How Gen X and Gen Y Will Change Philadelphia

And why it's time for boomers to step aside and let them

I’ll give credit to our elders (boomers like the Center City District’s Paul Levy, restaurateur Stephen Starr, and David L. Cohen, chief of staff to then-mayor Ed Rendell) for revitalizing Center City. Their work yielded a spiffed-up Philadelphia that entices ’burbs-dwellers to clog the eastbound Schuylkill on Friday nights. But at the end of the night, those folks drive home. A healthy city needs a healthy residential tax base, and the post-boomers fit the bill (or, technically, fit the revenue).


According to January reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the city’s at the epicenter of our recession bounce-back; the majority of jobs gained in the region last year were in Philadelphia. And though Rimikis speculates that there won’t be a complete reversal of the boomer migration to the ’burbs, he believes companies are realizing the importance of being in Center City — even in this economic downturn. “The kids are going to drive these changes. They want to live in the city and work here,” he says. Our message to CEOs everywhere: Center City headquarters IN; corporate campus in Chesterbrook OUT.

But unlike the boomers, who felt so compelled to build big things, to make their mark indelible, post-boomer generations don’t necessarily want to make Philadelphia a better place to satisfy their egos or garner prestige. They simply want to improve — neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block if that’s what it takes — the place where they want to live. In that way, we’re no different from the boomers: We, too, just want to live someplace nice. We’re just not going to leave the city to find it.

“I’ve been here for 20 years. When I came here, Temple University Center City was on the 1600 block of Walnut. I’d go see movies there, and you’d get out at 10:15 and there was no one around,” recalls Jeff Friedman, chief of staff in the city’s Division of Technology. Friedman grew up in the suburban wilds of New Jersey, but at 41 and married with a child, he has no plans to return. “I wasn’t interested in the suburban lifestyle,” he says of choosing to live in the city. “I like the idea of being part of something bigger than myself.”

Gen X was the first generation to job-hop willingly, and we came of age in an ever- increasingly mobile world. I think that’s where we get our wanderlust, our quest for greener grass, our certain type of rootlessness. Of course, someone who might, say, move or switch companies on a whim might not be considered the most reliable source of revenue. But I think my generation’s mobility might just be what unsticks Philadelphia — a traditionally rooted place where people die a few miles, or often blocks, from where they were born. New people are moving here, whether to go to school or get a job or live cheaply or be part of the thriving local arts scene, people who don’t say That’s the way it’s always been done because they don’t know how it’s always been done. They’re staying because there’s a palpable possibility of change in the air.