TUESDAY IS just the beginning.
On May 15, not only will we elect the city's next mayor and City Council, we also will take our first step down the path that could make us the next great American city. Since the candidates first hit the campaign trail, a growing coalition of neighborhood groups, civic associations, community leaders and public-interest organizations throughout the city have been pushing 10 simple, doable and affordable recommendations to make all of our neighborhoods clean, safe and healthy places to live.
Called the Next Great City coalition, it has the attention of current elected officials and the hopefuls vying to lead the city.
The Next Great City initiative has already made tremendous progress. In the course of the mayoral campaign, every candidate has endorsed its 10-point agenda. All five Democratic candidates have issued "green policy papers" to outline their vision for making the city greener, cleaner and healthier. And just two weeks ago, Mayor Street signed a deal with PECO Wind to purchase a percentage of the city's energy needs from wind power, one of the recommendations of the Next Great City agenda.
Candidates make many promises while campaigning. But it's the responsibility of citizens to make sure the new mayor turns them into actions. When the primary campaign ends, the thousands of residents represented in the Next Great City coalition will keep pressing to help the next mayor and the new Council implement the 10-point agenda to remove the obstacles that prevent us from being a truly great city.
Here's why the Next Great City agenda must be adopted:
Philadelphia is one of the last major cities to change the way it plans for community growth and development. Our zoning code is 50 years old, impossible to understand and a roadblock to revitalizing our communities.
Recently, for the second year in a row, Philadelphia was ranked as the second-worst city in the nation to live in if you suffer from asthma, as increasingly more do. We can take a giant leap to reduce the emissions that trigger asthma attacks by installing filters in the city's diesel trucks that spew pollution in our neighborhoods. Planting additional trees will help address air pollution, as well as reduce stormwater flooding and energy costs for neighboring homes.
Our sewer systems are overwhelmed and are flooding homes and businesses from South Philly to Cobbs Creek. Our riverfronts must be protected and every Philadelphian must be able to walk along and enjoy these natural treasures.
One of our most beautiful assets, our incredible park system, is in desperate need of better funding and leadership. All vacant lots scattered throughout the city must be cleaned and greened to remove blight and stabilize our neighborhoods.
WHILE recreation centers and libraries are closed due to budget concerns, Philadelphia continues to allow its residents to throw cash in the trash instead of committing to a recycling program that will generate dollars for the city treasury. Energy-efficient public buildings should be required, and encouraged for private development, to save money on energy costs and to make buildings healthier for those who live and work in them.
All these recommendations from the Next Great City agenda can be easily implemented by the next mayor and each comes with its own funding mechanism or is cost-neutral to the city. This simple, powerful agenda is a practical roadmap to a great future for all of us.
We must fix what is broken in our neighborhoods and deliver efficient and effective government services in order to secure a brighter future for Philadelphia. The real choice we make tomorrow is whether we will cast our votes and move on, or if we will continue to organize our voices and push for better, more responsive city government.
Many people will see May 15 as an ending point, but we will only become a great city if we choose to make it a beginning. *
Christine Knapp is Eastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture).