Philly Is More Than Violence and Bad Schools

It's time to take a hard look at what our city is—and isn't.

Who are we? There seems an ongoing need in us to define the city and our populace definitively.

That particular need spikes every time there’s a vivid outbreak of violence (ever more so when the victims are Caucasian). We appear to be experiencing a dandy outbreak right now. You may have noticed.

Violence on our streets causes us to contemplate and brood.

We want answers. What’s the deal?

Are we really the bright and shiny metropolis of the future as we’re sometimes portrayed?

Aren’t we always reading that more and more Penn and Drexel youngbloods have come to realize they’ll have more jingle in their pocket if they decide to live in Powelton or Bella Vista instead of Chelsea or Brooklyn after they graduate?

And isn’t everybody always saying that we’re on the verge of a peace and love throwback moment with all the empty nest boomers trading in their beloved Bryn Mawr and Jenkintown domiciles for a walking-distance hot time in the old town?

But is that the real truth?

Or are we a city quickly slipping into darkness; an echo of Detroit or Newark a decade back; a city most accurately defined by grim 11 p.m. newscasts; a rootless community destined to be forever paying the price for white flight; a place best known beyond its borders for boorish sports fans, uncooperative politics, a fractured school system and merciless poverty?

Which is it, damnit? What are we?

Angry? Enlightened? Forlorn? Progressive? Dangerous?

The truth: we’re all that.

Hard to hear, I know. We’re so ill equipped to deal with a split and nuanced definition of who we are. It hurts our brain. Turns us feeble. Robs us of a facile soapbox with easy scapegoats.

It’s so much easier to make a claim one way or the other; to be either an unbridled Philadelphia booster or an angry city dweller; to see either a boon or an apocalypse around every corner. Life is so much easier when you can have a radio call-in show opinion at the ready.

Rarely is life back and white, and so it is with Philadelphia. Best to realize that. Without nuance, what are we anyway?

Just another commenter?

When thinking about the violence, the miserable state of the schools, the lack of middle-class jobs, it’s best to remember than we’re not just that. And when thinking about all our glittery restaurants and lounges, all our great hospitals and universities, it’s best to remember we’re not just that either.

Who we are, truth be told, lies in the nuanced middle.