Mayor Kenney has clearly, consistently, and vigorously pledged his support for commercial investment in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, and has expressed his commitment to work with City Council President Darrell Clarke and all of City government to make that happen. We applaud this approach as being good for neighborhoods and good for the city economy as a whole.
Through our respective organizations, we are deeply familiar with the evolving business landscape in Philadelphia. We believe that neighborhood businesses are essential to a healthy economy. And we also understand that a number of big-picture trends have contributed to a decline in neighborhood-level commerce, including the mechanization of manufacturing processes, the suburbanization of retail, and the arrival of e-commerce and mobile banking.
On one level, it is fair to ask if it is worth it to try to counteract these forces. We may have grown up seeing our parents walk to their factory jobs, shopping on our local commercial corridor, and waiting in line at the neighborhood bank branch, but our modern economy is different. Today’s consumers now have the option to do their shopping and banking on-line, and more and more people make this choice and benefit from the added selection and convenience afforded by it.
Nevertheless, vibrant neighborhood commercial hubs are still relevant and important to today’s Philadelphia, for both symbolic and practical reasons. And it is for these reasons that we applaud Mayor Kenney’s focus on neighborhoods.
Symbolically, commercial activity in neighborhoods sends a strong signal that all places are important to the success of Philadelphia. People are right to want to have employment, shopping, and banking options within their own communities, not just for accessibility purposes (for centralized hubs of activity such as Center City and University City are already extremely accessible) but for the message they send about the necessity of strong neighborhood commerce to the overall well-being of the city. The hollowing out of previously vibrant corridors has left a deep scar in the psyche of our communities, whereas reinvestment sends a powerful message that neighborhoods matter. Furthermore, our commercial corridors are reemerging as important gateways for immigrant entrepreneurs who are remaking their lives in America and reinvigorating the local economy.
Practically, commercial activity in neighborhoods is good for the Philadelphia economy. Vibrant retail corridors, cultural festivals, and night markets not only serve their immediate environs but draw in shoppers (and their spending money) from outside the city; this is particularly true for hubs of immigrant businesses, which can serve immigrant communities throughout the region. Locally owned businesses that hire from and sell to the neighborhood circulate dollars within the city economy at a far greater intensity, increasing their impact on the local tax base. Neighborhood-based bank branches with bilingual staff and strong outreach efforts meet customers on their own turf, establishing the trust and accessibility that is needed to facilitate financial transactions and expand banks’ customer footprint in Philadelphia.
In short, commercial investment in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods is a matter of equity and economics. On both fronts, all of Philadelphia is better off.
Lee Huang is a Senior Vice President and Principal at Econsult Solutions, as well as a member of the Philadelphia Board of Education. He also serves on the boards of the Asian-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, and Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, among others.
Michael Banks is President of the African-American Chamber of Commerce. He leads the efforts to increase the Chamber’s presence in the community, while continuing to provide members with tools and resources to help grow their businesses.
Jamie Gauthier is Executive Director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy. She works to expand the Conservancy’s reach and engagement in neighborhoods across Philadelphia. Jamie also currently holds board positions with PennFuture and University City District and has previously served as President of Garden Court Community Association.
Peter Gonzales is President and CEO of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians. An immigration attorney by training, he has a distinguished record of civic and business leadership and advocacy, and a longtime interest in and commitment to economic development.
Jennifer Rodriguez is President and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Jennifer has a noteworthy background and extensive experience in community and economic development. She is a recipient of various awards, including the 2013 NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award and the 2012 Rising Start Award from the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations.
Narasimha Shenoy is Executive Director of the Asian-American Chamber of Greater Philadelphia. Narasimha has spent the last 30 years of his life helping immigrants achieve their American Dream. As an advocate for the Asian American community, he works closely with City and State legislators to promote and address Asian American business and social issues.