Rina Cutler on high speed rail, voter turnout, and Philly’s Parking Authority

    “Five Questions with …” is a regular Keystone Crossroads feature where we seek to glean wisdom and ideas from some of Pennsylvania’s top urban thinkers and doers. Rina Cutler is Philadelphia’s deputy mayor of transportation and utilities.

    Q: Tell us about an amenity or service that you’ve seen in your travels to other places that you wish you could bring back to your city/community?

    A: Real high speed rail in Japan. It changes the public’s sense of space and time and makes travel for business and pleasure easy and flexible.  I am a huge champion of high speed rail as the real catalyst for explosive economic development in the Northeast corridor.  I know how expensive it will be, but I believe we can’t afford NOT to do it.

    Q: What’s one urban improvement idea that you could categorize as “nice try but didn’t work”?

    A: State control of the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA). While the dollars generated by the PPA stay in Philly, a city really needs to control its own parking management programs and systems. That includes being able to control costs and to set parking policy.

    Q: Describe a person in your community who is a “spark” — someone who seems to get things done and inspire people. (This does not need to be an elected official.)

    A: Great things are happening in Philadelphia because of people who “spark” in the private, public and non-profit sectors, so I am going to give you one from each.

    Jeff Knueppel, deputy general manager, SEPTA. Jeff is a rare talent that brings together an understanding of engineering, planning and customer service. He is leading tremendously positive change at SEPTA.

    Jerry Sweeney, president and CEO, Brandywine Realty Trust. Jerry gets public-private partnership and the link between development and transportation better than any other developer in the area.

    Prema Katari Gupta, planning director, University City District. Prema’s vision for and development of great public spaces at major gateways like 30th Street Station and deep in residential neighborhoods is making Philadelphia a more welcoming place for visitors and better home for our residents.

    Q: What flaw or habit does your city/community have that you would like to see it change?

    A: We don’t turn out to vote. When we don’t vote, we wind up electing officials at all levels that don’t always represent the public’s interest. At the local level our collective absence at the polls empowers the kind of transactional politics that favors special interests over residents.

    Q: Tell us about a movie or book that depicts, in a way that grabbed your attention, how a city can thrive or fail.

    I may be biased, but “Prayer for a City,” Buzz Bissinger’s book about Ed Rendell’s first term as mayor, is a very compelling story about how cities thrive and how they get compromised. It is a story about having both the political will and spending your political capital to get things done.

    Disclosure: Jerry Sweeney of Brandywine Realty Trust is a member of lead station WHYY’s Board of Directors.



    Is there someone you know who thinks hard about cities and knows how to get things done? Someone whom Keystone Crossroads should spend “Five Questions with …” Please let us know in the comment sections below or via Facebook or Twitter @Pacrossroads.

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