From the Editor
It’s the moment every writer dreads: Your own words come back to haunt you.
As he was putting together our package on “The Condo Revolution” (page 104), special projects editor Tim Haas came into my office, holding a back issue and looking all smug. He’d found a piece I’d written for this magazine six years ago wherein I explained why, after years of Center City renting, I’d bought a house in Ardmore. “What is the difference between a city and a suburban town?” I wrote. “I just walked to Carlino’s, a great specialty food store just blocks from my new home – a 90-year-old house with a front porch and large backyard in an integrated neighborhood. Tonight, I’ll have my choice of Thai, Indian or Italian meals – again, on foot. I’m not too far from a Borders, a Barnes & Noble and a TLA Video store. So – if I’m as close to cool stuff as I was at 16th and Pine, and if I’m in a more racially mixed area than I was at 16th and Pine, just what is a city?”
“Still stand by it?” Haas asked, after smugly (have I mentioned his smugness?) declaring that the sentence in which I describe my suburban lifestyle as “striking a balance between action and contemplation” is “perhaps the most pretentious line you’ve ever penned.” (Which is saying something.)
I hate to be a flip-flopper, but after taking in Haas’s package – especially the stunning gatefold of what our skyline might look like circa 2016 – I have to say that my 1999 words strike me today as ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong; I love where I live. (In fact, check out Kathleen Fifield’s report on Ardmore’s struggle to reinvent itself on page 70.) But Center City today is so vibrant and full of promise, there’s no comparison in the region.
Maybe my bullishness on Center City has to do with the American male adolescent tradition of believing that wherever you aren’t, that’s where the party must be: I leave town, so of course the place becomes fabulous. But after reading Laurence Roy Stain’s condo boom piece and taking a look at all the high-end residences in the works on page 108, it became clear to me that we’re in a transformative moment. Call it the Upper East Side-ification of Center City; in the next five years, we’ll have roughly 6,000 well-to-do newcomers among us. These new immigrants will be an army of aging boomers, free now that their kids are out of the house. And don’t forget those kids, because they’ll be here, too – already, about one-third of Center City residents are 25 to 34.
The ramifications can be huge. We already have a vibrant restaurant scene, but maybe Center City will become a shopping destination, complete with department stores to rival King of Prussia’s. New neighborhoods – once on the fringes – will become hot, in the way that Northern Liberties and Fishtown already have. Ultimately, as such development spreads, the effect can be an economic lifting of all boats. Most important of all, in terms of quality of life, an educated, affluent addition to the tax base might be the best way to take back civic control from a government that remains mired in pay-to-play and insider dealing.
As a lifer here, I know firsthand the tendency to see things half-empty. I fully expect some to look at our gatefold rendering, for instance, and recoil when they see how the skyline view of Billy Penn is diminished. (For the uninitiated: Until the controversial building of One Liberty Place in 1987, local custom held that no building could be higher than the statue of Penn atop City Hall. This was actually a serious argument in what was then the fourth-largest media market in America.) But this is all good, folks. I doubt that Philadelphia will ever regain its foothold as a mecca of manufacturing. And, yes, many of those moving here will reverse-commute out to the suburbs for work, where local municipalities tend not to punish businesses with absurdly high tax rates.
But look at that skyline again. We’re changing. And it’s pretty cool.