Seven Reasons to Feel Super About Center City

Philadelphia now has the second biggest downtown in the country. (Eat dust, Chicago).

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Philadelphians are head over heels in love with Center City.

More than 87 percent of downtown residents and workers believe Center City is headed in the right direction, whereas only 62 percent think that is the case for the entire city, according to a poll of 2,700 people by the Center City District.

Their optimism is well-founded. The CCD’s annual report, which the nonprofit released Monday, is full of good news:

  1. With 183,000 residents, Philadelphia’s Greater Center City is now the second most populous downtown in the country. Only Midtown Manhattan tops it. (The CCD defines Greater Center City as the “7.7 square miles between Girard Avenue and Tasker Street, river to river.”)
  2. There are 403 cultural organizations in Greater Center City, the second-highest figure among U.S. downtowns. Again, Midtown Manhattan ranks first.
  3. Center City’s combined score for walkability, bikeability and transit access is the highest among downtowns in peer cities, according to the CCD’s analysis of Walk Score data. The company Walk Score gave Center City a walkability score of 98 (out of 100), while its bikeability and transit access scores were 94 and 96, respectively.
  4. In 2014, an estimated $6.7 billion worth of major development projects were in the pipeline or already underway between Spring Garden and South streets, from river to river.
  5. About 1.2 million people are expected to attend events at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in 2015. More than 1 million people visited the convention center last year.
  6. There were 369 sidewalk cafes in Greater Center City in 2014. In 1995, there were none.
  7. There were nearly 2,300 children born in Greater Center City last year, up from roughly 1,600 in 2000.

The bad news? Many more downtown residents and workers are concerned about education now than they were a year ago. When asked how to make Center City a better place to do business, nearly 68 percent of poll respondents recommended improving the city’s schools, compared to 25 percent in 2013. Center City’s average rent per square foot is also “well below those of East Coast peers,” according to the CCD report.

To kill two birds with one stone, CCD president Paul Levy recommended Monday shifting the city’s tax burden away from business and wage taxes, and onto property taxes. The idea is to stop taxing what can move.

“It is not that we tax too much,” says Levy. “It’s the mix of what we tax.”

Levy believes that will create jobs, which will drive up Center City office rents, which will, in turn, generate more money for the city’s schools. He has been pitching this idea for several years now, and on one hand, it has gained traction in that several of the city’s mayoral candidates have endorsed it.

On the other hand, the proposal faces several challenges, chief among them being that it would require a change in the state constitution. In other words, it’s unlikely the next mayor would be able to implement the plan in his or her first term, no matter how much they love it or Center City.