Elevating Chicago

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Chicago vs. Philadelphia: Tale of the (Livable) Tape

Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

With the holiday weekend coming up, this'll be our last post until at least Tuesday.  This means it's also our last post before the Stanley Cup Finals start Saturday night.  Lots of people have broken down the game and the two cities: from the beards to the architecture to even the actual teams.  And while I don't like to mock another city which is trying (and in some cases succeeding) to make itself more livable, I'm perfectly willing to take a few swipes at a city I called home for four years in the name of civic competition.  So, onto the matchups:

Toews vs Leighton.png

Bruce Bartlett/Getty Images

Philadelphia: 1,547,901 (#5 nationally); 8.84 million in the metro area, 11,410 people per square mile; lost about 40,000 people since 1990.
Chicago: 2,853,114 (#3 nationally); 9.79 million in the metro area, 12,649 people per square mile; gained about 70,000 people since 1990.
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Regional Dominance
There's a reason why the Midwest High Speed Rail is also known as the "Chicago Hub."  O'Hare is the hub for American and United, and Southwest counts Midway among its focus cities.   Illinois would be indistinguishable from Iowa without Chicago.  (No offense Iowa, but facts are facts.)

Philadelphia is basically New York's Milwaukee.  They're lucky Amtrak's Acela trains don't skip it like they do other "local" stations.  Their international airport is a hub for UPS and US Airways.  They only anchor half of Pennsylvania's economy (and their hockey team is usually vastly overshadowed by their yinzer brethren.) 
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Mass Transit
SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority) is what the CTA will look like in 5-10 years if we let it fall into a Death Spiral.  Riders use tokens (!) to get on its two piss-stained subway lines, 5 trolleys, and the Norristown High Speed Line, which is basically a school bus on rails.  Ok, they have a subway stop that serves the Wachovia Center directly, but their "Sports Complex" is just 4 stadia in a ½ mile-square parking lot nestled between two highways--the opposite of walkable.

Philadelphia also has a pretty good bus system (they better, considering the state of their rail system,) but it also relies on tokens and cash fares. Plus, Philadelphia's status as an older American city means its streets are perilously narrow, and yet they still allow for on-street parking on most streets.  As a result, on many streets the only way to get around a bus is if you're skinny and ride a bike. 
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Commuter Rail
SEPTA also runs the commuter rail system on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware, and they do an OK job of it.  Eight lines running in every direction, including the very handy R1 which takes 18 minutes from the airport to Center City twice an hour.  There's also New Jersey's Port Authority Transit Company (PATCO) that runs trains from New Jersey into Center City.  All in all, not a bad system, and on par with Metra.  Call it a split. 
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Ruinous Urban Highways
Neither Chicago nor Philadelphia has a stellar record when it comes to plunging neighborhood-crushing highways through their urban hearts.  The Kennedy cuts off the West Loop and leaves a weird no man's land next to the North Branch of the river.  The Stevenson will be seen as the growth-stopper it is as the South Loop renews itself in the coming years.

Fortunately, Philly does us one worse.  Along the Schuylkill River, there's great park space around their Art Museum (famous for its "Rocky Steps" not actually, y'know the art that's there) while the western bank of the river is given over to I-76.  I-676 (aka the Vine St. Expressway) is an open gash that connects I-76 to I-95 less than a half mile from City Hall.  And to top it all off, I-95 cuts off the beautiful Society Hill, Old City, and Northern Liberties neighborhoods from the Delaware River.  If it wasn't so awful, it'd be almost impressive how well Philly has isolated itself from two of its defining natural features. 
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Park Space
As I said, there's some nice park space hidden behind Philly's Art Museum.  And they even have 4 nice little squares--Rittenhouse, Franklin, Washington, and Logan!  The Boulevard System puts all of this to shame, and that's completely ignoring Grant Park, Lincoln Park, and the fact that we have beaches. 
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Walk Score
Finally, something a bit more objective: 76-74, Chicago.  Count it. 
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Our bike network will total to more than 500 miles when all is said and done.  Philly can only muster 300 miles.  OK, we're a bigger city.  Philly gets the point, at least until I see Mayor Daley actually take part in Bike-to-Work day, like Philadelphia's Mayor Nutter has. 
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Hawks 2nd logo.gifChicago 6.5
Thumbnail image for philadelphia_flyers.gifPhiladelphia 1.5



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