Hey, Toronto, why should we take Richard Florida’s word for it?
A while back, my colleague Philip Preville and Toronto’s newly minted urban affairs media guru Richard Florida crossed swords over the perils and opportunities of civic boosterism in T.O. On the whole, they grudgingly agreed to disagree. Florida acknowledged that he was something of an optimist: “I have been wondering for some time now why people like Preville are so negative and insecure about what Jane Jacobs said is North America’s greatest city.” And Preville agreed that “being a negative kind of guy, I’d rather focus on problems and prod people toward solutions.” I raise all this because I spent part of the weekend traipsing around Philadelphia and came across a column by Florida in The Inquirer titled “Why Philadelphia’s economic future looks so bright.” It’s essentially a love letter to the city:
Greater Philadelphia’s economic future is in large measure being shaped by its role as a key node in the second-largest “mega-region” in the world—a megalopolis that economic geographers in the early 1960s dubbed “Bos-Wash.” Running from Boston through New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore to Washington, Bos-Wash is home to about 54 million people and more than $2 trillion in economic output, making it one of the five largest economies in the world—nations included.
Philadelphia has become a place of choice in this mega-region and in the United States as a whole. After losing population for decades, Philadelphia is projected to grow. It’s a hot place in a hot mega-region.
All of which is fine, except that don’t all these worthy abstractions—“mega-regions,” “$2 trillion in economic output”—neatly obscure the fundamental problem of North American urban life? I’m speaking of the growing disparity between rich and poor and the diminishing prospects for political engagement between these increasingly polarized classes. Anyone who’s seen even a few episodes of The Wire, David Simon’s brilliant study of urban alienation, knows that it is exactly this sort of high-minded obfuscating that drives us further and further from recognizing this simple truth.
I raise all this because walking around Independence Hall on the weekend I noted that the buildings wherein the constitution was debated and signed are more and more hived off from the fabric of Philadelphia’s urbanity—fenced in and guarded—rendered more and more a fetishized Fabergé egg: liberty under glass.