Inclusive Prosperity in an Age of Local Action

An economic boom in the University City area of Philadelphia brings job growth and real estate development. (Photo courtesy of Radnor Property Group)

The new face of 21st-century prosperity emerges outside a second floor window at 38th and Market Streets in the University City area of Philadelphia. Construction cranes mark a skyline proliferating with new health care facilities and technology accelerators, symbolic of a recent $5 billion building boom within a single square mile. Vacant lots stand ready for a new wave of development, which will add a planned 10 million square feet of real estate and shift Philadelphia’s downtown westward over the next decade.

On the other side of the window, a different sort of transformation takes hold—this time on a human scale. Twenty-five unemployed men and women sit around a U-shaped table, listening in rapt attention as a facilitator prepares them for successful launch into the workforce. They are the latest participants in the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI), started six years ago by the organization I run, University City District, with a mission to connect large employers seeking entry-level talent with unemployed community members seeking work. WPSI responds to a palpable opportunity divide: In eight square blocks in Philadelphia, the acceleration of economic activity is unrivaled in all but a few places in the United States, while in the five neighboring zip codes, one-third of the population lives in poverty.

West Philadelphia Skills Initiative trainees prepare for jobs at local medical institutions. (Photo by Ryan Collerd)

There are windows like the one at 38th and Market across the United States. The geography of urban prosperity very often transects swaths of economic disconnection. But talent is everywhere, equally distributed in all directions. How we bridge the gulf…

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