To look around Center City Philadelphia today is to have no doubt that the city is growing and improving in many ways. The revitalization that began during the Rendell era continues today. The skyline continues to expand, with the brand new Comcast Center now the tallest building between Chicago and New York. The city has seen a rebirth in arts and culture, with brand-new additions to the Avenue of the Arts including the modern Kimmel Center and the Suzanne Roberts Theatre.
As a result of the updating, expanding, and marketing of many attractions, tourism has become a major industry and Philadelphia has garnered much national attention in the past decade. It was the only U.S. city chosen to host the multinational rock concert Live 8 in 2005, and MTV’s The Real World finally came in 2004. Perhaps we were their 15th choice of location and yes, we almost lost the deal due to MTV’s challenges in working with local labor unions, and it was the worst cast in the show’s history, but regardless, the attention from media and young people was a positive for the city.
Construction projects are taking place around the city, and the slowing of the population decline is evidence that fewer people are leaving the city, while new people, many of them young, are moving in. Many neighborhoods, including Fairmount, University City, Northern Liberties, Graduate Hospital, Manayunk, and Fishtown continue to experience a rebirth, while empty lots have been transformed into homes and condominiums, and new businesses have come to economically underdeveloped areas. As is typical with gentrification, there is concern over long-term residents being priced out of their homes, and a multitude of other concerns that fall in line with the division of the city along class lines. Yet most Philadelphians have felt a change was long overdue and there is generally great enthusiasm around the development.
The vast majority of residents are enthusiastic about the current mayor, Michael Nutter, whose term began in 2008. Endorsed by the local media and elected in a landslide, the West Philadelphia native has positioned himself as a true reformer. As a city councilman, Nutter was a key leader in instituting the smoking ban and fighting proposed cuts to hours of city libraries and other important community resources, in the face of much opposition. Only time will tell, but the general consensus is that Nutter is prepared to address the needs of the entire city—not just Center City or the outlying neighborhoods, and not just of the rich or poor—as some of his predecessors have been accused. He is taking a stronger, and long overdue, stance on vital city issues, including crime—which is probably the city’s largest challenge. If what Nutter says is true, and many, including myself, have great optimism that it is, he has the ability and determination to begin to address many of the city’s major problems, and to see Philadelphia continue to reach towards its full potential.
Recent estimates predict that the city’s population will stop shrinking and begin to grow again in a few years. The reasons some cite include: an increase in new transplants from foreign destinations and from pricier nearby Northeast cities, the 10-year tax abatement on some types of new housing, a historically undervalued housing market, improvements to the waterfront, and continuing redevelopment throughout the city. Here’s hoping that the predictions are right, and the momentum and growth of the past two decades continues.
© Karrie Gavin from Moon Philadelphia, 1st Edition