Pride in Philadelphia

I don’t usually have the kindest words for the city that I call home. If I’m not railing against Mayor Street’s corrupt administration, then I’m bitching about the legalization of gambling in Pennsylvania and the inevitable riverboat casinos that will end up on the Delaware. To maximize the nausea, I often combine the two albatrosses, Street and gambling, and concoct a Michael Moore-brand conspiracy theory.

But this summer, in the city of bro-lo, there’s been little to gripe about. In fact, time and again, there have been exciting announcements that make me think Philly might finally be emerging from its medieval mentality of isolationist fiefdoms, pay-to-play politicians, and all-around malaise. Herewith, the top five recent developments that deserve mad props:

1. South Philly Ikea: In late August, Ikea opened it’s first “urban” store, on Columbus Boulevard in Philly. Not only is the store as gi-normous and pimped out as Ikeas get, its cafeteria’s got a fabulous view of the S.S. United States, the Titanic-like ship that’s parked outside (rusting, on the Delaware) and still owns the record for fastest trans-Atlantic cruise. Though my beloved Inga Saffron complains that the lack of exterior sidewalks, nearby bus stops, and windows make the store seem distinctly suburban (ie not urban), I don’t really see the need to quibble over such details. I mean, hey, we’re the first major American city to get an Ikea within our borders! (Sorry, Elizabeth, NJ. With all due respect to my fiance, the store at exit 13A just don’t count.) Other cities, like Chicago, are sure to get urban Ikeas soon, but, as with the store in Plymouth Meeting (first in North America), the region will still be able to say that we’re on the cutting edge of Swedish furniture retailing.

2. Wireless City: Speakin’ of cutting edge … in one of the most surprising moves John Street has made in his five years as mayor, he announced two weeks ago that he wants Philly to be the nation’s first city with wireless access to the Internet everywhere within its borders. Back with all the investigation into Street’s shady business dealings–the bug, the federal probe, all that–it came out that Street was an obsessive Blackberry emailer (the fed’s confiscated three of his devices), so I guess it’s not totally shocking that Street came up with this techie fantasy. Who knows if it’ll be implemented, or if citizens will balk at the idea of taxpayer funded web access, or if Verizon will freak at the idea of losing DSL business to city-subsidized access points. But for the time being, I’m delighted to finally see Philly taking a pro-active attitude towards the technology sector and the young-adult population. If the Inquirer story is correct, and the total cost for city-wide wireless would be around $10 million, that seems like a steal.

3. 2024 Olympics: As reported by my old mentor from the City Paper, Howard Altman, at the end of August, the William Penn Foundation has been conducting a feasibility study to determine whether the city should put in a bid for the 2024 Summer Games. Remarkably, the prognosis looks good. Philly already has 17 of the required 31 sports venues; the transportation system and hotel capacity is already capable of sustaining the traffic that the Olympics bring; and there’s already a perfect location for an Olympic Village, down in FDR park, near the stadiums. Of course, I’ll be 47 by the times these plans come to fruition, and I’ll probably be driving little Timmy and Suzy to band camp and unable to return to Philly to enjoy the games … but who knows, maybe I’ll be able to talk Timmy and Suzy into watching a little ping-pong. That would be swell.

Quick editorial note: Why the hell did the City Paper ever let Altman go? Having just read his Inquirer article about the Olympics bid, one of the biggest city scoops this year, I don’t have the foggiest idea why a two-bit alt weekly would have fired their best reporter–who, I might add, also happened to be editor-in-chief and the heart and soul of the paper. With executive decisions like that, things don’t bode well for the good ol’ CP.