Fresh vegetables, yes. Zoning reform, mostly yes. Trees, maybe yes, maybe no.Green jobs, of course, but let’s argue about how to create them.A virtual “bank” to keep tabs on vacant lots? Didn’t we agree to do that years and years ago? Where is it? What’s up with that?Those were some of the outcomes of the first big debate of the Philadelphia City Council election season last night.
It drew more than 200 folks to the Academy of Natural Sciences. It was staged by Next Great City, a coalition of green groups around Philly that issued an influential agenda during the 2007 city elections, and tried to recapture the magic last night by issuing a new agenda for the edification of Council wannabes. (All eight gazillion of them.) You can see it here. It sounds like mostly mom-and-apple pie stuff (if you tend to put green apples in your pie): More fresh fruits and vegetables near urban families. More shade trees. More recycling. More commuters on foot, bikes and trains, not spewing fumes and clogging Colonial-era streets as their SUVs idle in Center City.Ah, but the devil is in the details. Every single one of the 17 at-large candidates (yep, count’ em 17) who showed up said they supported in theory the rewrite of the ancient city zoning code that’s been in the works since the last election. But the savvier among them reserved the right to review the final draft yet to emerge from the Zoning Code Commission, because they know there’ll still be some fighting words in there.Everyone supported the ideas of giving access to more fresh produce to city families, but free-market Republicans and liberal Democrats (the panel mixed candidates from both parties) disagreed how big a role government should play in that, along with the question of whether you build green jobs more effectively through government stimulus or cutting taxes.No poem is as lovely as a tree, but it costs more to plant trees, so even Mayor Nutter’s proposal to plant 60,000 new trees a year spurred some disagreement, as some candidates noted that the $8 million annual cost might be better spent on preserving other, more essential city services.Overall, though, it was a calm and decidedly civil affair, with the biggest drama being some trash talk between the Temple and Penn State alums dotting the long, crowded candidates table – about the Owls’ win over the Nittany Lions’ in that afternoon’s NCAA tournament game.Next Great City and the Academy will host two more debates, one for candidates from Council Districts 1 to 5 on April 6, and District 6-10 on April 21.Chris Satullo, executive director of news for WHYY/NewsWorks, moderated the panel.