Wednesday, April 25, 2007


This week finds me at a public policy conference in the City of Brotherly Love -- Philadelphia -- which I always enjoying visiting but the present state of the city also leaves me sad since the downtown is rather run down and broken. Were Benjamin Franklin alive today he would probably shed a tear once he saw what has become of his home city where he played such a prominent role especially via his Junto Society (

If a similar civil society organization like the Junto Society does not exist in Philadelphia today then it is time for the city's leaders to step forward to harness Franklin's model for social change. I was reminded of this history today while reading Monica Yant Kinney's column in today's Philadelphia Inquirer entitled, "Ray Nagin Need Not Apologize."

Kinney's column focused on the poor performance of Mayor Street's (he is retiring this year so election fever is in the air) "Neighborhood Transformation Initiative" (NTI) as compared to Mayor Nagin's rebuilding of New Orleans. The NTI was a plan to clean up the city by removing abandoned cars (224,000 such cars have already been removed Kinney reports), cleaning vacant lots, and demolishing abandoned buildings. To date US$300 million has been spent on this project but they probably need to spend at least another $300 million based on the condition of the city that I saw today.

The major problem with such city programs is that like a struggling corporation that announces massive job layoffs instead of incrementally improving its operations daily such pronouncements are a sign that a crisis point has been hit.

Imagine -- 224,000 abandoned cars in Philadelphia at one time!! 224,000!! What were the city workers and police doing while these eye sores piled up? This is a classic example of the "broken window theory" pertaining to urban decay. The theory goes like this -- "hey there is an abandoned car on my street so I might as well dump this old couch on the car since I don't want to pay to have it hauled away...........why don't we set that abandoned couch on fire.........then let's pull some parts off the car to throw at the windows of the homes on the street............" --- you see how it goes.

Continuous improvement in city services, a greater respect for property rights, and local support and membership of civil society organizations like Kiwanis, Rotary, Boy Scouts, etc. would be a better downtown revitalization plan than "grand schemes" such as Mayor Streets' NTI program.

Think locally, act privately,


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