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A Philadelphian's Concerned Letter

By John Litzke, Jr. , MSW

Editors Note: This letter was sent to Philadelphia's City Council on December 12th of 2005. It was also sent to other state and local people of stature.


Dear Members of City Council, City of Philadelphia, PA:


I have just celebrated my 40th birthday.   I was born in this city 40 years ago.   Philadelphia has made tremendous changes for good and for bad in those years. I am still wondering about certain council paradigms and values.   Over a period of several years, questions and observations have been raised in my head.    This letter presents the observations that I have made to all of you for debate and possible reconciliation/action.


Several realities remain in place in Philadelphia:


* Philadelphia is a provincial city (which affects elections, schools, resources, levels of trust, corruption).


* Philadelphia is racially segregated (which affects elections, schools, levels of trust, corruption).


* Because of our segregation, many Philadelphians have a problem being tolerant of each other.


* The relationship between Philadelphia's city and suburbs is one of disconnect socio-economically.


* Philadelphia is "corrupt and comfortable" -   Lincoln Steffans.


* The tax burden on Philadelphia business and its residents are excessive.


* Philadelphia needs living wage jobs.


* Philadelphia needs to change its political and economic culture in order to attract and maintain residents.


* There is a sense of lawlessness in Philadelphia. How can people be expected to obey the law when lawmakers do not?


* Political and residential redlining needs to end in Philadelphia.


* Philadelphia has become a cultural player on a national level.


* Philadelphia does a very poor job of maintaining itself.


* Philadelphia needs a better-connected, improved, networked, high-speed transit system serving all neighborhoods.


* A state or city funded WPA-like program may improve employment and much needed infrastructure improvements to Philadelphia.


* Infrastructural and environmental improvements could help to reduce DHS caseloads and, ultimately improve child welfare and case outcomes.


* Poor graduation rates=Poor citizens/employees/parents=Inmate potential for Philadelphians in state institutions.


* Regarding drug sales and use by citizens, Commissioner Sylvester Johnson is correct in stating, "We are not going to incarcerate our way out of this problem."


* There are far too many guns on the streets and in the homes of Philadelphians creating a strong vibe of insecurity and instability throughout the city.


* From an economic standpoint, Philadelphia appears to have "sold its soul" to corporate retailers (CVS, Wal-mart, Eckerd, Rite-Aid, McDonalds, Churches, Starbucks, etc.) Has council done anything to encourage small business growth in Philadelphia (without a corporate logo) and has it made setting up businesses in Philadelphia any easier?   What happens when these corporate corner stores fail or saturate or, in at least one case, continue their unforgivable abuses (Wal-mart)?


* Philadelphia is happy with the status quo.


* Philadelphia is the historical center of this country.


* Philadelphia's politics and services are only as strong as the people who work in those jobs.


* The neighborhoods and people of Kensington, Logan, Point Breeze and Strawberry Mansion have largely been forgotten both politically and economically.


* Supermarkets and access to HEALTHY FOOD are minimal in our poor neighborhoods.


* Blighted housing is still a major problem in Philadelphia, the birthplace of liberty and of the country.


* People who drive cars in Philadelphia still routinely and "maddeningly" disregard bike lanes, traffic signals, road-rules and "STOP" signs.


* Philadelphia is still dirty, and our citizenry still deposit trash down sewers (water inlets) further polluting our environments.


* Plastic (and glass) bottles are routinely discarded on Philadelphia streets suggesting that the entire citizenry is not committed to recycling as evidenced in recent recycling statistics of major U.S. cities. Is the Streets Department doing enough to install, educate our citizens and mandate recycling in all our neighborhoods?   I believe that poverty does not beget or encourage recycling.   People who are concerned about gunshots in their neighborhood, or where their next meal is coming from, or if PGW will shut their heat off in December are not thinking about recycling their plastics each week let alone keeping their neighborhood safe and clean.


* Please outlaw guns for the good of all Philadelphians.


* Please bring universal healthcare to Philadelphia's citizens.


* Philadelphia is now dependent on the automobile for economic survival due in large part to suburbanization (tickets, parking, parking garage construction and

design, etc.)


* Though change has happened, Philadelphia's two major waterfronts remain underdeveloped and under-utilized.


* As part of the neglect of Philadelphia, many city neighborhoods are overgrown    with WEEDS.   For proof, as an example, take a ride on the elevated (blue line) between Bridge and Girard from April to August and look to your left and your right.   A look to your left and right makes us wonder whether NTI touched these neighborhoods at all!


* Philadelphians have little reason to go to Penn's Landing.


* Though touted as the largest urban park system in the world, the Fairmount Park system is still not user friendly.


* Why does our Streets Department not repair city streets that   are riddled with potholes (Summerdale and Bridge, St. Vincent and Bingham, Oxford Avenue near the Navy Depot, Tabor and Princeton, Woodland Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia) and appear to turn the other way when streets are unclean and broken?   How many more of our streets remain blighted and neglected in this way?    Reform and competency needs to be in the Streets Department


* Why are businesses such as gas stations, Laundromats, supermarkets, restaurants auto-oriented employers not mandated to recycle their plastic?


* My fiancée and I would love to be able to frequent Belmont Plateau or the Japanese House in Fairmount Park without using a car for fear of losing my way, accident or parking/auto fines.   A subway spur as a part of a greater high-speed network is needed.   Were SEPTA or transit advocacy a part of the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI) decision making process?


* Is the NTI still operating and on what level or stage?


Because, I believe, until these questions are answered and statements addressed, we cannot call ourselves "world class" or even free and loving brothers and sisters as the name Philadelphia would suggest.


From a historical perspective:



* In 1776, the ideas of freedom, independence and liberty were born here in Philadelphia, yet these ideas were largely directed to benefit white males.

My question is why has Philadelphia, apparently, been removed from the national, political and economic discussion around freedom, politics and liberty?


* What affect did the removal of the nation's capital from Philadelphia in 1800 have on the city's population and culture?   I often wonder how much more different Philadelphia would have become had the nation's capital (and state capital) stayed here.


* As a way of highlighting Philadelphia's industrial past, perhaps a tour could begin has not been highlighted as a part of our culture, commerce, history or economy.


* Corruption within government teaches citizens in the same way a parent teaches a child.   Lincoln Steffans spoke about this regarding Philadelphia in the early

1900ís stating, "Philadelphia is corrupt and comfortable". We are only repeating our own history.

We are not learning from it.

* Though the Declaration of Independence documented the creation of a sovereign nation from England by colonists in 1776, I wonder, in 2005, how many people in Philadelphia, still do not feel free?


* Is there a copy of the U.S. Constitution in the Constitution Center?


I have enjoyed presenting my observations and ideas to all of you.   Many of you continue to champion the progressive march to reform (strong ethics laws, smoking ban in all public places, anti-gun laws in Philadelphia. etc.)    I wish us all luck in striving to make Philadelphia the BEST it can be.   I have heard for decades that Philadelphia has tremendous potential.   However, can we and do we have the will to reach that potential?





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