Is it dawn or dusk for Philadelphia?
It is not the new skyscrapers going up, but rather the quality and quantity of people we may attract to live or work in them which will define the fate of our city in the 21st Century. Philadelphia is, no doubt, rebounding. But is it dawn or dusk what we see in the horizon?
Once upon a time Philadelphia was one of the largest municipalities in the country, second only to New York City.
It was a long time ago, but it is worth remembering today: It was in 1790, when the first Census took place in the new nation, born here in Philadelphia only 14 years earlier, on the famous July 4th of 1776.
“Those were the glory days,” says William Cox in an enlightening article in New Geography. But since 1800, Philadelphia has been falling in population rank.
While New York has maintained its position of number one in the nation for over 200 years, Philadelphia fell from second to sixth, and now it is threatened to be further pushed down to number 12.
Our city has been consecutively bumped by new cities that grew quickly during the 19th and 20th century, first in the Midwest, like Chicago, and St Louis, and also the Far West, all the way to Los Angeles.
Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix all experienced a growth spurt in the 20th Century and went ahead of Philadelphia.
We are today holding onto number six, but we risk being pushed further down to ninth, passed by other faster growing cities on the East Coast, like Miami and Washington, D.C., which is entirely possible once the numbers from the Census 202o come in.
We may end up at number 12 in the two decades following 2020, as other cities like Phoenix and Riverside-San Bernardino are projected to move forward fast, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
But then the Latinos, and other current residents, not born here, moved in and settled in Philadelphia, more prominently during the past 30 years.
Latinos have been the fastest growing ethnic group in Philadelphia during that time, managing to stop and eventually reverse a languishing trend of population loss that lasted for the better part of the second half of the 20th century.
From the bustling urban center of over 2 million people that we were in1950, Philadelphia population was decimated by a river of residents leaving in droves for almost four decades, bringing the city’s population down to 1.4 million.
The biggest change in the ethnic and racial makeup of Philadelphia has been the decline of the so-called White population, Philadelphia Research Initiative article from Pew indicates.
Nearly two-thirds of newcomers were ages 18-34, it further indicates.
Nearly every neighborhood in the city was more Hispanic and more Asian in 2010 than it had been in 1990.
The crop of new immigrants in our neighborhoods, not the crop of new skyscrapers in our skyline, mark the trend that can bring Philadelphia back.
Or, on the other hand, further leave it behind if our city leaders don’t create public policy to support the immigration trend that started on its own in the 70s and 80s, and continued in the 90s.
In 2007, the city marked its first period of sustained population growth since the 1950s.
We have a long way to go to continue this immigration trend into the city, and, more importantly, in transferring that diversity of its demographics into how the city’s workforce may look like— either in sync with the new demographics or still backwards as its past.
A recent analysis by the office of the City’s Controller, included as the lead article in this edition, shows an alarming underrepresentation of Hispanics in the workforce.
In a city that is heading to be 20 percent Hispanic, only 7 percent of all exempt employees and only 3 percent of those that earn more than $90,000 a year are Hispanic.
The experts agreed that the more diverse the pool of people employed are, the more opportunity to spark new ideas will exist, and new relationships and a better future for everybody may be possible.
Philadelphia is not yet listed among the most multicultural cities in the country, or the world, and thus its aspiration to become a global city may be further postponed.
Unless the city leaders step up and do something about it, as a Brookings Institute expert recently put it.