Benjamin Franklin: Our First Urbanist

By Lowell, Christopher | Nation's Cities Weekly, May 24, 2010 | Go to article overview

Benjamin Franklin: Our First Urbanist


Lowell, Christopher, Nation's Cities Weekly


This is an article revolving around the topics that will be presented at the 18th Annual Leadership Summit, to be held September 23-25 at the Hyatt at the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia. Lowell will serve as a presenter during the Friday afternoon session of the summit program.

Benjamin Franklin became America's first real diplomat. He was the only one of the Founding Fathers to sign all four key documents of our new nation the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris, the Treaty of Alliance with France, and the United States Constitution.

The most fascinating and versatile of our founding fathers, he lived a rags-to-riches life that was marked by business success, scientific achievement, a wide range of social service and vitally important leadership in the establishment of our republic. At heart, Franklin was an innovator and inventor. However, the number, variety and practicality of his contributions make him unique in American history.

Many of us are familiar with Franklin's "big" inventions: the lightning rod, the Franklin stove and the bifocal glasses. Lesser known, perhaps, are his innovations in funding useful projects by matching grants or his borrowing ideas for colonial confederation from the Iroquois nation's loose but effective organizational structure. Franklin was far, far more than just a man with a kite.

Across his 84-year life, this self-taught man became internationally honored for his scientific contributions and was, by far, the best-known American in Europe, whose simple dress and manner belied a keen intelligence, a charming wit and enormous stamina--all of which he put at the service of his country.

Franklin epitomized the emerging American identity. And despite the homespun wit, the rustic look he affected in Paris and the interest he had in botany and agriculture, he was very much an urban man. Born in Boston, the 10th son of a candlemaker, he made his way at 17 to the biggest colonial city, Philadelphia, and was very much at home in London and Paris during his nearly 25 years of diplomacy in those cities. …

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