6.19.2010

Generation Next


It will probably come as no surprise to hear Philadelphia described as a "wait your turn, kid" kind of place. The 50-year-long perception and reality of a shrinking pie, an old-school political culture, and not nearly as much immigration as other cities like LA/Miami/NYC/Chicago means that there is a logic to the old guard seeking to retain its power rather than devolve it to the next generation. This is obviously a grossly simplified and in some cases completely incorrect narrative, and yet I would venture to say it is more true of us than of other cities.

To the extent that it is in fact true, the lament is invariably that the youngsters leave for freer places and the oldsters bid "good riddance" and scoff at the naivete. But something else can happen and does happen. The youngsters stick around. They get in with and learn from the establishment, enough to shed the naivete and gain some cred and some smarts. "Wait your turn, kid" may be galling to the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but there is some good in that, for experience and track record and the demonstration of a willingness to persevere for the long journey are actually things that matter.

The youngsters also do something else. They reject a system in which they must wait their turn or kiss someone's ring or depend on someone else's resources/approval/involvement. And so they organize. They make do without the resources, approval, or even awareness of the old establishment. They get stuff done. And their enthusiasm and stick-to-itiveness is infectious; it begets more, it emboldens others to go out and just do it as well, and it sometimes even creates enough momentum for a bandwagon to form.

Working within the system or flouting the system: can you do both? In fact, both are needed. For the old guard still has much to give, and the newbies can't do it alone. And, if both are humble enough, secure enough, hungry enough, really good stuff can happen. It's what I hope for our cities, and especially for Philadelphia.

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