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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Daily News, Urban Warrior
Date: May 2, 2003
Byline: Carla Anderson


Note to Philly: Just do it!

TO BOOST POPULATION, LET'S HEED THESE OBVIOUS SUGGESTIONS

Want to make this city more attractive to new residents?

Throw them a party.

"Something along the lines of First Fridays in Old City, only for new Philadelphians," said Concetta Bencivenga, a young transplant from Austin, Texas. "I find, as a newcomer, that it can be hard to meet people in Philadelphia. It seems like you could work with the Chamber of Commerce to do something like that, and give people a chance to get out and meet each other."

This idea was one of several offered yesterday at "Desperately Seeking New Philadelphians," a panel discussion on how to grow the city that was hosted by the Pennsylvania Economy League and the Daily News.

And it falls squarely into what I call the Nike category: ideas so obviously helpful that you wonder why we don't "just do it."

Parties, after all, are where people meet. And the chance to meet others, after all, is part of what makes city life attractive to the young.

Yesterday's discussion, held at the Loews Hotel and attended by more than 300 of the city's business and civic leaders, also produced other winning ideas on what Philadelphia can do to attract more residents and stop a decades-long record of shrinking.

Featured speaker Kirk Watson, former mayor of Austin, suggested better regional cooperation, as well as more of a focus on "urban cool."

Panelist Carl Dranoff, real-estate developer, promised a sudden surge in investment if the city cut its wage tax to become more competitive with surrounding suburbs, and Hispanic marketing expert Mia Mendoza suggested more awareness of the immigrant market. Ronald Klasko, immigration lawyer with the Dechert law firm, suggested that Philadelphia make an effort to become more friendly to recent immigrants - especially since urban growth elsewhere seems so largely driven by new Americans.

"Right now both the city and the state are known as being particularly unfriendly to immigrants," Klasko said.

Then there was Greg Hellor, a skateboarding college student from Wesleyan University, who said he mourned the loss of LOVE Park as a skateboard destination.

"I am 21 years old, so I guess I fit the demographic that you're talking about, and I say this city made a big mistake by making LOVE Park inhospitable to skateboarders," he said.

Hellor drew applause when he added: "My classmates at Wesleyan University know this city for two things, the Liberty Bell and LOVE Park. LOVE Park was a major draw for young poeple, and I hope the mayor is listening."

Why should we care what young people want?

Because research shows that young people, with all their creativity, talent and ambition, are driving the new "knowledge-based" economy. Cities that attract them, and nurture them, are cities that prosper.

So come on, Philadelphia. Let's move past all the talk and take action to attract the new and creative young residents that we need.

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