Philadelphia Story: An Ambitious Campaign to Spread Opportunity into All Corners of the City

| 7/31/2017 12:40:00 PM

Tags: healthy communities, healthy families, civic engagement, cities, Pennsylvania, Jay Walljasper,


For decades the “Philadelphia Story” was about steady economic decline. That story is being rewritten today as many Americans rediscover the advantages of cities — inviting public spaces, rich cultural diversity, and a creative environment that fertilizes startups and attracts talent.

Young people, in particular, have moved here in droves, realizing they can enjoy the same kind of urban amenities as New York, Washington, or Boston. New Americans immigrating from other nations also contribute to the city’s growth. But so far, Philadelphia’s comeback is limited to certain parts of town.

“We have one of the highest infusions of Millennials coming here, but also some of the highest rates of poverty and economic segregation,” observes Parks Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell.

Reimagining the Civic Commons

Refusing to accept these disparities as inevitable, local leaders formed the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative three years ago to show how growing prosperity can be spread more widely throughout town — a strategy now being applied in Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, and Akron.

Philadelphia’s early efforts show promise that urban revitalization does not inevitably translate to dislocation, in which lower-income people are shoved away when neighborhoods bounce back economically. The stark boundaries — rich vs. poor, black and brown vs. white — begin to break down as people share parks, trails, libraries, nature centers and other gathering places.

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