YOU MIGHT be shocked to know that in some circles in Washington - circles pretty close to the corridors of power - Philadelphia is considered a model American city.
Not K Street-close, but still close, especially with a Democratic president and a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. But this isn't about politics. It's about the absence of politics, specifically the absence of local politicians.
It is a watershed moment in Philadelphia. On Monday, an organization that represents about 90 members of Congress is convening a "field hearing" on the Ben Franklin Parkway to hear from local experts what other cities (Detroit; Baltimore; Buffalo, N.Y., to name a few) can learn from us.
Turns out Philly is the darling of postindustrial urban America. What's that mean?
It means smart and hard-working people like Howard Neukrug, a director in the city's world-renowned water department have been thinking about, and implementing, cost-effective and innovative ways of combating waste, saving water, saving the city money and improving public health for years.
It means people like Leanne Krueger-Braneky, leader of the city's Sustainable Business Network, and Natalia Olson de Savyckyj, a city planning and zoning commissioner, were nimble enough to lead more than a dozen greenheads to D.C. on a frigid February day. By 6:30 that night, they'd shuffled into meetings with both Pennsylvania senators, three local reps and dozens of top aides.
The pair put the trip together when they heard that Vice President Biden would be announcing a big job-creation plan a couple of weeks later, also right here in Philadelphia. The ad hoc delegation focused - laserlike - on green jobs for city residents and called themselves the "Green Economy Task Force," a play on Biden's new entity: the Middle Class Task Force.
How did we quietly get to be so green, in the non-Irish, non-Eagles sense of the word?
Aside from brains and hard work, it's probably not hard to figure out. Since urban farming and infill development aren't the sexiest of concepts, they've been largely dismissed. And until now, with the economy in a shambles, there hasn't been a whiff of the other kind of green in the air. Not short-term, sure-thing money, anyway.
And where there's no easy money, there are no political hacks, or corrupt, complicated schemes to game the system.
There have never been any "green" patronage jobs that we know of. Nobody's cousin, who couldn't cut it as a cop or a teacher or just as a person with a real job, was ever dumped in the lap of people toiling on serious environmental issues facing not just our city, but the world. (We hope.)
"Environmental" and "infrastructure" are words just too big and soft for anybody who knows a guy who knows a guy who maybe my uncle could, you know, talk to.
So let's not screw it up by letting the usual suspects - and I do mean "suspects" - get involved in the kind of green business that is building national momentum here, just because they think there will be the kind of green that soils your hands on the back end.
With a green-minded mayor and a nationally respected head of the city's new department of sustainability (Mark Alan Hughes), Philly has a tiger by the tail.
YES, SOME of the Washington green elite will be here on Monday to take a page from the Philly playbook on how to best handle water issues and take the term "sustainability" from concept to concrete reality.
So let's be supportive and take an interest in the outcome.
But whatever you do, don't tell your ward leader about it. Or anybody making their living off the commonwealth payroll.
None of their business for now. Tell them this: "Don't call us. We'll call you." *
Thomas J. Walsh is a business writer and media consultant. He contributes to PlanPhilly.com, a news Web site covering city planning, zoning and the region's built environment. Contact him at email@example.com.