Sunday, July 16, 2006

Nice Place; Be a Shame if Something Happened to It

This Philadelphia Inquirer article reports on a real issue and a real problem. Center City Philly is now a wonderful place to hang out and have fun on a Saturday night. Yet the neighborhoods only a few blocks away suffer a high rate of violent crimes against people and property.

Most American cities I know that are still thriving have that division in place. You can look at it and see a rebirth of once-great cities that has the potential to spread out past the poverty wall and lift up the urban neighborhoods, too.

Or you can see it as a permanent stasis, a tension that can stand for generations, like the casinos-and-crackhouses schizophrenia of Atlantic City.

Or you can look at it as a bunch of fat, stupid sheep unaware of the wolves slavering at the edge of the forest. Which seems to be the approach the Inquirer takes:

"The haves and the have-nots, the safe and the vulnerable - usually two separate worlds like that don't stay separate," said Mark Alan Hughes, the Robert A. Fox Leadership Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. "In this case, my feeling is that the status quo - and maybe a little worse - is sustainable for a while. But it wouldn't take much to change things."

For now, the two worlds stand apart. To a striking degree, the gun violence, which has devastated so many Philadelphia families, has largely spared Center City, the surrounding neighborhoods, and other upscale areas.

Which, considering this is a story about a non-issue -- the blood-letting crime assault on the affluent part of the city by the slums -- makes me wonder about the mind that does imagine it in a lurid, almost yearning, tone:

None of the killings has involved any of the key elements of the city's resurgence. No tourists have been shot in the historic district, no suburbanites gunned down near trendy restaurants, no empty-nesters outside their new condos.

There's an awful lot of positive imagination in that list of things the newspaper says haven't happened ... yet. It's hard for me to read it without hearing the reporter's sneer.