Thursday, August 28, 2014

Two luxury hotels will bring more life to the area around "Centre Square"

So, what the heck is Centre Square, you may ask? Well, it's actually the original name given to where City Hall sits today.

When Billy P (aka William Penn) founded Philadelphia back in 1682, he created one of the first major grid systems in the US. The purpose of using a grid plan was to create wide streets (which are considered narrow today) with right angles, for ease of planning and to avoid overcrowding. The planning aspect definitely held up, but overcrowding did not; just like it did not in New York, Boston, etc.

Anyway, with Billy P's master grid plan also came Philadelphia's 5 Original Squares: 1) Southwest Square, 2) Northwest Square, 3) Southeast Square, 4) Northeast Square, and 5) Centre Square. You now know them today as: 1) Rittenhouse Square, 2) Logan Square, 3) Washington Square, 4) Franklin Square, and 5) Philadelphia City Hall.

There's your free history lesson for the day, and from someone who is not certified to teach it.

Okay, back to the luxury hotel project at 15th St & Chestnut St.

If you are not familiar with where this is exactly, it's the surface parking lot directly behind the Ritz Carlton Residences (just across from City Hall). The parcel sits on the northeast corner of 15th & Chestnut, to be exact.

The reason I feel that this project is significant is not just for tourism, but for everyday street life. It fills a missing gap in a busy Center City block (surface parking lots are very 1980s these days), makes great use of density/scale, brings 2 new names in luxury hotel living to Philadelphia, and will have ground floor retail for all to enjoy.

And since Philadelphia has gotten better at planning over the past few years, with the new zoning code and all, it appears that most developers are putting forth projects that offer "smarter" features (e.g. mixed-use, underground parking, sustainable design, etc).

Now that Dilworth Plaza Park plans to cut the ribbon on 9/4, Centre Square City Hall will now have a suitable public space for both residents and tourists alike. Just like it was intended to, over 300 years ago.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

How does Philadelphia truly become a global city?

For starters, let's define what the term "global city" actually means.

Here are a few different definitions I found:

A city in a position to realize the economic coordination of complex activities at a global scale. It is through economic coordination that a city will gain a strategic position in the global economy, and the concentration of this function makes it different from other cities. - Research Gate

What constitutes a global city, is an emphasis on the flow of information and capital. - Saskia Sassen

A city generally considered to be an important node in the global economic system. Globalization can be understood as largely created, facilitated, and enacted in strategic geographic locales according to global finance and trade. - Wikipedia

Although it may seem a bit complex after reading those textbook definitions, the concept is relatively simple.

Does Philadelphia play a role in the global economy? Some say "yes," others "no."

The article that inspired this post was from the Philadelphia Business Journal, and it discussed how Philadelphia needs to get better at retaining its talent. The article states:

"Home to some of the world’s best universities, medical institutions, arts and cultural organizations, research centers, booming legal, business, finance sectors, and a steadily growing tourism industry, Philadelphia is the perfect place for talented young graduates. They can give back to the city that nurtured them while they pursued their educational dreams and interests. Opportunity abounds!"

Okay, so what's the problem then?

If we already have enough opportunity, and are already attracting young talent through the aforementioned channels, why are we not a global city today?

Well, there are 2 general issues Philadelphia has been up against.

- Education Crisis: If you have not heard about Philadelphia's public school system woes as of late, you must not watch TV, listen to the radio, or read the news. Our public school system is struggling, and the main issue all 3 media sources focus on is funding. I could show you stats, budgetary items of concern, and share articles from local experts, but that's not going to help. Until Philadelphia's local political system and PA's state political system get on the same page with a well thought out plan, the problem will most-likely persist. If the problem persists, how can Philadelphia retain global talent?

- Workforce Gaps: Philadelphia can sometimes be looked at as a tale of two cities, the "haves" and the "have-nots." I know that this is also common in other big cities, but Philadelphia is at the forefront. It's not that people in Philadelphia cannot find work, it's that they have to go outside of Philadelphia's borders to find it. Although many people live in Philadelphia, many of them also have to commute to the suburban metro area for their jobs; and vice-versa. Why is that? I could get into wage taxes, business taxes, pensions, city council, and politically-fueled union issues, but that's not going to help. Until Philadelphia's local political system and the private business community can come together on big issues, the problem will most-likely persist. If the problem persists, how can Philadelphia retain global talent?

Please do not take my points/opinions as the "be all, end all," but rather look at them in your own way and think about ways to improve upon them. These are issues that I see, nothing more.

I do not have the answers, but as someone who grew up in Philadelphia's suburbs for 18 years, and has lived in Philadelphia for 17 years, I can tell you that the strategies, communication, and mindset of both locales are different. Which may be why Philadelphia's suburbs have grown most of the local jobs, and Philadelphia has lagged behind for decades.

I truly believe Philadelphia has all of the tools necessary to become a successful global city. We just need to utilize those tools in a more cohesive way, and give all of the global talent that comes through our great city more reasons to stay.