Liz Dow on Philly school leadership, Chicago’s comedy scene and George Bailey
"Five Questions with ..." is a regular Keystone Crossroads feature where we seek to glean wisdom and ideas from some of Pennsylvania's top urban thinkers and doers. Liz Dow is president and CEO of LEADERSHIP Philadelphia.
Q: Tell us about an amenity or service that you've seen in your travels to other places that you wish you could bring back to your city/community.
A: Chicago's comedy scene is engaging, uplifting, and a magnet for talent and Millennials. Chicago takes comedy seriously. It is an industry there. Second City and Improv Olympic train the country's best comedians. Philadelphia's comedy scene is growing, through 1812 Productions, Philly Improv Theater, and Helium Comedy Club, but we could use more investment, bench strength, and laughter.
Q: What's one urban improvement idea that you could categorize as "nice try but didn't work"?
A: While every Philadelphia School District Superintendent has come armed with experience, ideas, and good intentions, the seesaw of centralization, decentralization, and inadequate funding strategies has failed to provide our children the education that they deserve and that our economy demands. The current team's plans are compelling and with adequate funding could head us in the right direction.
Q: Describe a person in your community who is a "spark" — someone who seems to get things done and inspire people. (This does not need to be an elected official.)
A: That's easy- Jane Golden, head of the Mural Arts Program. Her vision, tenacity, and devotion have led to the creation of over 3000 public murals. The paintings are the tip of the iceberg. What is not visible is the neighborhood coalescing, social justice initiatives, and individual and collective healing that goes on behind the scenes. Jane's art is a beacon of hope. Her process weaves the fabric of community together more tightly. Her passionate, productive civic engagement sparks innovation, inspiration, and a sense of local identity.
Q: What flaw or habit does your city/community have that you would like to see it change?
A: Too many Philadelphians take the beauty, richness, and opportunities available in this city for granted. Outsiders fall in love with the place. They tend to be vocal about it and step up to try to make it better. Perhaps if more people appreciated the bounty here we would have a stronger collective "can do attitude" and apply that energy to strengthen the economy, build civic pride, and get more done. We need more Tigger and less Eeyore.
Q: Tell us about a movie or book that depicts, in a way that grabbed your attention, how a city can thrive or fail.
A: "It's a Wonderful Life." I started watchIng it as a child and it taught me how to be a good citizen. It shows us how a community thrives when we watch out for one another and step in to help neighbors in need. The lead character, George Bailey, is vigilant about helping others behind the scenes not to build power but rather because it is the right thing to do. We all have that goodness in us. Using it more often and more broadly helps the city to thrive.
Is there someone you know who thinks hard about cities and knows how to get things done? Someone whom Keystone Crossroads should spend "Five Questions with ..." Please let us know in the comment sections below or via Facebook or Twitter @Pacrossroads.
Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival? explores the urgent challenges pressing upon Pennsylvania's cities. Four public media newsrooms are collaborating to report in depth on the root causes of our state's urban crisis — and on possible solutions. Keystone Crossroads offers reports on radio, Web, social media, television and newspapers, and through public events.