Philadelphia: Neighborhoods, Division, and Conflict in a Postindustrial City

By Carolyn Adams; David Bartelt et al. | Go to book overview
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5
Race, Class, and Philadelphia Politics

Our position herein has been that any plausible account of Philadelphia's changing neighborhoods, its downtown redevelopment, and even its race relations in the period since World War II must begin with the region's economic transformation from a manufacturing hub to a service center. That transformation, as we have seen, brought decay to many of Philadelphia's older factories and communities, at the same time intensifying downtown commerce and spawning new industrial and residential nodes in the suburbs.

In politics, just as in other features of Philadelphia life, the economic transformation changed many well-established patterns. In the preceding chapter we noted the intertwining of business and political leadership during the 1950s in the Greater Philadelphia Movement. Several decades later the heads of the region's largest corporations are no longer so visible in local politics. As Philadelphia has lost corporate headquarters, its branch offices and branch plants are managed by transient CEOs who see the city as a temporary career stop rather than a permanent home. Most often living in the suburbs, people in this group have less incentive than those of the preceding generation of business leaders to participate in Philadelphia's civic and political affairs. With the shrinking manufacturing base, industrial unions have become marginal players in city politics. These previously powerful forces in city politics have lost ground to a new generation of political leadership that is largely neighborhood based. In this increasingly divided city, neighborhood-based politicians find it more and more difficult to reach accommodation with one another. To the extent that the new service economy is reinforcing class and racial inequalities in the region, the political demands voiced by different constituencies have become incompatible.

As a result, the structure of politics in the region has fragmented during the postwar period. The steady dissolution of the Democratic coalition

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