May 23, 201407:25 AMLatest Trends

Making Connections

Making Connections

Karen Kennedy

This bridge crosses the Delaware connecting Philadelphia to Camden, N.J. The mixed-use structure not only carries cars and buses from one side to the other, it also has dedicated pedestrian-bike lanes and the train runs along it. Cost from Philly to Camden or vice versa on the train is $1.50.

We all know about the problems facing the Metro Atlanta region – job growth, transportation, housing, transportation, the economy, transportation, education and, you guessed it, transportation … . So, what can an Atlanta Regional Commission led trip to Philadelphia – the 18th such LINK (Leadership, Involvement, Networking, Knowledge) trip to different cities around the country by Atlanta-area business, government and nonprofit leaders – teach us about how to address our problems and take advantage of our opportunities?

At first glance, it would seem that the Philadelphia region faces even greater challenges than Atlanta when trying to come together to solve region-wide problems. The area is made up not just of cities and counties with their own agendas, but also touches three states and has a river – the Delaware – running straight through it. 

And yet, thanks in part to a transit system that connects not only the area, but also the people, together, Philadelphia and the surrounding region are thriving again after decades on the decline. We heard from leaders including Paul Levy, the president and CEO of Philadelphia's Center City District, the private organization that works to ensure the downtown area is a clean, safe, beautiful and fun place to live, work and play. He noted that the region's residents used to do a reverse brag. “I haven't been to downtown in six months,” one would say. Only to have the next person chime in with, “That's nothing. I haven't been in over a year.”

Now, Center City is safe, clean and home to city government, shopping, banking, performing arts venues, restaurants, bars and Fortune 500 businesses – including Comcast, with more than 10,000 employees who will soon be housed in a new Center City tower. The pedestrian- and bike-friendly area has worked to attract younger people – both Center City residents and also commuters, who stay in town after work – with the addition of amenities such as sidewalk cafes and cultural activities available at all hours. By providing a desirable destination and the means to get there, Philly has instilled in area residents a pride – and a connection that helps make collaboration across the region not only possible, but desirable.

With the BeltLine and the Streetcar coming to fruition and more companies relocating intown, Atlanta's heading in the right direction, but the trip to Philly proves it still has miles to go. Gathering ideas and seeing what works in other cities like Philadelphia each year can help keep the momentum going.    

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