Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is there Hope for Wyoming?


28th Street, 1959. Photo courtesy of the City of Wyoming

One of the trends I expect to see further confirmed in the 2010 census data is the decline of many first-ring (or inner-ring) suburbs. Inner ring suburbs are communities that grew rapidly during the post-war economic boom that ran roughly from 1945 to 1974. As noted by Myron Orfield and other scholars, these communities were largely developed with features that distinguished them from existing urban communities, including the incorporation separate zoning uses into the predevelopment of the built environment, the relatively low levels of population density compared to the urban core, the predominance of the automobile as a means of transportation, and general exclusion of racial minorities during its formational period.

In metropolitan Grand Rapids, the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood clearly fall into the first-ring suburb category, as do portions of the city of Grand Rapids. Walker, Grand Rapids Township, Cascade, Ada, Alpine, and Plainfield Townships all experienced the bulk of their development after 1970, putting them in the exurban suburbs category, which developed differently than their inner-ring suburb brethren. Grandville, although incorporated in 1933, was a small town much like Rockford or Lowell until the 1970s, and thus should also be considered an exurban suburb. East Grand Rapids was developed as a Streetcar Suburb between 1880 and 1930, and has remained a wealthy enclave. While the city of Grand Rapids is considered the urban core, areas that the city annexed between 1956 and 1963 are similar in many ways to Wyoming and Kentwood.

Will Wyoming and Kentwood share the fate of many declining first-ring suburbs? While I do not see the population dropping yet for either community (Wyoming’s will probably be around 71,000, while Kentwood will rise to 47,000), the evidence of Wyoming’s decline as a commercial center has been well documented by the Grand Rapids Press and other local media. This decline is especially evident on 28th Street, which was long the heart of the city. In the past decade, destination businesses such as Rogers Department store, Studio 28, and Classic Chevrolet closed, as did a large GM stamping plant located at 36th and Burlingame, and vacancy rates in the Rogers Plaza Shopping Mall increased significantly. Recent attempts to resurrect the commercial strip (which included the relocation of Klingmans) have failed, leaving the city scrambling to find ways to restore its fortunes.

The decline of Wyoming’s commercial heart on 28th Street is compounded by the city’s demographic changes. Over the past two decades, the city has become significantly less white, with a large growth in its Hispanic population, especially north of 28th Street. With the Hispanic core neighborhoods in Grand Rapids along Grandville Avenue continuing to grow, many are finding more areas of affordable housing and better schools in Wyoming. By the middle of the next decade Wyoming might find itself with two distinct communities-a wealthy white portion south of 36th Street that I like to refer to as “Voorheestan.” Folks in Voorheestan are overwhelmingly conservative Republicans who like their taxes low, their God glorified, and dislike regional cooperation. The growing Hispanic neighborhoods north of 36th Street are generally much poorer, desire strong schools for their children, and have yet to find their political voice in local and state politics. Thus, while Wyoming’s political elite might remain white and conservative over the next decade, the demographics underneath them will continue to shift.

The efforts over the past year by city officials, planners, and consultants to remake Wyoming’s “Town Center” are interesting. A suburb that rejected everything about traditional urban form and density is seeking to redevelop its commercial core into smaller urban blocks. In Matt Van Bunte’s article from November 27, 2010 Grand Rapids Press, Van Bunte notes that

“public input shows a new street peeling to the south of 28th and cutting massive commercial parcels, including Studio 28, Wyoming Village Mall and Rogers Plaza, into smaller urban blocks. The vision could become a prototype for suburban redevelopment around Grand Rapids, a consultant said. The primary concept envisions a new street veering south of 28th just east of Burlingame and arcing back to 28th just west of Clyde Park. The road would slice through the large parcels, connecting with new north-south streets to create smaller urban blocks with better pedestrian access and more green space. The sketch features a roundabout at Michael Avenue, north of Prairie Street, with a mix of commercial, residential and office uses flanking the new street in each direction.”

For the full Grand Rapids Press article see the link below:
http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2010/11/radical_new_concept_for_28th_s.html


Map 1: Metropolitan Grand Rapids Population Density, 2008

The consultants with this project note that achieving this vision will be difficult. While people generally do not agree what the ideal density of a town center is, I bet that planners are looking at the Eastown neighborhood in Grand Rapids. As shown in Map 1 Eastown’s population density in 2008 was about 13,000 people per square mile. As Map 1 shows, many of the successful commercial corridors in Grand Rapids have a density that is similar or higher than Eastown’s.


Map 2: Wyoming Population Density, 2008


Map 3: Wyoming Town Center Population Density, 2008

Perhaps the greatest problem for any redevelopment of Wyoming’s Town Center will be the low levels of population density. Map 2 shows Wyoming’s population density, and Map 3 shows the density in the Town Center redevelopment area. As 28th Street changes from a regional shopping destination to neighborhood shopping center, the market capture for stores in the Town Center will increasingly shrink. In order for any redevelopment efforts to succeed, the residential base needs grow significantly. Changing the urban form of the Town Center area will be helpful, but unless the new commercial buildings contain residential units located above or within a1/8th of a mile, these businesses will just not survive.

For efforts to revitalize its commercial corridor to succeed, Wyoming must think about how to draw residents to this part of town. This might require the expenditure of tax dollars to create an urban grid, as well as finding anchor institutions willing to stick it out over the next few years. I personally think that the idea of creating a satellite Grand Rapids Community College campus at the intersection Clyde Park and 28th Street would be an excellent first step to bringing people to Town Center. The satellite campus could specialize in vocational training for students interested in working at some of the city’s industrial centers, which continue to provide a number of excellent paying jobs. A campus would for many new Hispanic residents to take courses near their homes, as opposed to trekking to downtown Grand Rapids. Similarly, a branch campus of Spectrum Health would provide some jobs and services for residents.

Wyoming is a first-ring suburb in the midst of continued economic and demographic changes. The question is whether its population and political leadership, especially those from Voorheestan, are willing to jettison a political ideology that has served it well for the past sixty years.

(PS-My article on urban planning in metropolitan Grand Rapids from 1946 to 1964 will be coming out in the next issue of the Michigan Historical Review. It is heavy on politics, planning, and personalities, which make for a good read. Let me know if you want a copy. PB)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2010 Recap Part II: Michigan State House

(Cross-posted at WMR, ML, BFM and SSP-pb)

Perhaps the biggest surprise on late hours of November 2 was the enormity of the Democratic defeat in the Michigan State House. While many had predicted that the Democrats’ margin of 67 to 43 would be reduced, few predicted that they would lose control of the lower chamber (myself included) and end up with 47 seats, a humiliating 20 seat loss. Indeed, Democratic numbers in the State House and Senate have not been this low since 1954, a time when Michigan’s legislature in the legislature was malapportioned prior to the 1964 Constitution. Just for reference, Table 1 below shows partisan control of the Michigan State House and Senate from 1955 to the present.


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Table 1: Michigan Legislative Control, 1948-2012

What caused this twenty seat loss for the Democrats? Commentators have noted that Democratic turnout crashed on the rocks this cycle, with turnout in key Democratic precincts lower than even in 1998 or 1994 (or even 1966 for that matter). I think that the 2010 disaster can be explained largely by region, statistics, and redistricting.

Consider regionalism first. The map below shows partisan control of State House statewide.


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Map 1: Michigan State House Partisan Control

One can see the 20 seats gained by the GOP on November 2 are largely concentrated in three regions of the state: Northern Michigan, downriver/eastern Michigan, and Macomb County. Of these 20 seats, 14 were open, while 6 were lost by Democratic incumbents. Maps 2-5 shows these areas in greater detail.


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Map 2: Northern Michigan


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Map 3: The Thumb/Macomb County


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Map 4: Downriver and Eastern Michigan


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Map 5: Western Michigan

Democrats lost six districts in Northern Michigan, two in West Michigan, eight seats in the downriver/rural eastern Michigan, two seats in the Thumb, and two in Macomb County. The loss of seats on a regional basis is significant to explaining the GOP’s success in 2010. The Upper Peninsula has long been a Democratic stronghold, although the Democratic Baseline (which is the average Democratic share of the vote cast for State Board of Education races) for the districts in northern Michigan (101, 103, 106, and 107) are much more Republican-leaning. The decline of the Democratic brand over the past two years is due in part to the retirement of Bart Stupak, who had long provided a strong conservative Democratic presence on the top of the ticket for Democratic voters in the north, and also the antipathy of voters to the first two years of the Obama Administration. This suspicion of the Obama Administration has cultural and economic roots, but is also due to the steady drumbeat of the GOP noise machine that has played on the fear and malaise of many voters.

The six seats lost in West Michigan, Macomb County, and the Thumb are swing (Districts 24, 32, and 91) or Republican leaning Districts (Districts 70, 83, 84). However, the eight seats lost in Monroe, Jackson, Lenawee, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties are in many was due to Rick Snyder being on the top of the Republican ticket. Snyder almost carried his home county (Washtenaw), a county that Democratic candidates generally carry by a two to one margin. The fact that Snyder almost carried this county doomed the Democratic State House candidates in the two Washtenaw County districts (52nd and 55th). Similarly, Jackson, Lenawee, and Monroe Counties, which have generally had a slight Democratic lean over the past four election cycles, swung decisively towards the Republican column, costing Democrats four seats. In Wayne County, Democratic incumbent Deb Kennedy was caught napping in the 23rd District, while Republicans picked up the 19th State House seat, which has historically been a Republican seat.

Thus regionalism partly explains the 2010 results. Table 2 below attempts to explain the results based on demographic and economic statistical data for each seat. I pulled data on any race that was 1) a Republican pickup, 2) where the winning candidate won with less than 55% of the vote, or 3) was identified as a Weak Republican, Weak Democratic or Swing seat in my previous analysis. The categories in Table 2 are pretty self-explanatory, although a few deserve further explanation. Dem 2010% is the percentage received the Democratic State House candidate in 2010, while DB Avg% is the Democratic Baseline average from the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections. %Black, %Min, %White is based on ethnic data from the 2000 Census, as is Pov% (poverty rate), Bach% (percentage of residents who hold a Bachelor’s Degree), Prof% (percentage of residents who work in professional sector), and Med House Income (Median Household Income). While this data is ten years old, it serves as a reference point for analyzing the data. Once the 2010 Census data is released next month, I’ll try to update some of this information.

In the 55 races, Democrats won 18 seats in 2010 (or 37%). In comparison, after the 2008 election they held 38 seats (69%). Some Democratic incumbents who won in 2010 performed slightly better than the 2004-08 Democratic baseline average, and only two Democratic incumbents (Terry Brown in the 84th and Dan Scripps in the 101st) who ran better than the baseline lost. Every other Democratic candidate (incumbent or challenger) performed worse than the baseline.


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Table 2: District Analysis

Is there a silver bullet from the data that explains the Democratic disaster in these 55 districts? Besides the fact that Republican incumbents were invulnerable, and that every open GOP seat was held, a few trends appear when you do some preliminary regression analysis. With correlation coefficient.78, the 2004-2008 Democratic baseline average is the strongest predictor of Democratic State House performance in 2010. Which, in my opinion, is not all too surprising.


http://lh6.ggpht.com/_IM4e5b7Os3Q/TOs8BHS-bRI/AAAAAAAAHG4/WdOLBmtUUKU/s640/2010%20Analysis%20Baseline.jpg
Table 3: Baseline Regression

The other variables have a much weaker predictive value and are not statistically significant. The only other significant variable is race, and there is a -.42 correlation coefficient with the white population percentage, which has a t score of 3.369. Essentially, Democrats won any district where the white percentage of the population was under 90%. Personally, I think that the financial data, which should be available relatively soon from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, will also show that a large financial edge for the winner will be statistically significant.


http://lh3.ggpht.com/_IM4e5b7Os3Q/TOs71htdzdI/AAAAAAAAHGg/Rfhf-spdcYM/s640/2010%20Analysis%20Race.jpg
Table 4: White% Regression

Finally, how does redistricting explain regionalism and statistics? In 2001 the Republican Party controlled all three parties in the redistricting equation (the State House, Senate, and Michigan Supreme Court). The map drawn for the State House sought to maximize the Republican gains in the 2000 election, and as a result the number of seats controlled by the GOP increased from 58 in 2000 to 61 in 2002. However, the map cut too close to the margins, and Democratic wave years in 2006 and 2008 resulted in the GOP caucus being reduced to 52 and 43 seats, respectively. Perhaps a wiser map would treat 2010 as an aberration, and a new map would seek to draw 56 to 58 safe Republican seats. Given that there are 63 members of the Republican House caucus, I suspect that every incumbent will want a seat that protects his or her interests. For the Democrats looking for a strategy in 2012, I’d look really hard at trying to knock off the GOP in metropolitan Detroit (Districts 23, 24, 52, 55, and 56) as well as reclaiming districts 108 and 110 in the Upper Peninsula and Districts 101 and 103 in Northern Michigan. This would bring the party back to a narrow majority. However, given that a new map will be created in late 2011, closer targeting will need to wait until then.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

2010 Recap Part I: Kent County

The 2010 elections proved to be a profound disappointment for Democrats in the United States and Michigan. Reviewing the election data, did Kent County hold similar setbacks for local Democrats?

On the surface, the answer would be yes. The 3rd District Congressional candidate Patrick Miles, despite being the most formidable candidate in nearly two decades, lost to upstart Republican Justin Amash by 59.7% to 37.5%, by a 50,000 vote margin. Democrat David LaGrand, who nearly upset incumbent Republican State Senator Bill Hardiman in 2006, narrowly lost to Republican Dave Hildenbrand by 4,500 votes in the closest State Senate race in Michigan. On the County Commission level, four Democratic seats were lost, leaving four Democrats on the county board with 15 Republicans.

The Democrats woes in 2010 started at the top of the ticket with the gubernatorial race. Democrat Virg Bernero never gained traction against Republican Rick Snyder, who ran as a moderate from the first day of his primary campaign. Republican primary voters should be congratulated for nominating a centrist candidate as opposed to candidates like Pete Hoekstra or Mike Cox, who would have given Bernero more of a fighting chance. In any event, Bernero did poorly in Kent County, pulling only 30% of the vote, the worst Democratic performance in Kent County since Fieger in 1998 and Ferency in 1966. Bernero harmed the Democratic chiefly in terms of turnout rather than persuasion, reducing Democratic numbers in Grand Rapids (where turnout was 39.6% overall) and Kentwood. As a result, the Democratic baseline in Kent County was 35.5% in 2010, the lowest in a decade. In contrast, the Democratic baseline was 47.6% in 2008, 41.1% in 2006, 38.5% in 2004, 36.1% in 2002, and 38.1% in 2000. Maps 1 to 4 below show the Democratic baseline visually in 2000, 2006, 2008, and 2010. The reduction of Democratic gains in Wyoming since 2000 is quite apparent, and a smaller slippage is also present in Kentwood and in portions of the West Side of Grand Rapids.


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Map 1: 2000 Democratic Baseline


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Map 2: 2006 Democratic Baseline


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Map 3: 2008 Democratic Baseline


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Map 4: 2010 Democratic Baseline

As Map 5 shows, the decline in voter turnout was pretty uniformed throughout metropolitan Grand Rapids. Some commentators have noted that turnout in Republican areas of Kent County dropped, although not to as large of an extent as in metropolitan Grand Rapids.


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Map 5: Decline in voter turnout, 2006-2010

At the same time, Map 6 shows how the Democratic baseline changed between 2006 and 2010. While the county-level baseline dropped by 6%, this decline manifested unevenly through metropolitan Grand Rapids. In the 3rd Ward, the Democratic baseline increased significantly, due in part to the absence of Republican Bill Hardiman from the ticket, who had always attracted the votes of conservative African American voters in the core portions of the 3rd Ward. The Democratic baseline also increased slightly in Kentwood and East Grand Rapids, perhaps providing a path for future Democratic gains. However, Republicans gains were significant in the West Side of Grand Rapids, which crippled any chance of David LaGrand beating Dave Hildenbrand in the 29th State Senate race. In retrospect the Republican resurgence in the West Side began last year, with the election of City Commissioner Dave Shaffer, who bested long-time Commissioner Jim Jendrasiak. Although a non-partisan race, Shaffer has identified himself as a moderate Republican, while Jendrasiak was long supported by Democratic interest groups. Yet the Republican resurgence on the West Side is largely due to the appalling drop in turnout among Democratic voters “at the bottom of the hill,” or east of Covell Street. Overall turnout in the 1st Ward was 36.5%, while turnout in the Republican precincts west of Covell Street was 53%, turnout was only 22% east of Covell and in the Hispanic neighborhoods along Grandville Avenue.


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Map 6: Democratic Baseline Change, 2006 to 2010

As mentioned earlier, the combination of Republican resurgence and low Democratic turnout in the 1st Ward severely hindered David LaGrand’s chances in the 29th State Senate race (see Map 7). Bernero lost the 1st Ward by 20%, the Democratic baseline was 48%, and LaGrand won it by only 83 votes. Prior to Election Day I postulated that a Democrat could win the 29th by getting close to 50% turnout in the City of Grand Rapids, winning 58% of its votes, while pulling 43% in Kentwood. With turnout below 40% in Grand Rapids, LaGrand had an uphill battle, and splitting the 1st Ward did little to improve his chances. LaGrand performed on target in the 2nd and 3rd Wards, winning 55% in the 2nd and 61% in the 3rd, leaving him with 56% of the city’s vote. He even did better than any other Democratic candidate in Kentwood, pulling 40% of the vote.


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Map 7: 2010 29th State Senate Race

Democrat’s fortunes in Kent County were better in the State House races. Representative Roy Schmidt significantly outperformed the Democratic baseline in the 76th State House District, winning with 64% of the vote. In the 75th, Kent County Commissioner Brandon Dillon also surpassed the Democratic baseline by 5% against Republican Bing Goei. Goei posed perhaps the strongest challenge to any Democrat in the city, having deep ties to the Christian Reformed Church and the aging Dutch neighborhoods on the southeast side of Grand Rapids as shown in Map 8. Indeed, Goei performed well above the Republican baseline south of Burton and west of Breton, a part of the city that has been steady trending Democratic over the past decade. Dillon’s strong campaigning efforts and strength on the north side of Grand Rapids allowed him to win this tight battle. Dillon’s victory is significant, since the 75th was the only open seat among the 15 targeted races the Democratic House Caucus won on election night. Likewise, the Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008 in the 75th do not appear to be an aberration but rather a long-term gain in Democratic strength on the east side of Grand Rapids.


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Map 8: 2010 MI State House

Miles’ defeat against Amash also contains some potential silver lining. First, Miles held Amash to the lowest vote share in the 3rd District in a mid-year election in over two decades, keeping him below 60% of the vote in a year where Republicans picked up at least 62 Congressional seats. Miles ran strongly in Grand Rapids, won East Grand Rapids, and did decently in Kentwood. Miles’ fared no worse than any other Democratic candidates in the remainder of the 3rd District, paving the way for another run in 2012, although the 3rd District might be significantly altered during redistricting.


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Map 9: 2010 3rd District Congressional Race

On the Kent County Commission Democrats lost four seats, while Democrat incumbent Carol Hennessey held on to narrowly retain her seat in the 14th Commission District. Of the four seats lost by Democrats, the 18th District seat vacated by Commissioner Brandon Dillon should have been retained by Democrat Richard Tormala. However, Tormala ran behind the Democratic baseline by five percent, and trailed Miles, LaGrand, and Dillon between five to ten percent. A stronger Democratic candidate will be able to retake this seat in two years.

So, was 2010 a disaster for Kent Democrats? On one hand, the loss of four county commission seats and defeat of LaGrand and Miles hurt. However, the fact that Dillon was able to hold the 75th in the worse Democratic year since 1998 shows how bad the political environment needs to be for the local GOP to make headway in the Grand Rapids. A more favorable political environment in 2012, redeveloping the base in the West Side, and vigorous party building outside of Grand Rapids, will help the Kent Democrats start a new age learning from a tumultuous decade in local politics.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Philadelphia Story: 2008-2010



My personal Philadelphia story actually begins in August 2007, when my sister started graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. Since I was in the middle of summer break while attending the University of Michigan, I went and drove with Suzanne to her new place in the Graduate Hospital Neighborhood. I enjoyed Philly, but being a Midwesterner, I was a bit overwhelmed by the traffic, density, trash, and heat the only a sweltering Philadelphia summer can provide. I remember leaving on a Wednesday morning entering Walnut Street traffic near Rittenhouse Square and congratulating myself that I would never have to experience Philly traffic in my lifetime. Two hours later after sitting in rush hour traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway, I was on my way back to Ann Arbor.

On second thought, perhaps the Philadelphia story begins in the fall of 1993, when my dad had a sabbatical in Princeton, New Jersey. One of the great things about that year was we went somewhere every weekend, and I remember a weekend in early November going to Philadelphia for the first time. By chance, the week before I had come across a couple of books on urban planning in Philadelphia at the John Witherspoon Middle School library. The first was a book written by Edmund Bacon that was essentially a simplified version of his plan for Center City Philadelphia that was written in 1962, while the second was written ten years later comparing Philadelphia and Upper Darby, noting the serious racial and employment problems facing the former and the growing fortunes of the latter. During our trip to Philadelphia, I remember seeing Old City, clamoring for a drive through Society Hill, seeing my favorite revolutionary heroes at Independence Hall (for the record they are James Madison and John Adams, although John Marshall should have a big statue towering over dwarf-sized paintings of libertarians such as Jefferson and Charles Pickney). On the drive and walking around I also saw the woes facing a post-industrial city; homeless men begging in the shadow of Independence Hall, rundown and forgotten neighborhood in Kensington and Port Richmond from the heights of Interstate 95, and the sheer shabbiness of a worn and tired city.

To make a long story short, in July 2008 Susan and I moved to metropolitan Philadelphia for her Lilly Residency at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. While reluctant to leave Ann Arbor, I did have fond memories of the region, especially from the two previously mentioned visits. While Susan thrived at her position at Bryn Mawr (which itself was undergoing a period of transition), the long time it took to find a job in Philadelphia made loving the region rather hard. While working for the Obama campaign was enjoyable, riches were made at the ballot box, not in the wallet. Spending hours networking for jobs and trolling employment boards was not life sustaining, although doing this from the comfort of a charming row house under the supervision of a lounging cat was enjoyable at times.

Yet it was through this miserable job hunt that I grew to love many things about the city. Temping in Center City exposed me to the joy of riding the trolley line and subways through parts of West Philadelphia kept me going through the early part of 2009. Working at the University City District in the second half of 2009 had me walking through almost all of West Philadelphia, seeing an array of housing stock and people that one rarely has the opportunity to view from a car. Doing consulting research for Bill Golderer at Broad Street Ministries led me to connect with Arch Street Presbyterian Church, a congregation in the heart of Center City that had once been a leading conservative stronghold in the Presbyterian Church that had been left for dead over the past twenty years. Becoming in a member there in October 2009 was a highlight from my time in Philadelphia.

Getting a job at the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) was another highpoint in my Philadelphia story. Working at a community development corporation which operated on the fringe of University City in neighborhoods that had seen the worst of disinvestment and urban blight over the past sixty years was a challenge, but also a great joy. How do you work in a community that is bordered on one side by the University of Pennsylvania, on the other side by Drexel University, and is surrounded by neighborhoods with rates of concentrated poverty (poverty rates over 40%)? PEC makes this happen, and I’m sure that it will continue to do so in the coming years under the new leadership of Farah Jimenez.

I am most thankful for PEC’s ability to help me flesh out some of the challenges and promises facing Philadelphia. Philadelphia has so many things going to its advantage, whether an affordable cost of living, a number of great neighborhoods, a host of colleges and universities that puts it in the second tier of global cities, great transportation networks (although the highway system is a nightmare) and a diverse mix of employers. At the same time, the city of Philadelphia is trapped under the weight of decades of demographic changes and poor choices. The city’s population has dropped from 2,071,605 in 1950 to a low of 1,517,550 in 2000 (although it has rebounded to 1,547,297 by 2009). Philadelphia’s poverty rate is 24.3%, while only 80% of residents had a high school degree in 2005, and 23% have a college degree.

Add to these woes Philadelphia’s governmental structure that is fifty years out of date. The city’s workforce has not significantly declined over the past fifty years. In 1960 the city had 27,500 employees for a population of 2 million, while in 2009 it had 24,585 workers for 1.5 million, meaning that 14% of the population works in the public sector (a percentage that is comparable to the national average of 15%). Adjusted for inflation, the city’s budget has increased from $2 billion in 1960 to $4 billion today. Why the enormous difference in spending? If you said libraries, pools, and parks, you are wrong; these three departments have seen their numbers decline significantly over the past twenty years. As noted in the Pew Center’s Philadelphia’s Quiet Crisis, $800 million of this money goes to pay for benefits for governmental employees. While the pay for public sector employees in Philadelphia is comparable to the national average, Philadelphia offers extremely generous benefits that require very little in terms of employee and retiree contributions. At the same time, adjusted for inflation, the per capita cost for this government spending has increased significantly over the past fifty years; in 1960 the cost of city government per person was $942, while in 2010 it is $2,600.

To pay for this increased spending over the past fifty years, the city has had to work with a smaller tax base in which poorer people compose a greater percentage of the population, doubly increasing the city’s tax burden. While much of the burden has been passed on to city workers (both residents and non residents) who pay a wage tax that brings in 46% of the city’s revenue, increases in property and sales taxes are much more apparent.

How can the city get a handle on increased taxes to pay salaries and benefits? By right-sizing the municipal workforce to eliminate useless departments and redirect the workforce towards public safety and amenities that will provide dividends down the road. By requiring existing city workers to pay a larger share of their health care benefits and pensions similar to the national average of 9% of their salary to ensure the long-term financial viability of the pension fund, while increasing the retirement age and switching to a defined benefit system for new hires. By reforming the property tax collection and reassessing properties to ensure a fair and equitable property tax system. By eliminating the business privilege tax to increase the competitiveness of the city as a place to do business and remain a center of economic growth. By making the State of Pennsylvania comply with the PA Supreme Court’s ruling to fund the county court system, a cost of $100 million a year that the Republicans in Harrisburg are unwilling to deal with, despite their love of local government.

Whatever woes befall the city of Philadelphia, the suburbs are not immune to these troubles. Already in eastern part of Delaware County and pockets of Montgomery and Chester Counties there are areas of growing poverty that challenge this region’s bright economic and social future. Having lived in Lower Merion Township, I know that the fortunes of even one of the wealthiest townships in the Philadelphia region are forever tied with the communities that surround it, whether it is Haverford Township or Philadelphia.

Part of Philadelphia’s governmental malaise lies in its history of one party rule. Since the 1830s, the city has enjoyed extended periods of one party rule, whether by the Jacksonian Democrats (1832-1860s), the Republican machine that governed a city that was “corrupt and contented” (1871-1951), and the Democratic reform coalition (1951-present) that has gradually evolved into a regime that preserves the status quo in an era of economic and demographic transformation. While a partisan Democrat, I firmly believe in the two-party system that requires a careful check on both the role of government and destiny of a community. This is a problem not only in Philadelphia, but in the central part of Pennsylvania.



On November 4, due to a fire on an R5 line that I rode from Bryn Mawr during the SEPTA strike (instead of my normal commute of taking the Norristown line to the Market-Frankfort Subway Line), I walked on Lancaster Avenue from City Line to Center City, a walk of about 5 miles. In a sense, Lancaster Avenue displays the racial divisions within the metropolitan region as shown in the map above. You can also see the economic fortunes of the region as one walks through west Philadelphia, from the areas of growing poverty in Overbrook, the sheer amount of abandonment between 59th and 48th Streets, the slowly revitalizing portions from 44th Street to 38th, to the Drexel University area south of 38th Street. While one can easily see the challenges that face the City of Philadelphia, one can easily see the potential for the 21st century city.

As I take leave of Philadelphia for the big sky of Dallas, Texas, I will fondly remember my time in Philadelphia. The city of William Penn and Edmund Bacon, of Benjamin Franklin and Jon Wanamaker, of Richard Allen and Wilson Goode, of Pattie LaBelle and Wilt Chamberlain, and of Ed Rendell and James Logan continues to inspire and point to a more perfect union of hope and reality. And for this I am ever thankful.