Daniel Burnham lived most of his life in Chicago and died 95 years ago.
Yet his ghost haunts the race for mayor of Philadelphia in 2007.
Burnham was a swashbuckling architect and planner who labored, with some success, to turn his home city into "Paris on the prairie." His most famous statement was:
"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood."
As the candidates for Philadelphia mayor do precious little to stir any man's (or woman's) blood, you hear Burnham being quoted ever more plaintively around town. (One candidate, Michael Nutter, even trotted him out at a forum Monday night.)
Many professional-class Philadelphians believe their city is poised for a grand leap forward. What the candidates have done mostly is recite the grim laundry list of problems afflicting the city's least fortunate.
Among newer residents, the yearning for an optimistic vision of a more vibrant, more beautiful Philadelphia is almost palpable.
Instead, all we get are Tom Knox commercials, trying to sell cinders as soap.
After Nutter cited Burnham on Monday to a packed Free Library auditorium, the other candidates in attendance pooh-poohed the notion that the next mayor should press boldly to animate and complete Center City. Such ideas are cute, they said, but trivial "compared to my agenda" to address poverty and crime. Dwight Evans was polite about it, while Chaka Fattah was frankly dismissive. Knox blew the event off to attend a fund-raiser. (Think about that a moment).
There it was, in bright colors, this city's old bugaboo: the testy, pointless, opposition between Center City and the sainted Neighborhoods. The familiar, false either/or choice: care about the real people in the 'hood, or cater to the rich folks downtown.
No person gets more exasperated by this false choice, no person has stacked up more facts to debunk it, than Paul Levy, president of the Center City District, a special-services district that has done a nationally renowned job of burnishing Philadelphia's core.
Here's the case he makes, which I back fully: What the neighborhoods need most are jobs. Droves of neighborhood folks work at good-paying jobs every day in Center City offices and hospitals. The factories ain't coming back, folks. The future works with a crease in its pants. The more vitality in Center City, the more jobs for the 'hood.
What's more, guess who's going to provide the tax revenue for any of the needed initiatives to address poverty, crime or troubled schools? Not the flat-broke feds. No, it'll be those posh condo-dwellers - all the middle-class taxpayers who feel bound to this city by a love of its beauty, history, culture and vibrancy.
Levy and his CCD team are a big piece of what's been attracting new folks to the city. Now CCD has drafted some new, not-so-little plans to do that work even better.
Much of what CCD has done over the years proves the value, Burnham aside, of sweating the small stuff: picking up litter, putting up signs that actually seem to care whether visitors enjoy their visit, improving lighting.
Now, amid this muddled mayor's race, the CCD and the Central Philadelphia Development Corp. have issued a clarion call for visionary city planning, not just as an aesthetic nicety, but as an economic and social-justice imperative.
The new CCD report, "Center City: Planning for Growth," will be rolled out for the mayoral candidates tomorrow. You can see it online today at www.centercityphila.org/plan.
The report's mantra is: Competitive, Connected and Attractive. That's what Philly needs to be. That's how to attract jobs and residents that will generate revenue to address the city's social ills.
The report, incorporating ideas developed by seven top design firms in town, proposes an array of steps to capitalize on Center City's walkable charm, to fill its dead spaces, to repair the mistakes of the past. The report envisions a Center City where even more employers and taxpayers will want to be.
Among the cooler ideas:
A light-rail transit line, à la Dublin, Ireland, running down Market Street, connecting 30th Street Station and burgeoning University City with all of Center City. The line would then branch out north and south along the Delaware.
A concerted effort to soften and animate the dead, concrete civic spaces left by another era. Imagine, next to City Hall, a green Dilworth Plaza, home to movie nights in the summer and a skating rink in winter. Imagine the City Hall courtyard as a city crossroads full of things to do. Similarly, visualize a Benjamin Franklin Parkway liberated from the tyranny of the car, some of its grand sweep reclaimed for pedestrians and pastimes, with smoother connections among its cultural treasures.
A saving injection of green and color for the seedy dead zone of West Market Street and JFK Boulevard between the office towers and the Schuylkill: linear green parks, flowered medians, a Brooklyn Heights-style promenade along the Schuylkill from JFK to Chestnut Street.
Development of an academic district on North Broad Street, akin to the cultural district of the Avenue of the Arts, linking the learning institutions lining that raggedy stretch of the city's spine.
An East Market Street with attractive retail, and a streetscape that soothes pedestrians and links them smoothly to Chinatown to the north, and the residential blocks to the south. Some smart public investments might unlock the long rumored, never realized private investments in East Market's underused tracts.
These ideas would cost money, but not fortunes. They mesh well with the separate Delaware riverfront planning process being led by Penn Praxis (which is exploring an ambitious, project-of-a-generation idea - sinking Interstate 95).
Perhaps the greatest value of this report is how clearly it addresses Philadelphia's perverse and persistent argument with itself: "Yeah, it would be great if we could pull that off. But we probably can't, so let's not try."
It makes two key points. First, Philadelphia is no longer the wallflower at the mixer, who must be thrilled whenever a developer asks it to dance. The city not only can afford to spurn a seedy suitor, it should prepare to be belle of the ball.
"In 2007," the report says, "city planning [should] respond to powerful new global economic realities that are . . . strengthening the competitive advantage of cities." In short, a digital world enables digital workers to live wherever they like. So, they're going to live in places they like. Our city has a lot for them to like.
The second key idea is summed up in this sentence: "A plan for 21st-century Center City cannot gaze nostalgically in the rearview mirror, lamenting what's lost." The glory of the city's Workshop to the World days still burns on its retina, blinding so many to facts. Heavy manufacturing accounts for only 5 percent of city jobs; the building trades, 2 percent. The service sector (which covers a lot of great jobs, not just burger flipping) accounts for 78 percent.
This election is a huge choice. City politics have long been mired in angry nostalgia for a lost industrial past. We can cling ever more futilely to those memories, or we can begin behaving like a 21st-century winner.
If you want a peek at some ways that up-and-coming city would behave, read the Center City District report.