t stop people from sharing them. No matter how lame, no matter the author, no matter how cliched a list about Philadelphia is, it will pop up in your Facebook feed. Repeatedly. Or someone will email it to me. “Hey, Dan,” they write, “I know we haven’t talked in a while, but I know you love Philly, so here’s a list about cheesesteaks and Rocky.” I’m getting angry just thinking about it! Then I feel like an asshole for getting irrationally angry at a friend of mine who was reaching out to say hi.

Clearly, much of this problem is my own. (Count to 10. Take a deep breath.) I have no power or wish to stop you from sharing stupid stuff on Facebook. But since I’ve seen so many bad Philadelphia lists this year, I decided I’d make a list of my own. Read on for a list of the Worst Philly Lists of 2014. By the end, you’ll even have read another one.

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