Will PGW go on the block?
Four years after the Economy League studied privatizing the Philadelphia Gas Works, the city's investment banker has concluded that PGW can and should be sold. Lazard Frères & Co. LLC estimates that PGW could fetch between $1.5 billion and $1.85 billion, enough to pay off its estimated minimum $1.5 billion debt. The city also could relieve itself of a major fiscal and administrative headache. However, Lazard cautioned that the city might get less in business tax payments from a privatized PGW than the $18 million in fees it gets now from PGW. The 2008 Economy League study, which was funded by Pew and the William Penn Foundation, showed that Philadelphians have paid higher gas rates than residents of other snowbelt cities, many of which have privatized gas works. Nutter supports a sale. Next step could take a year or longer, including getting bids and approval from the state Public Utility Commission.
Philly R&D capacity stands out
The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia has launched the next phase of its multi-year "World Class Greater Philadelphia" initiative: drafting three "actionable" strategic plans for progress in business growth, infrastructure improvement and education/workforce readiness in the Philadelphia region. The Economy League will help implement the plans and track their progress. Last week, it provided some sobering indicators of Philadelphia's rank (PDF) in educational attainment, entrepreneurship, and other realms. Most show Philly trailing other metro areas. But the region has a strong R&D "innovation capacity" from its universities and life-science companies, one measure on which Philly overshadows other metro regions.
Do employers use the workforce system?
As part of our recent study of Philadelphia's publicly funded workforce development system, we calculated the percentage of companies in Philadelphia and statewide that are registered to get recruiting and other services from their local workforce systems. In Philadelphia, just 12 percent of city-based employers were signed up, compared with 25 percent elsewhere in Pennnsylvania. We've now assembled comparable percentages for each of the state's 23 workforce investment areas. See how they stacked up to Philadelphia here.
Cities lose 4 million trees a year
Trees, according to various studies, help cities economically, ecologically, and psychologically. Now a new study sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service has found that urban areas lost 0.27 percent of their tree cover each year, on average, during the past decade. That amounted to about 4 million trees, replaced by bare ground or "impervious" surfaces like parking lots or buildings.
Philadelphia was not included in the study, and the authors do not conclude that the new "impervious" surfaces were necessarily bad for the cities. Still, the study had something to say about urban tree-planting programs, like Philadelphia's new TreePhilly campaign and others that were struggling. The study authors conclude: "While these individual (planting) campaigns are helping to increase or reduce the loss of urban tree cover, more widespread, comprehensive and integrated programs that focus on sustaining overall tree canopy may be needed to help reverse the trend of declining tree cover in cities."
Philly advances on 'land bank'
For decades, Philadelphia has wrestled with the problem of vacant property and its associated problems: crime, dumping, uncollected taxes. Now, City Council is considering a "land bank" to address the problem. Currently, four city agencies have domain over vacant land, leading to stalled redevelopment efforts. The legislation (PDF) would establish a single "land bank" to hold city-owned vacant property and create one uniform procedure for dispensing with property. Prospective developers and community groups would know where to go and what to expect. Atlanta, Cleveland and St. Louis each have land banks, although not without complications. Even if Philly's bill passes, state legislators must grant the city legal authority to create a land bank. The stakes are high, as documented by an Inquirer/PlanPhilly series.
Top authors at the Free Library in 2011
- Kathryn Stockett, The Help
- James Patterson, Tick Tock
- Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
- Sherman Alexie, War Dances
- John Grisham, Confession
- Jonathan Franzen, Freedom
- Terry McMillan, Getting to Happy
Book lending, while still a major public service of the library, is just one of many functions today of this 121-year-old institution. In an upcoming report, we examine the library's struggle with the growing and diversifying demands on its resources and facilities, and we compare it to libraries in other cities. On Wednesday, March 14, 6:00 p.m. at the main library, we will present our report with a panel discussion. Register here to attend.