Philadelphia: An urban experience

A couple weekends ago, I took a trip to Philadelphia with some old friends, to watch our beloved St. Louis Cardinals play in foreign territory. In the eleven years I have been doing this I have watched the Cardinals play in thirteen different stadiums around the country.Its always a great time no matter where we go, but this year, walking through the streets of Philadelphia, I couldn’t help but feel a surprising feeling: envy.

Don’t get me wrong, I love St. Louis. If you read this blog you know that, with only occasional acceptations, I am a big cheerleader for the area. Its just that sometimes I feel like we think too small. While, in a relative sense, we have made huge strides since the 80’s, we are farther away from a world-class city than most of us care to admit.

While iconic Philadelphia sites such as the Reading Market Terminal, with its food court/farmers market on steroids feel, are big reasons why I feel this way, the real source of this sensation was to be found in every corner of the city. It seemed as if every street was filled with people, shops, restaurants, businesses… No matter which direction I went, it could be seen in all corners of the area. There were people EVERYWHERE!

The integration of historical and contemporary also seemed to be a good balance and I was particularity impressed by the restaurants and clubs, which were so perfectly integrated into their riverfront. It felt kind of like a smaller version of New York. Something of a scale I could actually wrap my brain around.

Of course, Philadelphia is not without its share of problems. I noticed throughout the city that their infrastructure seems a bit run down.  For instance, while they have subways, they struck me as pretty dirty and with horrible signage. The amount of homeless and aggressive panhandlers was also up there. More than once I felt the need to look over my shoulder and I saw a few things on the street better left out of this article.

The funny thing is, despite these and other issues, all I will ever be able to think about is how there were so many people on their streets. It struck me that there were so many shops and restaurants to serve these people, not the other way around. When I compare that to our central corridor I feel like a small town bumpkin. Its really a wonder that we have so many great destinations as we do considering the commuter nature of many of their patrons.

We have made a lot of progress in bringing people and money back to the city, but we have so far to go. To have a thriving community with culture, entertainment and jobs a plenty, something everyone in the region surely must want, we need to work for it. The only way to do it is to bring the people back. Imports from other regions are great, but in reality, we need our old citizens back.  Until we can beat out St. Louis and St. Charles Counties for their affections, how can we ever hope to to beat out other metro areas?

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