14 Ways to Make Philadelphia Better

Movie theaters, bike programs, ice rinks, trains: There are plenty of ways to improve our city. What would you like to see?

Not very long ago, I wrote a post about my retail wish-list for our city (speaking of which―Nordstrom! Crate and Barrel! DSW! Where are you, already?), and lots of people chimed in with suggestions of their own. Evidently, lots of us crave more and better for Philly, at least when it comes to shopping. And―no matter how much we love and take pride in our city―I suspect most of us still want more and better for our city in other realms, too.

When I do interviews with prominent Philadelphians, I always ask them what they think this city still needs (the answers are fascinating), and every time I travel to another city I take note of cool things that I think Philly could copy. It’s pointless, maybe, in these harsh economic (totally bankrupt) times, and possibly a little shallow given all the troubling local and national headlines lately to daydream about more stuff I want for my city. But then again, change often begins with a dream (plus a few ideas), doesn’t it? (And anyway, why can’t we work toward some new cabs?)

So here, then, is my running list of wants.* What’s on yours?

1. New lights on the Liberty buildings. I love America, too, but doesn’t that red-not-quite-white-and-blue scheme just scream 1987?

2. More things like that super Race Street Pier along the waterfront. More anything nice along the waterfront, really.

3. More awesome tours. Nothing against those double-decker buses, but a city with some of the most interesting history in the country deserves way more of the most interesting bus/bike/boat/walking tours, don’t you think?

4. More bike lanes, a bike share program, public lockers in Suburban Station for bike commuters, and better bike parking. More biking will be good for our health, good for our car congestion, and good for our image. Let’s embrace the future for real, once and for all.

5. New cabs. STAT.

6. A revamped, retro Sam Eric movie theater that plays classic films where currently the old, dilapidated, sad, empty Sam Eric stands on Chestnut, plus …

7. A big, new, pretty Center City cineplex.

8. An expanded subway with more than two lines. And power-wash it, please.

9. A Regional Rail train line to Reading that hits KOP and all of the underserved western ‘burbs like Phoenixville, Pottstown, etc. Think of all those cars it’ll take off the Schuylkill. Everybody wins.

10. The Ministry of Vacant Lots. A committee―made up of both elected and mayorally appointed spots―to plan productive uses for all of the neglected space and decaying buildings in Center City, with power to: lobby for tax breaks for business owners who take over such spots; matchmake community groups and schools who could use more outdoor or garden space (which could launch agriculture programs in our grade schools!); and plan more public gardens and urban farms. Which would also mean  …

11. More and more excellent work from the Philadelphia Horticultural Society. Keep the beautification comin’, guys.

12. An ice rink in Fairmount Park. A fun, picturesque way to get more people to the beautiful, weirdly underused park of ours.

13. The 25-Year-Long-Term Planning Department. A.K.A.: someone to make all this stuff happen. Possibly a bi-partisan, part-appointed, part-elected city department with committees to plan for the future of retail, housing, infrastructure, education and culture in this city. Or maybe such a department could be divided geographically, making sure that each sector of the city has a chance to thrive in all of the above categories in the long-term.

14. A Philly outpost of Hershey. Seriously. When the wind blows in Chicago, the whole city smells like chocolate, thanks to a chocolate factory on the river. Sorry, but it beats the smell of stale Whiz.

*The wants are the easy stuff. The hard things―better schools, fewer people with nowhere to live, less crime, fewer greedy/broken/corrupted public servants―are less wants for our city than needs, aren’t they?