Lifehacks for living in Philly (and probably other cities too)

[Thanks for the love r/Philadelphia and Zagat and Reddit again]

Update: I presented some of my favorite hacks at Ignite Philly. Watch the presentation below and find the slides here:

Any city worth its existence has enough culture that exists there that small quirks exist that can help you get by.

In my short nine years living in Philadelphia, a few lifehacks have become pretty common to me but are perhaps worth sharing.

Here are a bunch. I’d love to hear yours:

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Attract and retain new young, educated people but keep our cities distinctive [Knight Milennials]

knight-millenials

Cities want to attract and retain young educated talent to fuel their knowledge economies, drive a tax base and create a community that can continue to grow by welcoming more new people in the future. Modern markets are insatiable and indefinitely incomplete.

That’s the clearest, simplest mission I can glean from all the chirping about celebrating gains Philadelphia has made in its old brain drain problem.

But last week at a Knight Foundation session with the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, I wanted to push that thinking forward in two ways that I don’t think I hear often enough in that conversation: (a) the idea that too much change can in effect take away what is distinctive about a city and (b) that any real success would improve the lives of existing Philadelphians too, not just push them out like in other cities.

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8 ways to make Philadelphia more innovative: Young Involved Philadelphia presentation

The annual State of Young Philly event series from Young Involved Philadelphia featured two economy-focused events at which I spoke.

One was a series of lightning presentations last week and a second was a panel discussion Tuesday night that was followed by breakout groups.

Some takeaways below.

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Puritan Boston, Quaker Philadelphia: notes on 1979 research from E. Digby Baltzell

Sociologist E. Digby Baltzell. Photo from Penn Collection. Circa 1970.

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 (19151996). 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.

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One Percent for Art Ordinance: in Philly, a percentage of all public construction costs must go to art

In Hawthorne Park at 12th and Catharine in South Philadelphia, this lectern was commissioned to commemorate a speech in 1965 that Martin Luther King Jr. gave on that spot when it was a housing project. It was funded as part of the city’s ‘One Percent for Art’ ordinance.

Visiting the freshly renovated Hawthorne Park in South Philadelphia recently had me reading casual references to this city’s celebrated, half-century old One Percent for Art Ordinance. Though I’ve come to know it and it’s often called a major reason for this city’s reputation for public art, I haven’t been able to find much writing of its roots.

Since so many other cities have followed this trend, I thought it was worth sussing out where the idea originated.

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Does your knowledge economy-based city of the future import or export more ideas, culture?

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.

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Why are city assets shared by a region but not problems (and solutions)?

In most regions across the country, cultural assets are shared widely but problems aren’t. It’s a mindset we should try to change.

This perspective came up at an event I helped organize a couple months ago, and it’s still rattling around in my head as I try to work out its meaning.

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What the suburbs will be 20 years from now

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.

It’s going to have to change because reality eventually catches up to perception. Poverty is sadly surging in the suburbs, part of a wide diversification outside of cities, which, though still facing legacy violence and education issues, largely appear on a road of recovery. More poor people live in the suburbs than cities or in areas called rural, a fact that came true starting in 2005.

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?

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5 reasons I bought a house

Art lovingly stolen from Brit Miller because it came up high on search. She's a great Philly-based artist. Buy this. Link below post.

For all the reasons that home ownership among young people is declining (declining marriage numbers, shortening work and location tenures), there is a lot of coverage challenging it being an American virtue.

Like any major investment, home ownership isn’t for everyone, but, with the bias of being a proud homeowner myself, I was moved to add more perspective to Slate’s recent piece showing that if only because of increasing rent prices, buying a home makes perfect sense now.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Art by Brit Miller here.