Boston was built by Puritans, who celebrated civic power and class authority. Philadelphia was built by Quakers, who championed equality and deference.
Two hundred fifty years later, though considerably fewer people in those cities consider themselves a member of either group, their impact is still chiefly responsible for Boston outperforming and Philadelphia underperforming in their contributions to the greater world.
That’s the chief argument of the dense, heavily-researched, 500-page, 1979 academic classic Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, written by University of Pennsylvania sociologist E. Digby Baltzell (1915–1996). The core of the book is said to be based on some 300 interviews with Proper Philadelphians and Brahmin Bostonians, and part of a decades-long research focus that Baltzell had on his Protestant brethren — he has been sometimes credited with popularizing the “WASP” term.
This is a book that is a fabulous read for understanding Philadelphia and Boston, but it is also a treasure for those who love new perspectives on American culture, U.S. history and the development of cities.
If we are to build cities based in the so-called knowledge economy, one of the primary methods for judging its success should be very familiar: net exports.
In culture, ideas, concepts, general intellectual capital and, yes, even businesses and organizations, it may be worth questioning whether your city is mostly taking from others or mostly giving to others. Indeed, one wouldn’t only want to export knowledge — we always want to take ideas from others to get better — but a good sign of the success of a healthy region is the clustering of smart, creative people and their creating ideas, projects, businesses, ideas that are worth being shared elsewhere.
Now, the stereotype stands that the suburbs are about wealth and the cities are about poverty. The suburbs are white. The cities are black (or Latino or some other non-white group).
The reality has always been more complicated — cities have always had white populations, both rich and poor — but this is a question of our national shorthand, and I believe that in the next 20 years or so, that perception is going to change.
Simply put, in the next generation, the divide will be simply more about space: the suburbs will have space, the cities will not. Of course, it’s a simplification. I know homes in Philadelphia with big yards in the Northeast and northwest, homes with pools and driveways along the dense riverwards and deep in West Philadelphia. But that’s not the point.
The point is what the stereotype will be. And when crime, demographics and poverty aren’t the issue, what else could be?
Home ownership is a cost saver — Though that big down-payment makes it hard to believe, even beyond the mortgage interest write-off on your taxes, by paying into an asset, rather than rent, you’re building equity. Additionally, moving comes with new costs. You can travel and even, in the end, rent out (responsibly!) your home, but always have a meaningful asset.
Home ownership can be a safety net — Like my friend Jen Miller told Marketplace, I didn’t overreach. I bought a small Philadelphia rowhome in a modest neighborhood, refinanced twice to a 3.5 percent, 15-year mortgage and now rent out the back bedroom to a friend (I am determined to get out debt and never saw home ownership as something to avoid because of it). With relatively low property taxes, no matter what hard times I fall on, I could have a place to live for the rest of my life. Though it’s far off, I do sometimes think of the value of having a mortgage-less home when I am struggling, out of work or retired on a fixed-income.
Home ownership is a learning experience — There are other ways to dive deeply into maintenance, mortgages, loans, taxes, refinances and more, but I’m not sure of many more effective or challenges ways to do that. Though I was a few years into my professional career, the home ownership process has made me better understand the world, or at least a small slice of it.
Connect with a community — Personally, I value deep ties with the place I live. By putting money where your heart is, there are few more effective ways to show your neighbors that you’re in it for the long haul and are betting that this is a place worth living. Specific to my neighborhood and my city (with a long history of home ownership), I believe in its upward trajectory, so it was the right decision. Also, as a side effect, it feels good to be a small part of building and bettering that place you live. It has transformed my view of where I live.
Home ownership doesn’t determine where you live for the rest of your life — There is an understandable fear that making such a large purchase will mean you can never leave ever again. It is true that home ownership is better for those who understand where and who they want to be in the future, and it is true that the past few years have left people in trouble with fat mortgages they can’t pay off with their home’s declining value, but the mistakes of the past can make us smarter today. With low interest rates, now is the time to buy smartly and, if the time comes for you to move on, it can perhaps be an investment property or something to sell. Even a small loss can come with lessons and the realization that thinking about the cost of rent, perhaps you didn’t make out so badly.
I’ve found myself offering up the same handful of suggestions more than a few times.
Attend Young Involved Philadelphia events — The group is a great hub of smart, hungry, young Philadelphians. Your city probably has one like it.
Join the Philadelphia Sports Network or another recreational sports league — These groups are great at bringing people together around sports, and most cities have something like them.
Join your neighborhood civic or block group — Most neighborhoods that are attracting new Philadelphians have active community groups that improving the city and connecting the civic minded. If your neighborhood doesn’t have one, then start one.
Find an online community that fits your interest — Whether it be sports or technology or drinking or your part of the city, someone is probably writing and hosting events that will attract people like you. If not, start one.
They’ll find you.
Rock social media — There are probably smart people on Twitter in your city. Find them. Engage with them. Ask them to grab coffee. And, hey, don’t ignore online dating if you’re looking for that.
Embrace an institution — Maybe your university has an alumni group in your new city. If not, find a museum, advocacy group or another institution that has a young friends group or something else.
Volunteer — Find a nonprofit, political group or mission group that has value to you. Volunteer and find people like you.
After more than three years of visiting and even longer being fascinated by its role, I’ve become a member of the Pen & Pencil Club, the country’s oldest press club, dating to 1892.
The private club, in a narrow shotgun building between parking garages on a narrow alleyway, requires sponsored membership, and following months of recent scheduling conflicts, Swarthmore Professor, former Daily News photographer, Pulitzer Prize winner and friend Jim MacMillan helped sign me into the club on Monday, March 26.
I’ve happily gone a few times since, each time with a friend in the press, and I’m eager to become more of a regular, being respectful of the club’s long history and existing members.
From awards and a journalism open house to coworking, media criticism and more, I’ll be interested in learning what leadership hopes to do with the famed P&P, following a recent renovation of its ground floor.
Still I also think a lot of other people are doing similar work and GPTMC and their peers could do some cool partnerships:
Give your city swag to Couchsurfers and AirBnB users — Restauranteurs court the most prolific Yelp users by hosting taste sessions. Similarly, tourism agencies should have an annual parties for the most active hosts on sites like Couchsurfing.org and AirBnB. These people are natural spokesmen and interact with travelers who spread the word about where others should visit. A welcome bag with cheap swag, fun maps, some basic information in little bag. Keep it simple, give a few dozen bags to a few dozen surfers. It’d be a small gesture with ramifications.
Make a Wiki list of volunteer tour guides for specific topics — Use your social media connect to drum up a few passionate residents of your city who might be willing to offer an hour or two to show off specific parts or corners of your city in a way that tour businesses can’t. Someone would love to show off about the restaurant scene or the tech scene or a specific neighborhood or the post-industrial collapse and revitalization of a given community. Whatever. Create an army of in-person boosters.
Lobby for changes to I-95 corridor signs — Whenever one drives northbound on interstate 95 from D.C. and Baltimore, one sees highway signs making clear that that road leads to a major city called New York. It’s a method of orientating travelers, but it underscores that Philadelphia is not seen as a destination. That’s a problem and, well, just plain inaccurate.
Be the magic hand of changing Philadelphia’s influence globally — GPTMC is particularly adept at fun splashy advertising and displays of the city. They do a great job. Most of them — including the ‘With Love’ campaign — are everything I’d want in a regional campaign, however I’m always sensitive to the idea that the best sales technique is one you don’t make. That is, tourist maps in travel agent offices in the Netherlands that include smaller cities but not Philadelphia are perfect examples of what I think do a lot to make the city seem less influential.
Hire city boosters to change perceptions elsewhere — OK, this is a bit more outrageous, but I’m so taken by the stories of 19th century urban boosterism, that I’d be fascinated to see how it might exist today.
What they already do that I love:
Provide videos and photos of the region for others to use