Can you name the place with the second-largest downtown population in the country?
A place that provides almost 300,000 jobs; 40 percent held by workers with college degrees, 30 percent by those with some college, while 30 percent provide opportunity for local residents with no more than a high school diploma?
Another hint: It's a place where crime has been cut in half and more than 80 percent of workers, residents, and visitors are upbeat about the future.
That place is Center City, where William Penn's 17th-century walkable street grid has been updated and expanded for the 21st century.
In just a few square miles, we concentrate 41 million square feet of office space; 11 colleges, universities, and medical schools; three major hospitals; 11,326 hotel rooms; 409 arts and cultural institutions; 3,217 retail premises; 458 full-service restaurants; 327 outdoor cafés; and almost 180,000 residents.
Density is a good thing when you have the lowest carbon footprint and the highest number of jobs in the region, providing more than $13 billion in annual salaries. This is a place where 62 percent of residents get to work each day without a car, where the population grew by 13 percent since 2000, with a huge concentration of millennials, returning empty-nesters, and 26,581 children born to Center City parents.
Do we have problems? Of course! But the Philadelphia economy, led by Center City and University City, weathered the Great Recession far better than the region or the nation, largely because of diversification and innovation.
More than 30 percent of downtown jobs are found in office towers, 21 percent in the public sector, 21 percent in health care and education, and 14 percent in entertainment, hospitality, and retail. Scores of start-ups are filling older buildings in Old City, along 13th Street, on Walnut Street, and in surrounding neighborhoods.
Can we do better? Philadelphia still lags behind the region and other major U.S. cities in job creation. Since 1970, Washington, Boston, and New York City have added, respectively, 25.1 percent, 18.3 percent, and 14.5 percent in total jobs, while Philadelphia has 25 percent fewer jobs than it held in 1970. In neighborhoods where poverty is high and educational levels are low, too many workers need to reverse commute to the suburbs because of the lack of local opportunity. It doesn't help that we maintain an industrial-era municipal tax structure at a time when jobs and people are no longer tied to rivers and railroads.
But we know how to fix that. More than 3,300 respondents to our annual customer satisfaction survey said that the way to make Center City more competitive is to "reduce the wage tax," followed closely by "improve public schools," and then "reduce business taxes." You can do all that if more people and jobs carry the load.
There are encouraging signs. Comcast's new $1.2 billion Technology and Innovation Center at 18th and Arch Streets will create 6,300 construction jobs and thousands of permanent jobs, while fostering tech start-ups and creative firms.
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has launched a $650 million, five-year project that will create 600 construction jobs and 1,000 full-time jobs. Penn, Drexel, and Thomas Jefferson are all expanding. A total of 13 major development projects were completed between Spring Garden and South Streets, river to river, in 2013; 17 more are under construction; 20 are moving through the approvals process. Together, they represent a $4.7 billion investment in Center City.
Something must attract 25,000 workers each day from Montgomery County, 31,000 from South Jersey, 11,000 from North Philadelphia, 12,000 from South Philadelphia, 13,500 from West Philadelphia, and 28,000 from the near and far Northeast. As energy costs remain high, it is great to have a public transit system that brings 305,000 riders each day into Center City for work, school, shopping, or access to local services. It also helps to have the second-highest number of downtown arts and cultural institutions in the nation.
In a place that used to be dark, dirty, and dangerous, it's good to know that 80 percent of survey respondents said they "feel safe always or most of the time" in Center City. They would feel even safer with far fewer aggressive panhandlers in a city that is generous with more than $100 million in annual services and housing for the homeless.
So let's raise our half-full glasses to toast a downtown that few can rival and commit to fill that other half.