Can you be a star in Philadelphia?

Back in February, Philadelphia magazine profiled Doogie Horner, a quirky stand up comedian who has gotten some national attention, a major publisher’s backing and has the audacity to think he’s going to stay living in Philadelphia.

Doogie Horner is a comedian, and he isn’t encouraged by what he sees inside Noche, a Center City bar filled with binge-drinking 20-somethings on this cold Tuesday night in December. The room is jet-engine loud — not the ideal setting for tonight’s stand-up gig. None of the comics are getting paid. Horner thinks the guy who booked the show is a dentist. Seriously.

While the piece was largely a profile of Horner, there was this undertone of his still trying to make in Philly — a big city in population but not in celebrity or national voice.

Los Angeles has Hollywood. New York is the country’s capital of publishing, financial and TV. Las Vegas had created an entertainment industry. Other cities have a national voice by way of a central figure who forced it that way: CNN made Atlanta a news hub; Oprah gave Chicago a national platform; Warren Buffet made the financial world come to him in Omaha. So can you be a star in Philadelphia?

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The exotic nature of local: or why generic foreign gifts suck

On Christmas Eve, why not discuss gifts.

For, what, the past few hundred years, the more far-flung and exotic the purchase or discovery, the better. Those emotions are mixed up into colonialism and exploration and Manifest Destiny and so many human and American spirits that I don’t care to explore them.

But I think there’s something changing there.

In 2005, I spent a small fortune in the local currency on hand-crafted wood carvings and jewelry from new friends and acquaintances in a Ghanian mountain village, all to be given to friends and family at home. I was back home for no more than two weeks before I showed off a necklace I was particularly fond of and someone remarked how similar it was to something she had seen at Target.

Oh.

I was brought back to this thought and what it means by a great last-page essay in the strong Philadelphia sustainability magazine Grid.

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Five interesting lessons from Jay-Z interview with Terry Gross

NPR Fresh Air host Terry Gross interviewed rapper and cultural icon Jay-Z last month and it proved one of the more interesting episodes of one of the best, longest-running radio shows around. Jay-Z was promoting his new book Decoded (about which Amazon has an interesting video interview).

You should go ahead and listen to the interview right now.

All the highlights are here, but you should look for these discussions in particular, all of which can be found in this transcript, in addition to another longer-form interview.

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The Wire: yeah, the HBO Baltimore drama is mad decent

I take something of pride in sometimes indulging in great cultural luxuries long after their novelty has waned.

With that knowledge, I’ll share my thoughts on finishing the complete five-season DVD set of celebrated HBO drama ‘the Wire‘ to encourage readers to watch it again, assuming you’ve seen the show at some point since it first aired in 2002.

It’s not difficult at all to piggyback that suggestion onto the concept of the state of media and the future of news.

David Simon, the creator and primary writer of the serial drama based on the inner-workings of drugs, policing and politicking in gritty post-industrial Baltimore, was himself, quite famously, a newspaper reporter for the Baltimore Sun, giving him a career of insight.

Notably, each of the five seasons take on a different focus of the Baltimore city structure — from the drug trade, to unions to policing to, yes, reporting. So in the past few weeks after finishing the final season, I’ve delved into writing, stories, concepts and conversations. Even if you know the show well, it might be worth seeing what’s out there and, yes, connect it to media.

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Murder rates in Philadelphia and other cities are all marketing

Philadelphia has developed this reputation: Killadelphia or something like it.

In a prominent New York Times profile of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams last week,  the city was described as having been “battered for years by the worst sort of superlatives — the highest murder rate, the lowest conviction rate.”

What a damaging and sweeping comment that when reiterated and reinterpreted across media — that Philadelphia has been “battered” by having the “highest murder rate,” of what, well, they won’t say — can dramatically impact how the Cradle of Liberty is seen nationally.

Williams is supposed to be a part of a “sea change” in the city’s role of prosecuting criminals — a major Philadelphia Inquirer investigation found, as the Times reported, that “the city had failed to obtain convictions in two-thirds of cases involving violent crimes, and that thousands of cases were dismissed because prosecutors were not prepared or witnesses did not appear.”

So, yes, Philadelphia has a problem convicting criminals and crime is certainly a major sticking point for people living in cities (though I’ll add that violent crime is down nationally and many inner-ring suburbs have been battling increases in gangs and drugs and crime since the 1990s). And this ‘Killadelphia’ reputation doesn’t help… but how accurate the name is remains a point of contention here.

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Perceptions involved in how we see the livability of U.S. cities

Last month, a study from the Brookings Institution was a major news story.

White flight? In a reversal, America’s suburbs are now more likely to be home to minorities, the poor and a rapidly growing older population as many younger, educated whites move to cities for jobs and shorter commutes. [Source]

It’s complicated of course: new immigration trends chasing a different American dream, people of color from cities doing the same, white families from inner-ring suburbs moving farther from cities and younger white people moving back into those same cities (like me).

But it got me thinking about perceptions.

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The Northeastern U.S. Cities: an embarrassment of urban riches

This is a conversation I’ve had too many times.

I am in Washingto D.C. today, the day after Martin Luther King day, for the inauguration of Barack Obama. While I will have much more to say on that in coming days, being here reminded me of how often we in the mid-Atlantic take for granted what we have: five of the most influential cities in the country and among the more meaningful in the world.

All Americans have relative access to them, but the densest collection of our residents can visit Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore or Washington D.C. for the weekend.

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Center City Philadelphia at Christmas: how our city and yours can do it better

Photo by Ronald C. Saari. See more at RonSaari.com.

It’s Christmastime in the city.

U.S. center cities of all shapes and sizes can expect a wave of traffic, from the exurbs, the suburbs, the neighborhoods and outside the region. They come for shopping and sightseeing and, really, the setting that your city will create, with lights, decorations, atmosphere, a tree and cheer.

So, on Christmas Eve, why not figure out how we can do it better.

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