The Philadelphia LEW

Alan Nevin, KeyNotes Editor

This past month, two busloads of Lambda Alphans from around the world had the opportunity to see how a once-down-trodden major metropolitan area can be resuscitated – actually come back from the dead.

Philadelphia has gone through numerous metamorphoses through history, but I like the one that has evolved in this century. Philadelphia was once our nation’s capital. It was once a massive smoke-belching manufacturing center; then an example of what can go wrong when massive economic changes cause its primary job base to dissipate and then, rise from the dead and takes on a new role as a mecca of high-tech creativity and employment.

In my book, The Great Divide, I devote a chapter to metropolitan areas that are outside of the sphere of the 15 golden states that have continually been accountable for 75% of all new employment over the past 30 years. Included in this list of survivors are New York (rather obviously), Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and a few others. That list clearly includes Philadelphia.

In the book, I do not devote nearly enough time to the subject of Philadelphia so will make amends to do that here.

Philadelphia has good bones:

  • It has a viable mass transit system that almost makes cars irrelevant. The rail system makes it very easy to get to work, to the airport and to Manhattan (45 minutes away).
  • It has thousands of wonderful old townhomes just begging to be resuscitated. Society Hill, in the center of town, was once a deplorable slum and now a neighborhood of high-style homes hovering around Independence Hall, most selling for more than $750,000.  Who would have thought?
  • It has a highly walkable center city, surrounding its iconic City Hall. Its grid plan was highly creative at the time of its birth (compare with Boston and London) and now serves it well. Within that plan was a series of parks and open spaces, many of them with grand public art.
  • It has two rivers flowing through it (the Delaware and Schuylkill) that had been largely ignored as scenic treasures and now are the scene of major parks and development activity.
  • It had an enormous shipyard on the Delaware River that created a multitude of ships for the Navy and served the Nation well through the Viet Nam era, and then fell into disuse.
  • Its center city, for decades, served as a regional financial center, but construction of new office buildings and cultural centers had been put on hold for the past 40 years; and finally,
  • The City has been the home of the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and a massive medical complex, all within the city center.

With all of these positive factors, the city’s public and private partnerships finally have melded to produce a remarkable resuscitation.

The keystone of the center city is the headquarters of Comcast. Five years ago, they developed their first high-rise, a 1.2-milllion square foot tower for their 4,000+ employees. Now, a second tower rising 1,100 square feet in the air is nearly complete and will house their technology crew. The top of the Normal Foster-designed building will be a five-star hotel with 250 rooms. Another 4,000+ employees, too.

The Navy Yard has been converted into a major private industry employment center with 150+ employers and headquarters for Urban Outfitters/Anthology. Their facilities are wildly creative, contemporary and just plain fun. And there are still 2,000 Navy employees there.

At the University of Pennsylvania/Drexel, they have created “Pennovation” – a campus devoted to the creation of research and development. They don’t lease the space. They just take a piece of the action if the company is successful.

This year, the NY Times reported that Detroit ranks No. 1 as a recommended place for vacations. Let me suggest that your vacation needs will be much better satisfied by visiting Philadelphia. A city that is full of hope and energy and success.



KeyNotes is the online publication of Lambda Alpha International and contains articles written by the members, chronicles chapter activities and successes, and celebrates member awards and accomplishments. Posts are distributed to the global membership and published within LAI’s social-media network. Check out the latest articles today!

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