A Philadelphia Story

By Gordon, Mitchell | The Futurist, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

A Philadelphia Story


Gordon, Mitchell, The Futurist


Sameness--the factor that worked so well for fast food and hotel chains-- won't sell a city to visitors and tourists. To attract out-of-towners and new business, cities will need to showcase their uniqueness, to have a signature of their own.

For Philadelphia, site of the 2002 World Future Society annual meeting, that signature is history with a touch of pizzazz, a blend of traditional and trendy.

Major cities will succeed in the new century because of the different experiences they offer, not because of what is familiar to each. Urban planning, therefore, must be tailored to what defines the city. Such planning has revived Philadelphia, with its ornate, colossal City Hall impressing a world of tourists, new attractions on Independence Mall, and architecturally marvelous destination points like Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and the planned World Cultural Center in the abandoned Victory Building downtown.

In addition to having a signature, cities also need specialty planning that encourages greater market and pedestrian activity. The future of prime, street-level retail space may be defined not by businesses' ability to pay rent but by their ability to attract visitors.

For example, a proposed bank may be bumped off a development project by a financially inferior alfresco cafe proposal. The reasons are twofold: Added pedestrian activity of the cafe is coveted, and the cafe's ambiance helps sell the entire area to business investors. Philadelphia has sweetened its urban landscape with specialty planning in places like Rittenhouse Row.

"Smart growth" to reduce sprawling suburbs and revive older communities is another key to successful cities of the future. In 2000, the Metropolitan Philadelphia Policy Center was formed to help curtail flight and sprawl, and its Flight or Fight publication was nothing less than a demand for more-responsible living. …

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