Friday, December 26, 2003

Keystone Kapers

Way over in western Pennsylvania, the lovely PNC Park has been charming baseball fans for three seasons now. The Pirates may suck, but at least their backers have a jewel of a ballpark to enjoy. Meanwhile, here in southeastern Pennsylvania, Citizens Bank Park still isn't done -- despite the state legislature's approval of stadium money for both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia simultaneously several years ago.

What gives? As the Inquirer reported yesterday, a new book by a couple of area academics offers some insights into why the Steel City was able to get its act together while the City of Brotherly Love farted around for way too long:

According to the book, Public Dollars, Private Stadiums , published by Rutgers University Press, the reason for the difference was that Pittsburgh has a strong local growth coalition and Philadelphia doesn't.

To quote the authors: "In the absence of corporate champions, the path to new stadiums in Philadelphia was blazed almost completely by political actors. The main ramification of the politically rooted pro-stadium movement is that it moves much more deliberately than a corporate-rooted movement does."

[The authors] are no fans of using public money for stadiums; the evidence, they say, indicates that such money is almost never well-spent.

So stadium advocates, in making a pitch for public funds, have figured out that they're better off appealing to a community's collective self-esteem rather than the potential for economic development.

"A community's collective self-esteem" -- there's the crux of the matter. Philadelphia has so little regard for itself that it can't get important things done. I am in love with this city, but trying to get it to see its own wonders and strengths -- which are real and considerable -- is next to impossible. Philly just can't seem to get out of its own way, and when we somehow stumble into a spot of success, we're embarrassed by it, as if we don't deserve it because we're not New York, or Washington, or Boston -- you know, big, obnoxious places where the people think they're special or something. God save us from that malady.

So in addition to crumbling schools, corrupt, 19th century-style politics, and a dwindling population, we've come to expect as our lot in life a joke of a baseball stadium, located nowhere near anyplace where people might want to go before or after games, and the losingest franchise in American professional sports history. Granted, the Phillies should win a lot more than they lose next season, and CBP will be a quantum leap of an improvement over the Vet, but it'll still be surrounded by acres of parking in South Philly, and not blocks of brewpubs and restaurants in Center City. And the national media wonder why we act so embittered. . . .


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