Last census: Good news for Philadelphia

    Just as the country prepares for the 2010 Census, some of the last census figures continue to emerge. Among the statistics about the status of major metropolitan areas, there’s good news about Philadelphia.

    Listen: [audio: satullo20091213.mp3]

    Perhaps you heard the astonishing news.

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    Philadelphia is growing. The U.S. Census just confirmed it: The 2008 population estimate is back above 1.5 million, up 1.5 percent from 2000.

    Funny thing about cities: When they don’t work for the people who live there, they shrink. Whey they do work, they grow.

    Shrinkage is the familiar tale that people like to tell about this city. Fleeing the sinking ship, and all that.

    So what’s with the signs of buoyancy?

    Sure, if you prefer to look through a glass darkly, you can find things to feed your grumpiness:

    City council is still clownish. The plastic bags still tumble across overgrown lots. The Sixers still stink.

    But… ponder… this. The city is growing.

    Who are these people who want to live here? As in all cities that grow, some are immigrants. Philadelphia’s slump stemmed in no small part from a poor job of attracting dreamers from foreign soil.

    It’s doing better at that, though not without tensions. These were on disturbing display last week at South Philadelphia High, as students of Asian heritage were tormented while adults did shamefully little to stop it.

    The story of Philly’s growth is about more than immigration. It’s about doing a better job of hanging onto the smart, young hordes that come here for college.

    It’s about nurturing a creative cluster of artists, designers and technologists. It’s about those condo towers. Rowhouse natives love to grouse about these tax-favored high rises. But the empty nesters who’ve flocked to the towers pay hefty wage taxes that underwrite services from the neighborhoods.

    Sure, too many city streets remain grimy and unsafe, but large swaths of the city work for the people who do live there. It always amazes me to hear my fellow suburbanites declaim emphatically about what a pit Philly is, then proclaim proudly they haven’t been inside city limits for a decade.

    If you haven’t, you don’t have a clue. If you haven’t driven down 12th Street near Temple in the last five years, you haven’t seen the wonders wrought there by the city housing authority. If you haven’t been to Northern Liberties or Bella Vista or Andorra, you’ve missed what’s happening in this city.

    If you want to remain a classic Negadelphian, enamored of grievance, feel free.

    But you’re missing the news. Hear all about it: Philadelphia is growing.

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