Could census give Philly a better sense of itself?

Let’s talk about Northern Liberties, belly dancers and Chase Utley’s knee.

And the topic that ties them together, at least in my fevered mind, the U.S. census.

The official nose count of our city was released last week, and hey, here’s an upset.

Between 2000 and 2010, Philadelphia grew. Not a lot. Just barely, by less than one percent, to just over 1.5 million souls.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

But a slim positive can still be a sharp rejoinder to stereotype. In this case, the image of Philadelphia as a crime-, corruption- and litter-ridden hellhole where no sane person would choose to live.

The reality has been more chipper than the perception for a long time – but perception is one stubborn son-of-a-gun. So the census is something Philly can brag on to its peers. Smug Chicago? It lost 7 percent of its population. Baltimore, 4.9 percent.  Philly even hung onto to fifth place nationally, as its closest pursuer, the desert boomtown of Phoenix, went bust.

 The same people whom Phoenix is giving a hard time, immigrants, helped buoy Philly’s numbers. As in many thriving cities, Latinos and Asians were the key to population growth.

Also flocking to the city were empty nesters filling Center City condos, and young creative classers whose enthusiasm turned dowdy areas such as Northern Liberties into hip precincts. Working class whites continued to flee, however.

 Cities are complex, contradictory organisms – none more so than our own city of brotherly love and contented corruption.   Here, hope shares the bus stop with cynicism; bullets fly in front of gorgeous murals.   Carl Greene can do fine work turning grim housing projects into glistening neighborhoods – then squander his legacy on sex harassment and office parties with belly dancers.

 Figuring out Philly is calculus, not arithmetic. That’s why some of us love it so. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be Philly. If you can’t handle paradox, pal, this ain’t the place for you.

 But net sum – the news is good. We are grappling, we are growing, and hey, we had one hell of parade in ’08.

 And our Phils are the smart-money favorite to win it all again this year. Overdog, though, is a word that tastes odd in Philly’s mouth. That’s why the news that Chase Utley, our laconic icon of hustle, is battling a tricky knee injury comes almost as a relief. We’re just not a “win in a walk” town. We need something to fret about.

Still, try to smile Philly. Phoenix is still looking up at us. In Northern Liberties, the craft brews are frosty. And that Cliff Lee? He’s in red pinstripes.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal