This weekend, my traveling pal, Dan, and I went to Philadelphia. We stayed with Dan’s friends, Jeremy and Reese, who could not have been more gracious hosts. They also have a bulldog, Dolly – an added bonus. Jeremy took us on a tour of the neighborhood around Penn, my alma mater, and we went through neighborhoods that I haven’t thought about in over a decade. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have recognized them on my own. Philly has come a long way since the 1990’s.
Philly’s an under-appreciated city; it has been for a long time. Great food, art, culture, easily navigable, with a relaxed, casual feel. We had several great meals at local restaurants and gastropubs, went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, checked out the U.S. Mint and the Magic Garden, a public art installation of found objects. Some of the best education and medical facilities in the country are located in Philly. It takes 90 minutes to get to New York by Amtrak – even faster on the Acela train. Slightly longer to get to D.C. And did I mention that it’s affordable and filled with exceedingly kind people?
So why aren’t people moving to Philly in droves? Simple – business, sadly, has no incentive to move there, limiting economic opportunities. Philadelphia has a ridiculously high gross receipts tax and city wage tax for all business owners based in the city. These fees have been around forever, and different factions have tried over many years to reduce this burden on business owners in the hopes of spurring economic growth. All to no avail. Apparently Mayor Nutter’s administration is considering another fix to these fees. Like President Obama, Mayor Nutter was left with quite a bit to fix in Philadelphia before he could get started on new initiatives. It’s my hope that he will be successful in jump starting more businesses to set up shop in Philly.
I have a personal interest in seeing Philadelphia rise up to get all that it deserves. It is a city that has had a difficult, important history. In many ways, I came of age there as a Penn student. I had some of the very best, worst, happiest, saddest, proudest, and most disappointing moments of my life there. I learned how to love and care deeply about people and community. I discovered that one person really can make an enormous difference in the world. I learned how to fail, fall, and get up again, growing stronger every time.
When I graduated my friend, Derek, gave me a photo frame with a quote inside it. “Years from now, you’ll remember and you’ll come back and hang a plaque. This is where Christa began being what she can. ~ Stephen Sondheim, Merrily We Roll Along” I didn’t know how fitting that was until the trip back this weekend. I haven’t yet hung a plaque on any wall there, but I really did begin a journey of possibility there.
Philly and I have a history intertwined. I didn’t recognize the campus as I toured through the neighborhood on Saturday. Through the eyes of my 22-year old self, I wouldn’t recognize the me of today either. Philly and I have both grown and changed in dramatic ways, mostly for the better. And I’d like to believe that for Philly and for my own life, the very best of our days have yet to be seen.