Old School Philadelphia may have greeted Thursday’s news that the city is on the top 20 list as potential Amazon headquarters with a mix of excitement and dread … that superstition-tinged feeling that too much good news – Amazon and Eagles?! — can only end in heartbreak, as it has so many times before.
But “Now School” Philadelphia is an increasingly large group that greets these two potential victories as not only possible but absolutely deserved.
That state of affairs is testament to the astonishing progress this city has made over the last few decades not just in tangible growth – of population and economic development – but in what we expect from (and for) ourselves.
Maybe it’s because despite our big-city problems, we have a clearer sense of our assets as a big city. And those go well beyond the “eds, meds, and beds” that commerce types usually reference.
First, we have what Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron describes as the trinity of great urbanism: density, walkability, diversity.
Add to that three others: efficiency, affordability, and history. Our housing stock provides pleasing scale and energy-efficiency. Strong transit helps makes us affordable and livable. And history gives us a sense of our import in the nation’s story, and a grounding in the principles of liberty and democracy that are not museum artifacts but a routine part of the public conversation about immigration, civic responsibility, civil rights, and social justice.
The Philadelphia story is part of a bigger story of strength that cities across the country and the world offer. Cities have never been more important and their future is an issue we explore in other parts of this section.
Seismic shifts in the geopolitical and economic makeup of the country have made cities powerhouses of growth and progress. According to the U.S. census, 80.7 percent of the U.S. population lived in urban areas as of 2010. There’s a reason: that’s where many of the jobs and the smart people are. (And why Amazon’s shortlist is dominated by big cities.) Those smart people are in the public and private sector, and in cities like ours, are used to working together to solve problems.
A recent local example is the Rebuild program, which is leveraging private and public money to launch a $500 million renovation of parks, recreation centers, and libraries. The city also frequently collaborates to provide support and housing for the homeless. And our leading universities partner on countless projects with the private and public sector.
Cities stopped looking to the federal government for help a long time ago and figured out how to reach beyond themselves to solve problems. The collaborative approach is a spur to innovation.
Plenty of cities around the world look to Philadelphia for what we do right: ranging from green infrastructure and creative place-making to medical and environmental research to early education and libraries.
We continue to grapple with crime, poverty, and other tough issues. They do not define us but, rather, are part of our complicated tapestry.
The bottom line: No matter what happens on Sunday, or whom Amazon chooses, the city will be here to fight, and win, another day. We may occasionally wear an underdog mask, but we’re usually grinning widely underneath.