City Council To The Rescue?

Councilman Mark Squilla auctioned off nearly $2 million in city-owned land. What could go wrong?

by Larry Platt

On June 14, under the headline “Going once, going twice: Auction of blighted Philly lots is a big hit,” the Inquirer ran a largely congratulatory story about Councilman Mark Squilla’s unprecedented auction of 89 distressed city-owned properties, raking in $1.78 million. The sale, wrote reporter Tricia Nadolny, “seemed to offer a lively and entirely unbureaucratic way to handle an otherwise onerous task. It’s one Philadelphia has struggled with in recent years: how to unload the city’s huge stock of vacant, delinquent or blighted land, and get it back on the tax rolls.”

Nadolny is right; at a time when we’re wringing our hands over the school budget shortfall and an ever-increasing percentage of the city budget propping up our unfunded pensions, Squilla’s action was entrepreneurial and bold. The city owns something like 10,000 vacant properties, none of which pay taxes and many of which are aesthetic drains on their respective neighborhoods. And, despite endless talk of the city getting out of the landlord business, nothing much has seemed to change over the years.

City Council last year moved to solve this problem by passing Land Bank legislation, creating an entity to streamline the sale of city-owned properties. It’s worked in other cities—from Cleveland, Ohio to Macon, Georgia— to clean up the haphazard and often purely transactional way development happens. Supporters had reason to believe it would work here, as well. Yet here we are, mid-2015, and the Land Bank doesn’t even exist yet.

Just why is a City Councilman selling off city land, when there’s nothing in the City Charter granting the power to do so? Is this any way to run a city?

So Squilla took it upon himself to do something in his Councilmanic district. The Redevelopment Authority has long listed all city-owned properties for sale and has entertained bids for individual addresses. When a sale is settled upon, Council passes an ordinance, transferring the property. “If we’re doing this one by one,” Squilla recalls, “I wondered if this was an opportunity to put a whole bunch of them out there on the market all at once.”

Squilla and his staff worked for over a year to make the auction happen, working with the Redevelopment Authority and an auctioneer. They culled through the list of properties and gave community groups the chance to pull select properties off the block prior to the auction. “We wanted to make sure, if a community group was interested in bidding, they’d get a chance,” he says. In addition, Squilla added a critical caveat: The purchaser of any such property would have to develop it within 18 months. He didn’t want developers sitting on undeveloped lots for years. Continue reading

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The Subsidy Stakes

How to get more value out of the city’s subsidized real estate

by Jeremy Nowak

Nowak

Nowak

I once heard someone say that great urban developments begin with a compelling vision and end in a real estate deal.

Between the vision and the deal, there are often political negotiations around the acquisition of land, zoning, and sometimes for public subsidy.

In an era of budget constraints, the efficient use of subsidy ought to be an important topic of public policy. But it rarely is.

Real estate subsidies of one kind or another are part of the landscape of the American tax code and the mortgage banking industry. They operate at every level of government.

So what is it? A subsidy is a public grant, a tax credit, or some other financial mechanism (such as a low interest and higher risk loan) applied to a development project and sometimes its ongoing operation (as with rental subsidies).

Subsidies are non-market allocations because they do not receive a conventional return on investment, are often used to support the conventional returns of other investors, and frequently remain in the project in perpetuity, as with a grant.

The largest real estate subsidy is interest mortgage deductions for homeowners. And the largest mortgage banker in the country is the US government, which still owns and manages the portfolios of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

In Philadelphia, subsidies become a focal point of neighborhood social conflict when homeowners resent the presence of low-income rental subsidies; when tax abatements for new homeowners create a tiered real estate tax system; or when there is a dispute about market rate versus affordable (subsidized) housing in gentrifying communities.

We are rebuilding much of the city through public assistance, layered together with private investment. There is nothing wrong with that. But we can do it more effectively and more fairly.

Those are the well-known disputes. But there are countless other questions about the use of real estate subsidies that are important to ask. Those questions involve fundamental issues regarding economic incentives and fairness.

Here are a few:Why does a new hotel get tax increment financing? Why do subsidized affordable housing units cost so much? Why did we fund the convention center expansion before we had a better labor agreement to allow it to profitably operate?  How do we direct the distribution of affordable housing subsidies in ways that do not continue to concentrate poverty?

Politicians can influence and direct subsidies, so it is natural to ask elected leaders if they have a strategy for their use. What are we trying to incentivize and how do we best oversee the allocation of public money?

And just why do we allocate subsidies for real estate development?  Is it because we are addressing a market failure? Is it because of our interest in social justice? Is it because the well connected are able to negotiate public resources?  Is it because we want to compete with other places by attracting development? Or is it (as with homeownership incentives) that we think there is a compelling public value that ought to be stressed?

Actually, it may be any and all of these things, as well as other factors. At the root of a subsidy is the assumption that the transaction would not happen, or would be less likely to happen in the way we want, without the subsidy.

Why is that? It could be that the cost of development exceeds the capacity to profitably sell or rent the unit being developed.  Or that private capital needs an incentive (to diminish risk or insure liquidity) to be involved. Or that early stage development risk is so great, that the public has to clear the path for anything to happen (e.g. land assembly).

Whether the subsidy really is needed, and at what level, is a different issue. To determine that requires policy strategy and operating diligence. There are examples at every level of government of subsidies outliving their social purpose or examples of subsidies paying for things that could be addressed more directly in other ways. Continue reading

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Meet the Disruptor: W/N W/N Coffee

Can a democratically run, all-purpose coffee shop/restaurant/bar in the Eraserhood be ethical and sustainable…while making money?

by Emma Eisenberg

From the sunny strip of sidewalk at the corner of 9th and Spring Garden streets, W/N W/N coffee shop, with it’s simple freestanding sign—Coffee, Food, Beer—looks like just another upscale coffee shop on the rapidly changing Spring Garden corridor. But even a few minutes with co-owner Tony Montagnaro, hard at work kneading bread in the back room, and it’s clear that W/N W/N is a different animal entirely.

W/N W/N, a play on “waste not, want not” and “win win,” has been open in the Eraserhood neighborhood since January. It is a democratic workspace, run by consensus and collectively owned by a “core five,” a motley crew of Montagnaro’s friends and acquaintances from his time in the food and beverage industry. One owner is formerly an employee of Elixr Coffee; another has legal experience and has worked in craft beer bars; another comes from a farming and microbiotic lifestyle and brings a passion for international cuisine. Montagnaro, who used to work for Fishtown’s Pizza Brain, grew up in a restaurant, and uses his biology degree to express his passion for food science, health and nutrition.

Win Win Coffee Bar

Photo credit: Will Strathmann

They are the worker-owners, who all hold equal shares of the profits. But so do the small stable of employees. That’s right—every person is paid the same hourly rate, and they will eventually all share the profit, too, split evenly according to the hours worked. The same with the tips; those who work the higher volume shifts like Saturday nights split their tips evenly with those working slow morning shifts. The only difference between owners and employees is that owners take on equal shares of the debt, carry legal responsibility, and have the right to block consensus when making decisions.

“It’s cool that Philly is enjoying this food renaissance, which is one of the things that’s really bringing the city forward,” Montagnaro says. But years of working in the food industry made clear to him the inherent inequity in the business: A need for increased profit often leads to low wages and poor working conditions, especially for servers and cooks who don’t get tips. “The person in the kitchen does not have a smile on their face, is not treated well, and is not protected.” At W/N W/N, Montagnaro says, they’re hoping to upend that system.

W/N W/N is a more radical version of what is a growing trend nationally towards treating food service workers more fairly—from giving fast food workers a raise to implementing sick day policies to no tip restaurants like West Philly’s William Street Common and Bella Vista’s Vegan Commissary, which have slightly higher menu prices to allow them to pay all their workers a decent hourly wage. The pressing question for all of them is: Can this work?

At W/N W/N, their beliefs made raising the necessary startup funds more difficult. They opened the space with funding from one of Philadelphia’s first Kiva loans (the domestic arm of the international aid organizations that microloans to those in developing countries) and their personal networks. They raised about $8,000 through a crowd-sourced model all their own: Rather than using Kickstarter, which typically offers supporters physical rewards like t-shirts or posters, they sold pre-paid credit that customers could redeem only by reaching a certain threshold of purchase, much like a frequent buyer card. They were approached many times by larger pockets looking to invest in the traditional sense—a big influx of cash upfront in exchange for equity, or an ongoing piece of their profits. Every time, they passed on the offer. Continue reading

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Getting Civics Off Life Support

We know less about our Democracy than ever before. Want more civic-minded adults? Midge Rendell and others say let’s get back to starting in the classroom

by Roxanne Patel Shepelavy

The fourth grader quivered at the defense table as his three accusers described his crime—stealing chickens from their farm. His wife on the witness stand broke down in tears, pleading with the jury to understand: Her husband was a hero, trying to keep his family from starvation. His lawyer, in turn, accused the chicken farmers of gross violence for shooting off the thief’s tail. Was Mr. Fox justified? Should he go to jail?

imagesIn the front of the room at Edwin M. Stanton Elementary School, Appellate Court Judge Midge Rendell sent the jury of fourth grade peers out of the room to deliberate. They returned a few minutes later with their verdict: The crime was justifiable. But, they wondered, could they convict the farmers for shooting Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox?

“It was amazing,” says Rendell. “The kids reasoned through the moral of the story, and came to a conclusion. They were incredibly proud of themselves.”

Rendell presided over the fourth grade mock trial as a pilot project of her Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement, a two-year-old nonprofit that aims to revive civics learning in Philadelphia schools and beyond. At Stanton, Rendell and her fellow judges presided over trials in every grade, using books they read in class, to understand from the inside the way American law works for—and is created by—citizens. It was just one piece toward the larger goal of increasing citizenship, starting with our youngest citizens.

In the 70s, kids even learned civics by watching Schoolhouse Rock! on Saturday morning TV.

“We want a more engaged citizenry,” Rendell says. “We’ve ceded the power of the people to the few. We’re doing exactly what the Founding Fathers didn’t want. People don’t vote; they tune out what they think is government, but is really a lot of things that are relevant to their lives.” Continue reading

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It Takes A Village

Once hobbled, St. Martin de Porres Catholic school is thriving again with the help of local partners

Like most Catholic schools in Philadelphia, St. Martin de Porres in North Philadelphia  faced years of declining enrollments and rising costs. So in 2010, the Board of Directors of the Friends of St. Martin de Porres proposed a novel solution: Take over responsibility for the school from the Archdiocese. On August 30, 2010,they signed a historic agreement to do just that. Ever since, the school has thrived, growing the student body—and providing 90 percent with financial aid.

The key: Partnerships with local businesses that have provided funding, technology and other support to modernize the school and set its students up for success.

“The only way schools like ourselves are going to survive is if we’re able to form partnerships,” says Sister Nancy Fitzgerald, principal of St. Martin. “Prior to partnerships we had no financial aid. Now anyone who wants to can walk into the doors of St. Martin de Porres Catholic School and be enrolled.”

Watch the video from documentary filmmaker Lauren Flick to learn more about the school and how partnerships have kept it growing.

This video originally appeared on Open Education last year.

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Nice Little Parking Lot You Have There. It’d Be A Shame If Something Were To Happen To It.

There are good reasons to tax the parking industry. But Council’s latest hike smells more like political payback, Philly-style

by Larry Platt

There they go again. Council just raised a slew of taxes to partially fund the annual School District shortfall. Seems like we’ve seen this movie before.

But this time, Council’s machinations stunk even more than usual. That’s because, among those targeted for whopping tax increases was the parking industry. As you’ll recall, the two most prominent members of said industry, Joe and Rob Zuritsky, distinguished themselves from the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil tradition of local business leaders when they organized and helped fund Philly3.0, a PAC dedicated to changing the makeup of City Council and lobbying for term limits on the august body. Lo and behold, they have now been hit with yet another tax increase—to a rate of 22.5 percent, this after their 15 percent tax was hiked to 20 percent in 2008. Coincidence? Uh, this is Philly.

“I don’t get into motivations,” says longtime political observer Larry Ceisler. “I look at the pros and cons of issues. That being said, it is fair to wonder whether this tax increase on parking garages was either political payback or a signal to others: You challenge Council incumbents, you do so at your own peril.”

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Parkway President Rob Zuritsky

This is not an argument against levying a tax increase on those who own parking lots and garages. There actually are good reasons to tax the industry: The schools need the money; we want more people taking public transportation; we want more density on our streets; we want less in the way of exhaust fumes poisoning our air. Tax parking enough and you may discourage driving in the city to the degree that you can make a dent on these quality of life issues. But tax it too much and you can harm a local industry that employs our fellow citizens, and discourage suburbanites from coming in and contributing to the local economy. The Zuritskys would no doubt add that, by disproportionately singling out one industry—New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Chicago all tax parking less than we do —city government is overstepping its bounds by using the tax code to pick winners and losers in a game best left to market forces. That’s what Rob Zuritsky was getting at in 2011, when he unsuccessfully lobbied to roll the tax back to 15 percent.

Finding that balance is a good debate to have. But we never had it. Where were the hearings? The debates on the floor of Council? The op-eds, yay and nay? Nobody made the smart policy case for (or against) yet another parking tax increase.

This being Philly, and given Council’s history of engaging in petty political feuds, it’s a good bet that this wasn’t about policy at all. It was about smacking down a couple of businessmen who had the temerity to publicly stand up to the Council For Life crowd. Let’s be clear: Though the Zuritskys recent experience with Council these last years —and Mayor Nutter, whom they supported in his 2007 election but who shortly thereafter signed the tax increase and opposed the proposed 2011 rollback—may have informed their desire for change, the issue of taxing the parking industry wasn’t part of Philly 3.0’s stated agenda; nor were prospective candidates asked for their position on the issue on 3.0’s questionnaire.

But by being so public in favor of  term limits, it was as if the Zuritskys had issued a political fatwa on incumbents. Remember, for this current crop of legislators, sitting on Council will be the best job they’ve ever had. Just consider the perks: the six figure salary, the car, the 23 weeks off. It’s a type of public welfare. To you and me, the Zuritskys’ bold call for change was just common sense. To the permanent political class, it was an existential threat.

When 3.0 announced that it was getting in this game, I was supportive—with an asterisk. I was critical that the group, a 501c4 “independent expenditure” PAC, was not disclosing its list of contributors. Other than the Zuritskys, who laudably stepped out front, it is not known who has funded the enterprise. I still wish they’d come clean —because there is strength in numbers.

But this latest tax increase is precisely why so many of the PAC’s contributors have not come forward. Because they’re fearful that their industries will be taxed, or their places of businesses will receive visits from city inspectors, or their development projects will be stymied by the shame that is Councilmanic Prerogative. I know a number of those who have contributed to 3.0 and am refraining from outing them, because I don’t want to make it easier for the empire to strike back. And I don’t want to be complicit in punishing those who are trying to do the right thing by being engaged citizens.

This is what all the hand wringing about the perils of dark money doesn’t get. I, too, value transparency. But transparency can make you a target in a backroom, one-party town with low voter turnout. Just ask Rob Zuritsky.

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Ideas We Should Steal: Gay and Lesbian Liaison Police Unit

When he was in D.C., Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey formed a unit specializing in LGBTQ issues that has made the community safer, and won national plaudits. Why not in Philly?

by Emma Eisenberg

The police departments of most major cities have made significant efforts to reach out to their LGBTQ communities in the past 10 years through better training and active recruitment of gay and lesbian officers. But Washington, D.C., has gone even further: its Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) was formed with the mission to make sure LGBTQ citizens are protected.

D.C.’s GLLU, headed by Police Sergeant Jessica Hawkins, who is transgender, was established in the late 1990s, after two lesbian officers saw the need and advocated for it. “Hate crimes were being dramatically underreported,” Hawkins says. “The idea was to let the LGBT community know we’re available and to get rid of fear of police inside the community.”

Besides Hawkins, the GLLU has five core officers, and two affiliate officers who rotate through on a temporary basis. GLLU officers identify “hot spots” based on trends in crimes against LGBTQ people and saturate those areas, much like how Philadelphia law enforcement uses GunStat to focus their efforts on the places where data shows the most shootings occur. They also respond to crimes involving the LGBTQ community, assisting in the investigation, offering support to victims and helping to arrange hospital care. They respond to crimes of all seriousness, from murder to burglary. They are a small unit and can’t make it to every scene, Hawkins admits, but they follow up after the fact on all LGBTQ-related crimes.

According to Hawkins, half the current unit identifies as LGBTQ and the other half as “allies.” Potential officers must undergo a screening process—“We talk to their coworkers, talk to everyone. We find out what their reputation is like with the LGBT community,” she says.—and must not have any LGBT-related complaints filed against them. Selected officers then undergo the 40 hours of training required for all of DC’s special liaison units (DC also has units specifically for the protection of the Latino community, the Asian-American community, and the deaf and hard of hearing community), in which they learn about things like the gender spectrum, the difference between gender expression and gender identity, and the meaning of other terms like intersex and gender nonconforming.

Before the D.C. unit’s establishment, no same-sex domestic violence cases had been investigated, and in 1998, only two hate crimes were reported. In 2005, GLLU members investigated over 300 cases of same-sex domestic violence; 52 hate crimes were reported for the year; and the unit had a homicide case closure rate of over 95 percent

Has it been effective? In 2006, the unit received an Innovations in American Government award from Harvard University, which came with a $100,000 check. “Rather than waiting for gay community members to approach them, the GLLU reaches out to the gay community members in their own environments,” the award committee wrote. “By integrating themselves in the gay community, the GLLU officers not only establish themselves as trustworthy but also identify key information sources for future investigations.” According to Harvard’s analysis, before the unit’s establishment, no same-sex domestic violence cases had been investigated, and in 1998, only two hate crimes were reported. In 2005, GLLU members investigated over 300 cases of same-sex domestic violence; 52 hate crimes were reported for the year; and the unit had a homicide case closure rate of over 95 percent. In May of 2015, GLLU Officer Justin Markiewicz was one of 10 honorees, along with former Attorney General Eric Holder, to receive a Hero award from Capital Pride. “Justin has worked tirelessly to help improve the relationship between the LGBT community and the police department,” says the organization’s website. Continue reading

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Tom Wolf’s Big Moment

It’s been said politicians campaign in poetry, but govern in prose. We’re about to learn how much literary skill the governor has.

by Jeremy Nowak

Nowak

Nowak

Almost six months into his administration, Governor Wolf faces his most difficult task: Getting an ambitious budget through a Republican controlled legislature.

This is the new Governor’s first budget and it is not timid. It changes our tax structure and responds to popular concerns over education funding.

The budget negotiation represents the first major opportunity the Governor has to demonstrate his ability to effectively move from campaign to governance mode.  Everything else up until this period was stagecraft. Now the rubber hits the road.

Candidate Wolf spoke about his ideas of government, but he did not speak very much about governance. Except, that is, to tell everyone that he would be a different kind of politician, a phrase with less meaning as time passes.

Governor Wolf is transitioning from candidate to executive, and there are some good and bad signs emerging from that process.

On the positive side there is Wolf’s easy temperament and willingness to speak and listen to rank and file legislators, including Republicans. He has a roll up the sleeves style that is a welcome change from the past Governor who did not communicate well with his own party, let alone the opposition.

On the negative side, he has a partisan leadership team, especially Chief of Staff Katie McGinty and policy chief John Hanger, that may too easily alienate the opposition.  Let’s hope that the Governor’s secretary of legislative affairs, Mary Isenhour, is a dealmaker, because it is not clear that the others fit that bill.

Wolf has a partisan leadership team, especially Chief of Staff Katie McGinty and policy chief John Hanger. Let’s hope that the Governor’s secretary of legislative affairs, Mary Isenhour, is a dealmaker, because it is not clear that the others fit that bill.

The issues at stake are huge: what to do about unfunded pension liabilities which take a larger portion of the state and school operating budgets; what to do about the state controlled liquor store system; how to best increase the state contribution to local schools; significant changes in the tax system, and the level at which natural gas companies ought to be taxed.

When a deal gets done nobody will get everything they want. But the Governor has to be able to go back to his constituency and say he fought the good fight and accomplished certain key goals. Similarly the Republicans have to be able to say that they held back what they believe to be the most onerous parts of the Governor’s proposals. Continue reading

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The Danny Meyer of Homelessness

Rev. Bill Golderer is trying to turn lives around by applying the famed restaurateur’s principles of five-star hospitality. Can homelessness be defeated, Shake Shack style?

by Larry Platt

The speakers at this week’s Welcome Conference in New York City, where a star-studded foodie lineup gathered Monday to share ideas about the meaning and practice of hospitality, included Steve Ells, founder and CEO of Chipotle and Daniel Humm, chef and co-owner of New Yorkrestaurants Eleven Madison Park and NoMad. The closer was, of course, Danny Meyer, the guru of hospitality. Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, owns restaurants ranging from Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Café to Shake Shack. He’s the author of the bestseller Setting The Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality In Business which made hospitality into something of a movement.

But there was one Welcome Conference speaker who was not like the others. Rev. Bill Golderer is not a foodie, though he is soon to be in the restaurant business with James Beard Award-winning Philly chef Michael Solomonov and his partner Steve Cook; their Rooster Soup will turn the unused chicken parts of their Federal Donuts restaurants into stock for soup. They’re hoping to open in January; when they do, all proceeds will go to Golderer’s Broad Street Ministry, across from the Kimmel Center. “What if you could help someone who really needed it, just by eating lunch?” is their battle cry.

Bill Golderer of Broad Street Ministry

Bill Golderer of Broad Street Ministry

Golderer’s church feeds the homeless every day—but we’re not talking about soup kitchen lines doling out slop. There are no lines at Broad Street Ministry, because, according to Golderer, “lines traumatize these people, because they know from experience that there will be nothing at the end of that line for them.” So there’s a host or hostess behind a stand, as at any top-notch restaurant, and a waiting lounge if your table isn’t ready. There are volunteer waiters and linen tablecloths and place settings. Steven Seibel, a five-star chef Golderer poached from Comcast corporate dining, prepares the food. He’s challenged his tony neighbors, places like the Four Seasons, The Union League and the Ritz-Carlton, to buy into his “theory of change,” and they have, along with others in Philly’s hospitality community; they sit on his hospitality advisory board, contributing resources—both financial and human. They help him bring quality service to a population not used to being catered to. The dinner at one recent meal, for example, was an African peanut chicken stew. Diners are “guests” and their case workers are “concierges.”

This isn’t just about semantics. Edd Conboy is BSM’s Director of Social Services; he’s a psychologist and a former Silicon Valley startup consultant who has developed Broad Street’s trauma-informed harm reduction model. “In our early days, we were well-intentioned and ill-informed,” he says. “We’d have overflowing bowls of fruit and it freaked people out. We didn’t understand that, if you’re living in scarcity and you experience abundance, you make a very rational judgment—there wasn’t enough yesterday, there’s more than enough today, so there won’t be anything tomorrow. So I  better get it all now. We were actually retraumatizing our guests. Now, there’s always enough, but just enough. There are no second helpings.”

The result is that Broad Street Ministry has become an oasis. “I can walk into The Sofitel and no one says to me, ‘You don’t belong here,’” Golderer says. “Our guests are told every day, in both subtle and unsubtle ways, that they’re not wanted. When you live in scarcity, everything out there is anxiety-producing. We’re a stress-free place of belonging.” Continue reading

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The Citizen Recommends: Connor Barwin’s Second Annual MTWB Benefit Concert

The Eagles’ All-Pro linebacker might be the city’s most engaged athlete ever. On Saturday, his indie-rock concert will raise funds for Smith Playground.

by Larry Platt

Connor Barwin slides all 6’5” of his chiseled frame into a booth at Fairmount’s La Calaca Feliz, one of his favorite haunts. “He hasn’t been here before,” he tells the waiter, nodding in my direction. “So I told him it doesn’t even make sense to look at the menu. You gotta have the sea bass.”

Connor Barwin

Connor Barwin

They are in agreement, both feeding off the other’s enthusiasm. I concur and, after a couple of hours of head-spinning conversation, realize that the moment was a harbinger of what was to come: Connor Barwin, in an era of too many dour-faced, Neanderthal jocks, is all about his enthusiasms. He’s this wide-eyed gentle Goliath, ever curious, grilling me on the history of this city that, more and more, he’s representing in a type of ambassador role. Last week, there he was, live on the Fox-29 Morning Show, knocking on an unsuspecting homeowner’s door and helping to direct the installation of a green roof for NRG Energy, one of the nation’s leading green energy providers. (In the off-season, Barwin heads to Haiti and actually helps do the installation; this close to the season’s kickoff, however, he was relegated to a ceremonial role). And this Saturday at Union Transfer, he’ll be hosting his second annual Make The World Better concert; last year, $185,000 was raised for Ralph Brooks Park in Point Breeze. This time, the renovations are targeted for South Philly’s Smith Playground and include rec center building improvements, new football and baseball fields, and installation of green stormwater infrastructure. (Purchase tickets here)

Barwin is an active citizen of Philadelphia. “I read a lot of Jane Jacobs, who said that cities are all about feet on the street,” he says. “I like to be part of that energy.”

This is not for show. Countless athletes lend their names to foundations and good works, enabling them to honestly mouth familiar platitudes about “giving back” that pepper post-game interviews. Barwin—who is as hands-on with his Foundation as any athlete I’ve ever seen—is engaged in the city to the point of self-definition. It is who he is. You see him riding his bike from Center City to Fairmount or taking SEPTA. Instead of cloistering himself in jockdom, he hangs out with musicians, artists, writers—the type of characters that make cities unique and vibrant. He walks our streets, soaking up our architecture, searching out quirky joints and interesting people, as a matter of ingrained ideology. Continue reading

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