Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How Consolidation Saved Philadelphia

Hidden City's Sam Robertson posted a very detailed article on Philadelphia's 160 years of consolidation. I'll let you read it yourself as his research delves into all of the problems within Philadelphia County leading up to the Philadelphia Consolidation Act of 1854. What struck me most about the article and Philadelphia's history of consolidation, extends well beyond Philadelphia, in particular, how much consolidation has benefited Philadelphia over similarly sized, newer cities.

Last week an inch of snow brought Atlanta to a standstill. Despite jokes surrounding Southerner's inability to drive in snow, including a graphic depicting the Walking Dead's poster of the Atlanta skyline renamed "One Inch of Snow," Politico's Rebecca Burns told a more realistic story in her article, "The Day We Lost Atlanta."

Consolidation wasn't unique to Philadelphia. By the mid 19th Century, America's corporate powerhouses had become squallor of disease and crime. Consolidation was the only means to get services, fire, police, and heath care to the father reaches of the metropolitan areas of Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago. This helped our nation's oldest cities cohesively expand public transportation routes, and successfully implement the railroads we still use today.

Meanwhile in the South, prior to the Civil War, the rural culture reigned supreme. While the South's most powerful lived far from their region's poorest, the North's wealthiest lived in the congested urban cores and were forced to face its poverty on its sidewalks.

Without consolidation, Philadelphia's wealthiest captains of industry had no way to conveniently flee to West Philadelphia and the Main Line, and certainly, consolidation helped develop the palatial estates outside our urban cores.

Not only was consolidation never embraced by the South, but the South's most influential cities were obliterated by the Civil War. And since reconstruction largely ignored consolidation, by the time cities like Atlanta and Birmingham began to recover, consolidation was an antiquated ideal synonymous with railroads.

As those regions continued to grow into competitive cities, some as large as Philadelphia's metropolitan area, millions of residents found themselves residing side by side, with hundreds of mayors, even more city council members, all fighting over how best to develop a cohesive city.

We know this ill well enough when Philadelphia tries to pen a deal with Montgomery County or New Jersey, but in cities like Atlanta or Miami, with populations a third the size of Philadelphia, they're faced with opposing suburban municipalities that view themselves equal or more influential than the area's urban core. That's how you wind up with light rails meant to span the metropolitan areas ending at the county line, and highways frozen in an inch of snow.

Given partisan politics and Red States' attitude towards consolidating any government entities, it's a problem that won't likely end soon. Thankfully for them, it doesn't snow often.

1 comment:

  1. That poster is amazingly accurate if its supposed to be Atlanta during rush hour. I have never seen one-way traffic during rush hour like I have in Atlanta. If you have a reverse commute, you have an amazing commute. If you don't, it's absolutely awful.