City of Greater Philadelphia

Buzz Bissinger’s A Prayer for the City highlights a fascinating idea:

Richardson Dilworth, the mayor of Philadelphia in 1959, testifying before [a U.S. Congressional] subcommittee on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, advocated federal assistance, not in the familiar terms of urban aid and entitlement programs, but in something far more lasting and socially meaningful. He argued for the establishment of a single government for each of the nation’s metropolitan areas, in which a chief executive would have true jurisdiction not only over the city but also over the suburbs ringing it. Such a form of government, Dilworth felt, would unite the city and its suburbs instead of dividing them along social and racial lines. “We cannot continue to set up one class against another,” he said. “That is being done today with the cities against the suburbs. We have to work out some program for the proper allocation of our industry, and … every mayor of a big city would feel that actually there should be one government—one local government—for every great metropolitan area and that this hodgepodge of governments creates conflicts, creates an enormous manner of additional problems, and leads to the inefficient, terrible tax burdens and makes it difficult to have any proper development in the area to meet the problems of democracy.”

At first glance Dilworth’s concept sounded simply like a clever land grab. I’m not a fan of the federal government dictating local integration. If that were to ever happen ever it should be bottom-up and voluntary, but at this point in time I think few would advocate that aspect of Dilworth’s concept.

What I think is still provocative about what I’ll call Dilworth’s “City of Greater Philadelphia” concept is the potential to formalize what “Greater Philadelphia” actually means on the map when it comes to boundary lines. As “Greater Philadelphia” has supplanted the less city-centric “Delaware Valley” descriptor in recent years, there’s no question that companies and nearby communities benefit due to their ability to verbally affiliate themselves with the city that they’ve separated themselves from.

So what if Philadelphia were to offer a certain set of economic benefits for nearby communities interested in being a part of an official “Greater Philadelphia” economic/cultural zone? One example of mutual benefit could be a lessening of the wage tax for city workers residing in nearby communities, in exchange for those communities more formally working to integrate their community and economic plans into that of the city.

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