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Philadelphia Fellow Richard Florida on how to build a more prosperous city

Richard Florida identified the ways in which Philly is growing and the issues it needs to address if it will make that prosperity equitable in a new report.

Philadelphia. (Photo by Philly by Drone)

What does inclusive prosperity look like for Philadelphia? Urbanist Richard Florida has some ideas.

Florida, the city’s first Philadelphia Fellow, presented his research on inclusive prosperity at Venture Café Thursday evening at 3675 Market St. The fellowship was established last year by partnering organizations Drexel UniversityThomas Jefferson University and University City Science Center, and Florida’s work focused on Philadelphia’s affordable housing and human capital gaps, and the role that large-scale local institutions play in identifying potential solutions.

The report notes several things we already know, with added stats and insight. For instance, Florida reported, certain parts of Philadelphia — namely Center City and University City — are seeing fast growth and prosperity, and the city is attracting a large number of professional and creative young adults.

“To me, Philadelphia’s urban revival seemed different, and was different, than those of leading superstar cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle,” Florida wrote in “Philadelphia’s Next Challenge: From Urban Revitalization to Inclusive Prosperity.” “My take was that Philadelphia was one of a set of cities pioneering a more affordable and perhaps more authentic alternative to what was happening in expensive super star cities and leading tech hubs.”

A large part of the city’s success comes from its affordability, Florida wrote. He includes a conversion he had with a bartender confirming his suspicion: “Bro, that’s easy,” the bartender told him. “It’s affordable, you can still actually afford to live here.”

But Florida’s report concludes that Philadelphia must address inequality and inclusion if wants to continue its growth trajectory.

“Perhaps it was [affordable], but it is getting less and less so every day,” he wrote.

Florida’s report touches on a handful of identifiable issues the city would need to address for a more equally prosperous city.

  • A downward millennial trend — Philly’s millennial population growth fell from number one to number 80 of the nation’s 350 or so metro areas.
  • Middle-class departure — Philly’s middle-class numbers have shrunk to 217,833 residents, or 36% of the city’s population, making it the sixth-smallest middle class in America’s largest 50 cities.
  • Lack of jobs/quality schools accelerating departuresPew Charitable Trust found that the people moving out of the city are disproportionately young, white and educated. “Half of all movers were between the ages of 18 and 34, a group that comprised just 30 percent of the city’s population.”

(That latter point reminds of Arcweb CEO Chris Cera’s 2014 statement that “the schools crisis is going to become a dominant part of the Philly tech scene’s conversation.”)

In his report, Florida also identifies possible solutions for these issues, calling on “anchors” — institutions like city government, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and community leaders — to implement to make changes:

  • Ensure affordable housing — Anchors should lead the way through on-campus-student policies and collaborating on building affordable and below market housing.
  • Create a more inclusive innovation economy — Anchors should continue to lead and support inclusive innovation efforts (like, say, the $3.5 billion Schuylkill Yards project currently in development).
  • Turn low-wage service jobs into family-sustaining work — Anchors should pay a living wage and require vendors to do so as well.
  • Spread prosperity to all areas of the city — Anchors can make inclusive development part of their core mission and work strategically to ensure prosperity for the whole city.

“We’re grateful to Richard for holding a mirror to the city’s challenges in equity and inclusion, but also for offering recommendations for how anchor institutions can deepen their commitment to spreading prosperity to the city as a whole,” Drexel President John Fry said. “He’s issued a worthy challenge and we look forward to working collaboratively to realize it.”

Florida’s full report can be found here.

Companies: Drexel University

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