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Philly? Cleveland? Could ‘rust’ be rising while the Sun Belt sets?

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 During a winter storm tourists imitate the character Rocky Balboa on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pa. Philadelphia will host the Democratic National Convention in 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

During a winter storm tourists imitate the character Rocky Balboa on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pa. Philadelphia will host the Democratic National Convention in 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Next year, Republicans will hold their convention in Cleveland, the city where I was born and grew up. And Democrats will hold their confab here, in the city where I’ve lived most of my adult life.

This coincidence makes me happy.

Sure, political conventions have become mostly empty exercises in posturing, which TV networks can barely be bothered to cover. They’ve also become one of the best places (or is it one of the worst?) to view in action the malignant influence of special interest money on our politics.

Still, today I’m cheering. When you’ve lived most of your life in cities that are regularly the butt of lame jokes, you take your vindications where you can.

At the very least, being selected as the host of a party convention indicates that a city has escaped full-blown civic dysfunction.

Anyone who thinks Philly is still the same dreary, cranky town that W.C. Fields mocked or that booed Santa Claus simply hasn’t been paying attention. Such voices still exist amid the vast media carnival, but their idiocy is so outdated it can be ignored.

The creative class that’s flocked to Philadelphia by the tens of thousands in the last decade knows the city is writing a new, vibrant narrative. Today’s Philly is more than worthy of visits by pontiffs and nominees.  And it can pull off such moments in the spotlight with a smile, not anxious beads of sweat.

One of my favorite summaries of this truth was a tweet shared during an Ignite Philly event a few years back: “If New York City and Portland had a love child, what would it be? Philadelphia.”

Cleveland’s upsurge is of more recent vintage and more modest, but it still gratifies a native son’s heart. Cleveland’s story has long been one of shrinkage and struggle.   The core city has less than half the people it had when I was born there during the Baby Boom.

But the Forest City (aka The Greatest Location in the Nation; aka (alas) the Mistake by the Lake) has rebounded of late, using a minor-key version of the same formula that has buoyed Philly:

You invest in civic infrastructure. You welcome immigration. You market your cultural riches, eds-meds jobs, and affordable housing to Millennials and empty nesters who have been gravitating to urban living.

For a long time, the nation’s politics have been driven by a Sun Belt suburban outlook. In 2012, the convention sites – Charlotte and Tampa – reflected that.

This time, the parties chose two older cities that are newly appealing to rising generations.

Let’s hope the delegates can find time amid their snarfing of corporate food and wearing of funny hats to learn something from the dramatic urban stories of revival happening outside the convention arena.

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