In November 2015, staunchly Democratic Philadelphia elected Jim Kenney as its 99th mayor. Having championed the partial decriminalization of pot for the city, Kenney now leads an administration that is considering alternative ways of tackling the city's opioid addiction crisis, as well as social problems such as traffic, fractious race relations and poverty. The city was among the 20 finalists for Amazon's second headquarters, and took great pride in the Eagles winning the Super Bowl in 2018.
By any measure Philadelphia is a diverse city. Its population breaks down into roughly into 44% black, 35% white, 14% Latino or Hispanic and 7% Asian and other races. But research has shown that it is one of the most segregated cities in the US, as well as one of the poorest. The geographical and economic divisions between different ethnic groups in Philly are stark and controversial.
In 2013 when Philadelphia magazine ran a feature by Robert Huber entitled 'Being White in Philly' it sparked a heated public debate, and not a little soul searching, over the state of race relations in the city of brotherly love. Then mayor Michael Nutter slammed the feature claiming it was irresponsible and inflammatory, while the magazine's editor hit back citing free speech and a need to encourage a deeper discussion about race.
More recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has upped the ante on such discussions. One of its targets has been the statue of controversial former mayor Frank Rizzo. Activist Asa Khalif voiced the feelings of the wider black community when he claimed that the statue was representative of decades of oppression and violence. In November 2017 the city announced the statue would be removed from its prominent location facing City Hall.
Inner City Gridlock
Since 2000 the population of Philadelphia's Center City has shot up by over 30,000 residents, fueling a revival of the inner urban core. The impacts of such economic revival, however, are not always positive, as seen in the gridlock that regularly snarls up Center City. William Penn's 17th-century slender streets designed for horse and buggies are no friend to the 21st-century commuter.
There were over 12,000 car accidents in Philly in 2016. Several fatal ones have involved cyclists, leading advocacy groups, such as the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, to urge the city to create more protected bike paths separating cyclists from motorists. The city has over 200 miles of bike lanes, but only 2.5 miles of those are protected.
A Different Approach to Drugs
While on the city council in 2014, Jim Kenney introduced, and managed to get passed, a bill that partially decriminalized possession of marijuana. Prompted mainly by a desire to reduce the incarceration rate for minor drug offenses – arrests disproportionately involved young black men – arrests for possession and dealing in pot have since fallen.
However, Philadelphia remains on the frontline of America's opioid crisis, suffering some 1200 overdose deaths in 2017 – the highest number of any major American city. Officials estimate drug overdoses cost the city well over $26 million a year through the provision of health and social services.
In January 2018, the City approved plans for a privately-run, supervised drug-injection site. If it opens, Philadelphia will be the first US city to allow such a facility. Those in favor of the policy argue it will keep drug users alive, allowing for the chance of treatment and rehabilitation; those against say it simply perpetuates long-term drug use.
Breaking Billy Penn's Curse
Locals are die-hard supporters of Philly's sports teams, but for many years the city was dogged by the 'curse of Billy Penn.' Such bad luck on the field was believed to have stemmed from 1987 when One Liberty Place exceeded the height of Penn's statue atop City Hall, breaking the gentlemen's agreement restricting such construction.
As far as baseball is concerned the curse was broken in 2008, when the Phillies took the World Series – the first major championship win for any top city team in a quarter-century. But then the curse seemed to return. So when the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl final in 2018, nobody was taking any chances – least of all Mayor Kenney; the superstitious mayor posted a video of himself tossing salt over his shoulder and sage cleansing his office in preparation for the big game.
Perhaps it was that – but more likely great teamwork – that saw the Eagles slay the New England Patriots and bring the Lombardi Trophy home to an ecstatic city. The winning streak continued a month later when the college basketball team Villanova Wildcats became the NCAA champions.