Philadelphia’s Center City growth can and must expand to other neighborhoods – May 6, 2019

Originally posted in the Inquirer on May 6, 2019

Over the last two decades, Philadelphia has undergone a renaissance, transforming from a city many believed long past its best days to a place that wins national plaudits as one of the best places to visit, and for its economic vitality, rich history, and cultural vibrancy.

But we must recognize that while some communities are thriving, too many neighborhoods feel left out of the progress greater Center City has seen. We should not be satisfied until every neighborhood, every community, every family, every resident, and every child feels they have equal opportunity to share in Philadelphia’s prosperity.

Meeting the needs of every citizen starts with an honest dialogue. Philadelphia has the highest rate of poverty of any big city in the country; unlike other major cities, our poverty rate stagnated last year. Our schools leave too many kids behind and without the skills necessary for 21st-century jobs. Many neighborhoods remain scarred by gun violence, opioids, and a lack of hope.

For decades, our city has fallen short of addressing these chronic problems.

That’s why we have kicked off the new PHL Neighborhood Growth Project — a long-term initiative that sheds old-school, zero-sum thinking that pits citizens against each other, draws artificial lines between businesses and neighborhoods, and gets trapped in outdated ideological debates. We are one city, and we must work together to ensure that every community is included in progress.

The effort builds on the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s “Roadmap for Growth” initiative and is focused on four key areas: good jobs and inclusive economic growth, improving our schools and modernizing our workforce, creating safer and healthier neighborhoods, and reforming City Hall to put people, not special interests, first.

It is centered on a belief that an individual’s best path out of poverty is a good job, the path to wealth creation is through entrepreneurship, and the only way to make the needed investments in our people is through a sustainable, inclusive, and growing tax base.

As part of our Neighborhood Growth Project, we have released an Inclusive Growth Agenda that calls for the creation of a multiyear “Neighborhood Renaissance Fund” by, among other things, reforming the 10-year tax abatement to recoup some of the revenues and help spur job creation in neighborhoods where unemployment is twice the national average.

If implemented properly, these Neighborhood Revitalization Zones, supplemented by a small portion of the city’s budget surplus and other efforts, will anchor new business and civic life where we need it most.

With this initiative, the business community is also committing itself to a partnership with city and civic leaders to build a stronger public education system that is properly funded, a spirit of mentorship with apprenticeships and work-study placements, and world-class public health and safety policies to reduce gun violence and help those suffering from addiction.

We also are committed to government reform to ensure our tax and regulatory systems invite new businesses into our city and help existing ones grow and thrive.

Our proposal is just the start of what we hope will become a new spirit of public-private partnership that recognizes our great city as one big family.

We think this dialogue should become a permanent fixture, not just something we do every couple of years to get through election cycles. We want all of the city’s civic leaders and residents to be part of this dialogue as we forge a way forward.

Rob Wonderling is president & CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. Steven Scott Bradley is chairman of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Pa., N.J. & Del. Jennifer Rodriguez is president & CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. They received support on this piece from Narasimha B. Shenoy, president & CEO of the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, and Pamela Henshall, president of the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.