Mercer, an international consulting firm based in London, has published their list of the best and worst cities to live in worldwide. At the bottom: Baghdad. At the top: Vienna. Factors they consider include: political stability, economics, social freedoms, health and sanitation, education, public services and transportation, recreational activities, housing, and the natural environment, such as climate and record of earthquakes. According to Mercer, it seems that criteria for ‘best city’ status centers around safety, comfort and security. Granted, I do not want to live in Baghdad, but what about other factors that make a city ‘a city’? Diversity, independent arts scene, free and diverse media, religious diversity and freedom.
Philadelphia has a bad reputation for being dangerous, poverty-struck and a strong-hold of corrupt politicians. These stereotypes do hold true, for the most part. There are other factors about Philadelphia, however, that make it a great city–factors that would not necessarily show up on Mercer’s list of criteria. For example: distinct and proud neighborhoods often centered around long-standing immigrant groups; burgeoning immigrant populations carving out new neighborhoods; First Friday in Old City where local artists display their talents; a young, inventive population that takes advantage of the low cost of living to create new projects like urban farming; the Reading Terminal Market, the Italian Market and all the summer farmer’s markets. These are all great things about Philadelphia.
Philadelphia precisely for reasons that are not in the Mercer polls. Residents of Philadelphia are forced to confront all aspects of humanity on a daily basis. ‘Nice’ parts of town are limited and usually butt up against the ‘sketchy’ areas. Like many cities, there is a large homeless population; Center City has a number of boarded up storefronts, pawn shops and refurbished electronic stores; and I prefer not to walk in the city alone after 10PM. But this is life in an American city! It’s not always clean, groomed and safe. Unfortunately the public school system is lacking and the politicians are always trying to line their own pockets. Luckily, however, Philadelphia is home to thousands up on thousands of faithful residents that can look upon these kinds of issues not as problems, but rather as challenges–challenges that will make the city grow and will make its citizenry grow at the same time.
Walking along Penn’s Landing the other night Hans and I looked at the vast concrete parking lot and groaned–imagine if that were a park! The trees, the flowers! Philadelphia is not ‘Mercer-perfect’, but I don’t think that I would like to live in one of the best cities in the world where the only challenge is trying to decide which coffee shop makes the best cappucino to sip while reading the Sunday paper.