Thursday, September 18, 2014

Carry on, Philadelphia

Old reputations die hard. I had a completely ridiculous nickname in high school that I haven't since uttered. But twenty years later, what did I hear when I walked into the reunion? 

The same fate seems to be true of the adoptive city I've come to love. Wall Street, Hollywood, and the Silicone Valley could all relocate to Philadelphia and the national circuit would still be dubbing us the next Detroit.

Why? Well, twenty years ago it would have been because we were the next Detroit. But today it's because we are one of the few major cities that didn't spend the last twenty years royally fucking up. 

Yeah, I said it. Philly did good.

News Observer writer, Hope Yen spent way too many words on an article that tries to claim that Philadelphia is a city of fleeing residents and a collapsing job market. Then goes on to point out that we're doing better than Los-freaking-Angeles. She ends what sounds like a mental patient's manifesto with the point that Philadelphia's college educated immigrants are twice those without high school degrees. Nothing says "doom" like an educated populace.

What a tool. 


She claims that residents are fleeing the city despite the first population growth in half a century. Mid-wage jobs? According to Yen they're imploding. Does Chicago or Washington, D.C. have an abundance of mid-wage jobs? Probably. People have to shop somewhere. But those working at the DuPont Circle Gap aren't living downtown, they're commuting from towns closer to the Ohio state line than the District of Columbia.

Philadelphia bucks Yen's national norm that says "how dare a hotel clerk live amongst the skyscrapers." 

And it's infuriating.

She makes perhaps one valid point but it's laden with misinterpreted statistics. Philadelphia's economy has not recovered as well as it has in other cities. But Yen ignores why: Philadelphia's economy didn't do a giant pratfall. We didn't spend the early 2000s building ubiquitous condo towers that no one could afford. Philadelphia isn't a skyline of empty apartment buildings finally finding tenants a decade later. 

If that Yen's economic recovery, then Philadelphia never needed it. We're building now, pragmatically. 

But that's not what Yen's article is about. Like countless others, Philadelphia is Yen's go-to city for journalists and readers rationalizing their $4000 Georgetown rent. Detroit and Cleveland are too easy. No one from D.C. or San Francisco can relate. But Philadelphia, we're relevant. We're relatable. And we help a lot of people indentured to their mortgages elsewhere feel better about it by looking at nothing but screwed data that says Philadelphia sucks.

Yen's article is just self-coddling, "let's go after Philly because my city screwed itself" horse shit. And you know what? I love that this horse shit is out there, because it keeps those who ruined D.C., Manhattan, and San Francisco out of my back yard. 

Okay. Done ranting. Go Iggles.

1 comment:

  1. I get that you weren't here 20 years ago but Philadelphia was far from the next Detroit 20 years ago. Every skyscraper in Center City and throughout the whole city was built for one corporation to fill. Think about that for a second. Detroit WISHES it had the kind of Old World power Philadelphia still had even into the late 90s. Philadelphia was still a financial center and 20 years ago had multiple major banks (even more before that, though they were really hit hard during the securities and savings and loans crises), and some of the biggest banks in the country (Wachovia, PNC, NYMellon, etc) all became as big as they have because they acquired large and powerful Philadelphia financial institutions. Nationwide Insurance got so big because they acquired Provident. Liberty Mutual used to call Philadelphia home. Conrail was the biggest rail company in the country next to Amtrak. We still had Fleer, Strawbridge's, Wannameker's, CIGNA/ACE, clothing companies like what is now JonesNY, the Navy Yard, Lincoln Financial, Commerce, Sovereign, Penn National, really just more than anybody who wasn't here has a clue about... so much I'm blanking on quite a few major companies. 20 years ago our trophy towers were probably around 100% leased and each served as either a regional or national if not global headquarters. Bell Atlantic was by far the most powerful of the Bell companies. People were optimistic still about the city back in the 90s, even in the working class neighborhoods. Then in the 90s-early 2000s, deindustrialization caused the bottom to drop out in the working class parts of the city that were left at the same time that our jobs and major companies were being poached or bought up.

    The fact is that in the 20 years the exact same things that have happened in Detroit have happened in Philadelphia's outer neighborhoods and other working class parts of the surrounding metro. The change for the better in the center of the city started in the 80s at the same time that the changes for the worse were starting in a lot of different parts of the city. Since the depression, there has never been a period of prosperity or improvement that wasn't accompanied by a period of decline. That's why Philadelphia is what it is. What really saved the city was the fact that a) those trophy towers were all built for specific companies to lease nearly 100% of them, so they became the only spec office space in the city when those jobs left and vacancies opened up, not to mention the fact that the height limit kept us from having a New York or Chicago level skyline that was largely vacant and b) building those trophy towers, unlike cities like Detroit and other Rust Belt cities that didn't build more than one or a few at most, allowed the city to convert a lot of the old office space to residential and hotel. If Market East and South Broad was still office space, Philadelphia would be just as scrwed as Rust Belt cities because when those companies left like they did, the other ones in the area wouldn't have the kind of money to build new office space and would eventually have left as well. Then there'd by no residential resurgence and a lot of vacant office buildings, similar to what happened in Detroit and Cleveland.

    Philadelphia's economy did do a giant pitfall when it comes to jobs and major companies. It's still nowhere near what it used to be even at the tail end of Old Philadelphia back in the late 90s-early 2000s, but that won't happen overnight and you're right that Philadelphia has done A LOT right over that time.