Two weeks ago, when I asked everyday Philadelphians to submit their ideas for improving life in the city, I had no idea that the floodgates would open, but that's what happened. 

 

Ideas came in not only from the city, but also from the suburbs.

They came from non-profits and business owners, entrepreneurs and students.

They came from everyone.

The more I looked at the ideas and the variety of people who submitted them, the more intrigued and encouraged I became. I now believe that we can do more than come together to submit ideas.

We can come together to implement them

You see, it is not just the ideas that make us stronger. It's working to make them real. That's what I've learned through this grand Philadelphia Experiment.

I've learned that the city so many have tried to divide is united by one common thread: the desire to get better.

I've learned that beneath our outward differences, we share a bond that allows us to see our problems through a common lens, to craft solutions with diversity of thought, and hopefully, prayerfully, to solve them with a unified effort.

Here, for your consideration and comment, are the latest solutions identified by people who live or work in the city we all share. Please consider them carefully, and if you believe they can work for our city, let's figure out how to make them happen.

The Problem

Philadelphia's business community is strong in certain areas, especially where big businesses are concerned.

Comcast — which in 2012 was ranked 49th on Money magazine's Fortune 500 after purchasing a majority stake in NBC Universal — is a locally based media conglomerate that is international in scope. But in the decades since Philadelphia lost its distinction as a leading manufacturing hub, scores of smaller businesses, many of them factories, have closed or relocated, and our neighborhoods reflect the devastation.

Philadelphia must find ways to keep small businesses in the city, and to give ownership to the people who live here.

Solution 1: David Woo, an instructor at an East Falls gym, shared an idea on Facebook that would solidify small businesses.

"Cooperative enterprise," Woo wrote. "We educate people that economic democracy is the foundation of our political democracy and that we can 'own' our own businesses ... not as individuals but as communities and neighborhoods. An example is the Food Co-op model. Imagine more of these businesses, that aren't going to pick-up and move production overseas because the owners are shareholders — the people who work there."

Solution 2: Tricia Shore, a yoga instructor at The Salvation Army Kroc Center of Philadelphia, said one solution is to engage community members through an online survey to spur neighborhood economic development.

"The online survey would be sent out to a neighborhood with a list of prospective services and the neighbors would answer it by clicking the services they'd want in their neighborhoods," she said in a phone interview after submitting her idea through Facebook.

Shore, who said she has worked as a neighborhood organizer in the past, said it's all about identifying a neighborhood's assets and matching them with the neighborhood's needs.

Land and buildings are neighborhood assets, she said. Even when they're vacant, they have the potential to be developed. And they are especially valuable when they're developed into owner-occupied, home based businesses.

"It helps when people can go downstairs and cut hair or make something that they can sell — make it their livelihood," she said. When people work in their neighborhoods "you don't need as much childcare and commuting and it's less expensive [for the workers]."

Shore holds North 5th Street up as an example of a neighborhood where small businesses bolster the local economy.

"Almost every building has a business in it," Shore said. "There are more businesses there than we have on some commercial strips in Jenkintown."

What's your big idea?

Next week, in the last of three parts, I'll post more of the ideas I received from regular Philadelphians.

If you've got a great idea to make Philadelphia better — an idea that can be implemented online — share it in the comments section below, and it could be featured on my blog next week.