One of the things that has always baffled me about Philadelphia is why visitors appear to like the city more than its residents do.

I think that's changing, though if you look at the comments that follow my colleague Jacob Adelman's posts on new construction, there are recidivists among the enthusiasts.

In mid-April, the city welcomed 3,000 members of the Urban Land Institute for its three-day spring meeting. The first day was filled with tours of projects large and small.

The impressions expressed the next day by the tourists were positive. One tweeted to ULI: "When it comes to #Placemaking hard to beat classics like Rittenhouse Square."

Another tweeted, "Awesome to see all of the hard working folks at @coopersferry in #Camden working hard to help the city."

"Did you know," I heard a young woman tell a friend, "that Philadelphia has 3,000 murals?"

Public art is truly big here. In fact, one presentation at ULI, "Philadelphia: A Modern Renaissance City," addressed the size of the contribution that arts and culture make to the local economy.

Believe it or not, the city has 327 outdoor cafés, 409 arts and cultural institutions, 3,217 retail stores, and 458 full-service restaurants to serve residents and visitors alike.

When I moved here in 1980, Steve Poses' Frog restaurant and the Commissary - both a few years old - were inspiring the city's Restaurant Renaissance, but I cannot remember frequenting a single sidewalk café.

You could dine al fresco at NewMarket on Second Street, now home to Toll Bros.' 410 Society Hill condo project, but standing near a cart at 15th and Market Streets eating a hot dog was about the best I could do.

Each city pursues a unique path toward reinvention, which is the message I took away from a panel discussion moderated by Tom Murphy, a ULI senior fellow who did some major reinventing as mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994 to 2006.

That city's nonprofit Cultural Trust, which was formed before Murphy was mayor, turned what had been downtown Pittsburgh's red-light district into 14 blocks of arts and entertainment venues and residential construction.

I had interviewed Murphy in 2012, when I was writing a piece on Newark's efforts to reinvent the area around the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, with developer Carl Dranoff as key to the residential part of it.

Murphy told me that the challenge facing any city is, "How do you build a threshold that creates a magical kind of place, an environment where people linger before and after" performances?

"Just building a performing arts center has to be seen in a broader strategy," he said.

In what I like to call the reemerging suburban boroughs, we see a lot of that threshold-building.

One such place is Lansdowne, where restaurants and retail are opening in anticipation of business from 1,400 people who will be attending performances at the Lansdowne Theater once its restoration is complete.

In Glenside, the "broader strategy" is visible around the Keswick Theatre. The same type of thing is true in Phoenixville, Ambler, and Media. It's exciting to watch and write about.

All this takes money, of course, although the assumption that there is little available appears to be the biggest obstacle to progress.

As Murphy pursued what he considers nontraditional financing sources, he told the ULI seminar, he came to realize that "there is always money."

"The ideas, and the vision of where you want to go, are more important."

215-854-2472@alheavens