From its swanky restaurant scene to its World Series-winning baseball team to its mission of becoming the greenest city in the country, Philadelphia is a model of a Rust Belt comeback city. In the current financial crisis, the city’s housing stock and employment pool has remained solid. Michael Nutter, the city’s still-new mayor, has seen his share of criticisms, but continues to garner acclaim for the small improvements such as a 20 percent drop in crime over two years, adding bike lanes to Center City and a system of deputy mayors that improve communication within city hall.
All that said, the city is still struggling to combat decline. The fifth—or is it really the sixth?—largest American city, Philadelphia has roughly 1.5 million people in it (down from a high of 2 million in 1950) and in the last year it was one of four major American cities to continue to lose people. (Baltimore, Detroit and Memphis were others.) Local institutions such as University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Urban Research, the Design Advocacy Group and Penn Praxis’s Plan Philly project are working hard to rethink Philadelphia’s assets. A bevy of foundations (the William Penn Foundation, Pew and the Knight Foundation) have put their money where their offices are. Local CDCs and the Sustainable Business Network have been instrumental in reusing vacant properties and cultivating a scene around urban farming. The fact that a new monthly magazine,Grid, which covers Philadelphia’s sustainable lifestyle, is proof that the city’s green future is no passing trend. But the city’s poor high school graduation rates, litter problems and concentrations of poverty serve as quick reminders that there is still much work to be done.