But much remains to be done, and that's why this election matters. Although City Council has been largely on the sidelines when it comes to these environmental and quality-of-life issues, it could play an important role in shaping the city's future. Here are some of the issues Council candidates should address:
Vacant properties: At last count, the city had 10,000 vacant properties. Many are a source of danger, blight, and neighborhood instability, and they cost the city $20 million a year to maintain. The next Council should designate a single agency to create a fast, clear, and fair process for selling or transferring these properties to responsible owners.
Safe streets: The administration has already taken steps to make it easier for Philadelphians to get around. But many obstacles to safe travel on city streets remain. The next Council should adopt a comprehensive streets ordinance that makes the city safer for walking and biking, and friendlier for mass-transit users.
Energy efficiency: Currently, a building owner looking to sell a property is not required to disclose its energy costs. City Council should require the disclosure of that information, which would educate buyers and give building owners an incentive to make properties more energy-efficient before putting them on the market.
Food access: One in five Philadelphia residents has to travel at least five miles to get to a supermarket. With obesity on the rise, it's especially important to increase access to fresh, local food. For starters, City Council could use tax incentives to bring fresh food to every neighborhood and adopt a local food procurement policy that leverages the city's immense purchasing power. It would be good for our health and for local business.
Recycling: Philadelphia's move to single-stream, weekly recycling has more than tripled recycling rates, and the practice has gained wide acceptance in the city. But 80 percent of our residential waste is still going to landfills or incinerators. We must explore programs that encourage the use of food waste for composting, used fryer grease for biofuels, and demolition waste for future construction.
According to a new poll by Terry Madonna Opinion Research for the Next Great City coalition, 88 percent of Philadelphians think the city should do more to protect its air, water, and parks. And 78 percent are more likely to vote for City Council candidates who make doing so a priority.
The dash to the primary election begins in earnest today with the first of three forums for City Council candidates at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Prior to the event, the Next Great City coalition will issue policy recommendations for the next City Council. This campaign does not have to be about trivia, personalities, special-interest money, or "gotcha" moments. It should be about how our city can reach for greatness.
Bryan Collins is Philadelphia outreach coordinator for PennFuture. For more on the Next Great City 2 agenda for City Council, see www.nextgreatcity.com.