Philly: What's right, wrong

DAVID M WARREN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The Reading Terminal Market is one thing that works in this city.
DAVID M WARREN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The Reading Terminal Market is one thing that works in this city.
Posted: July 02, 2013

PHILADELPHIA IS A SUM of many parts, some positive, some not.

To reverse ad-man Elliott Curson's line, sometimes Philadelphia is as bad as Philadelphians say it is. We alternate between bragging and hating.

What's right with Philadelphia? What's wrong? What's in between?

We start with a huge plus: history. Arizona has the Grand Canyon; we have Independence Hall. Mix into the stew our low cost of living, plentiful parks, amazing architecture, walkability, restaurants and culture.

Negatives? Crony politics, lousy schools, too many taxes, a few bullying unions, dirty streets, crime. Sometimes Philly seems to be a beautiful city filled with ugly people and awful habits.

The Fire Department works. It hands out fire detectors, it has reduced fires and periodically a hero sacrifices his life to protect us.

The Art Museum works as a repository of great treasures. It's clean and attracts tourists.

Ditto the Philadelphia Zoo. Under the leadership of Vik Dewan, it (reluctantly) divested itself of elephants and transformed the space into a stunning children's zoo. Changes at the zoo are frequent and for the better.

The city gets it right with huge outdoor events such as the Mummers Parade, Welcome America and ethnic festivals. The airport has climbed in recent years, adding an array of food choices, many of them local favorites. It's clean and is upgrading bathrooms.

The Sanitation Department will haul away practically anything you leave at the curb, and all recyclables go into one big bucket. It is carrying the same workload as decades ago, with fewer workers. Plus for that, minus for tossing trash cans.

The Reading Terminal Market and the Center City District work. The CCD keeps our streets clean (because too many of us are pigs), and CCD agents are friendly know-it-alls - and eyes on the street. Town Watch in teal.

Most of the above are not directly run by the city government.

The most serious thing that doesn't work? Our schools. They either drive families out or keep them from coming here. That is a disaster for Philadelphia's long-term viability.

As has been well-documented, our courts don't breed confidence. From Traffic Court to the state Supreme Court, we find pinches and squeezes and reported influence-peddling.

I sympathize with Commissioner Charles Ramsey, but when cops almost weekly are accused of wrongdoing, and the murder rate (despite improvement) remains high, it gets just fair grades. Same for a Department of Human Resources that too often has failed to protect the least vulnerable.

Philly's wage- and business-tax structure is counterproductive and the city's real-estate assessment seems to be off-base, but the jury (citizens) is out.

Between what works and doesn't, there's a gray area.

When the Philadelphia Parking Authority is right, it's right, but PPA is too often wrong.

Under GM Joe Casey and board Chairman Pat Deon, SEPTA has added new trains and buses (equipped with cameras for safety), rehabbed stations and added escalators. It falls short on hours of service and frequent-enough schedules and needs to improve inarticulate in-train and on-platform announcements. On Twitter, @SEPTA_SOCIAL handles complaints quickly, I am told.

Penn's Landing works - think of the outdoor events - but disappoints in development. The waterfront Wow! factor eludes us.

Temple, Penn and Drexel are engines for renewing their neighborhoods, but tuition is too high.

This isn't a complete list. You're encouraged to add to it by letters to the editor or online. We can, and must, do better.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Columns: philly.com/Byko

Blog: philly.com/stuniversity

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