4.10.2011

What I Have in Common with Philly's Top Cop and Three of its Four Aces




Twenty years ago this month, I checked in with my parents to see if all of the schools I had gotten into were "on the table" from a financial standpoint. Hearing that they all were, I went to my bedroom, closed the door, and began making notes about pros and cons of various places. Out of four schools, things quickly narrowed between Berkeley and Penn. Berkeley was 45 minutes from my house. I knew about 100 people there already, and 25 more from my class were going, including some of my very best friends. I had spent two weeks living there the summer before, at a speech and debate camp. It was a top-notch school, in a funky urban setting, and long my top choice for those and other reasons.

And yet, having just returned from an East Coast swing to check out Penn, I couldn't shake the thought that perhaps Penn was where I ought to go. I had hit it off with my advisor. The business school was second to none. And, most importantly, it felt like a bigger step in my life, whereas Berkeley seemed a smaller step. Wasn't college about launching out into new territory? Going to Berkeley, in contrast, seemed like just an extension of what I already knew. And so a fateful choice was made. I arrived on campus later that year.

Of course, plenty of people come to Philly for school. Many from out of town, though, leave town upon graduation. In the mid-1990's, when Silicon Valley was exploding and Center City and University City weren't nearly what they are now, it seemed a curious move for this Cali boy to stay put, and get a job at an obscure local non-profit helping minority entrepreneurs. Sure, you could've spun my choice as sacrificial, and part of me thought of the matter in those terms: God wants me to stay here in the inner city to make a difference. Downward mobility, then, was my intentional response to a culture that seeks self, comfort, and status.

But even then, I did not think Philadelphia itself to be second-class. I may have been making less than my peers, at a far less glamorous position, and in a far less renowned city. But there was, even back then, a lot to like about Philly. Come see for yourselves, I would tell my friends and family, especially those who thought of the place as a ghetto or patted me on the head for staying behind when they and others had moved on; it's a surprisingly good place to visit, and a really good place to live.

Circa 2011, much more of the world knows this. Philly is cooler with the young guns now, after stints in the limelight courtesy of Real World, Live8, and X Games. University City has become a wonderful place to raise a family and putter around with kids. Center City is a destination of choice, rich with sidewalk cafes and cultural amenities and world-class restaurants.

Tellingly, the very best in their field are choosing Philadelphia. We all know about Cliff Lee and his wife falling in love with the place, and we have reciprocated with adulation. This past week, Mayor Nutter's top cop, Charles Ramsey, spurned the heavy courtship of new Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel to return to his hometown and decided instead to stay in Philly. In addition to chocolate cupcakes and a baseball signed by all of the Phillies' starting pitchers, Commissioner Ramsey was presented with a placard from the Greater Philadelphia Marketing Tourism Corporation that read, "What would Cliff Lee do?"

What Cliff Lee did, of course, was choose the Phillies, and, because of the heavy influence of his wife, Philadelphia. So did Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt the two years before. And so did Commissioner Ramsey. Take that, New York and Chicago!

And take that, Silicon Valley. You had a lot going for you, just like New York did for Cliff Lee (big bucks, big spotlight) and Chicago did for Charles Ramsey (hometown, bigger city). But I chose Philly, and am always glad when others come to the same conclusion.

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