The Next Great American City: Ben Would Love This

Philadelphia’s first creative genius would fit right in with what’s happening now

Poor Richard’s Blog, December 2005:

A penny saved is a penny earned, but the business privilege tax leaves us all burned.

Love your neighbor, but be aware he’s probably using your wireless signal.

Early to bed, the condos will rise, and real estate will make you wealthy and wise.

Self-published, self-guided and self-promoting, Poor Richard’s Almanack was the world’s first blog. A potpourri of observations, opinions and witticisms, the Almanack still feels fresh and fun — like Ben himself. Franklin is by far the most modern of the Founders, a 21st-century innovator in 18th-century dress. He would have already figured out the blogging business — and how to make a little cash from it, too. That Franklinesque mixture of pragmatism and altruism, of earnestness and irony, is the foundation of the American personality. Franklin feels contemporary because he created the DNA of who we are today as Americans.

Philadelphia was his laboratory, not merely for scientific inventions, but for civic ones — he understood that we all needed to hang together or we would all be listening to different drummers on our iPods. Not only would he be buying condos (Franklin was one of the wealthiest men in Philadelphia when he retired from the printing business at 42); he would be planning a civic association for all condominium dwellers. The man who put a kite on a string to capture electricity would have been delighted by the communitarian idea of wireless Philadelphia — he knew that communication was the key to all human endeavors, and that information yearns to be free. And he would have capitalized on the information revolution the way the founders of Google have: You create a useful service that improves the world, and you make your nest egg from it at the same time. Using his impressive PR skills and his shrewd talent for branding, he would be positioning Philadelphia as the mecca of modern communication and livability.