New “downtown” definition shows where Philly ranks

Philadelphians are familiar with the term Center City and most will agree on its definition, but Center City is not in the center of the city, and it is not the only “downtown,” residential and employment node. Philadelphia is not alone. Across the country cities have their own unique names and placements for downtowns and major employment clusters. That can make it challenging when groups try to compare the downtown live, work patterns of major cities, which is why Center City District (CCD) released a report redefining downtowns as major employment centers and the one-mile radius that surrounds each of them. 

The report, Defining Downtown, encourages redefining downtowns based on employment data and looked at 231 major employment centers in the country’s 150 largest cities. 

Employment data, the report suggests, is a better indicator of “downtown” status since it can capture the unique geographic bounds of a downtown better than other indicators like census tracks or geographic relation to a city’s city hall, which may or may not actually be in a downtown district. It also makes it possible to recognize that many cities have multiple downtowns.

Using this employment-based “downtown” definition, CCD compared 231 major employment centers in the country’s 150 largest cities. Philadelphia has two of those centers – Center City (288,227 jobs) and University City District (79,368 jobs), and CCD wasted no time before using its new employment-based downtown definition to compare Philadelphia’s employment nodes with others nationwide. 

Among the 231 employment centers in the 150 largest cities, Defining Downtown found that:

  • Center City ranks third behind only Midtown Manhattan and Downtown Manhattan in number of residents who live within the commercial downtown, with 57,239 residents living between Vine and South streets, river to river. 
  • Center City ranks fourth in terms of total number of residents living within a mile of the commercial downtown (170,467 residents).
  • Philly ranks 10th in both total downtown jobs (288,227) and percentage of downtown residents who work downtown (40.7%).

The residential population in Philly’s commercial downtown grew by 16.3% from 2000 to 2010. Within half a mile of the commercial downtown district, residential population grew by 16.2% from 2000 to 2010. 

In a special “Note on Social Equity and Downtown Development,” the authors wrote that, while this report focuses on the impact of major urban employment centers on adjacent residential areas, Philadelphia is proof that urban employment centers provide opportunities for workers of all education and skill levels throughout the rest of the city as well. Residents from Philadelphia neighborhoods outside of Center City account for 41.9% of the downtown workforce.

The full report can be found online at 

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