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Commentary: Lessons learned from L.A. can help address Philly problems

November 28, 2016

By Christina Chepel, Julie Coker Graham, Peter Gonzales, and Hugh Lavery, Philadelphia Inquirer

 

In some ways, Philadelphia couldn't be more different from Los Angeles. We're an old Northeast corridor region known for our "eds and meds" industry strengths. They are a sunny and sprawling metro that's home to Hollywood and Disneyland. With more than twice our total population and an urban form that is vastly different from our own, the L.A. metro area can seem to offer little in the way of helpful comparisons to Philadelphia.

 

Earlier this fall, 132 leaders from our region traveled to Los Angeles for the Economy League's 11th annual Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange with a healthy dose of skepticism about what we could learn from the City of Angels. Our goal was to take a deeper look at how L.A. is grappling with big challenges and opportunities, with an eye toward importing promising practices back home.

 

We spent three days in conversations with business and civic leaders, and the takeaway was clear: The more you get into the real L.A. story, the more you see just how much we can learn from the nation's second-largest metropolitan area. Here are five actionable ideas that Philly can and should steal from L.A.:

 

Find a third way for our schools. With the nation's second-largest school district and the largest network of charters, L.A. grapples with many of the same K-12 challenges as Philadelphia, including a growing strain between its traditional public and charter school systems. Amid these tensions, L.A. has forged a promising "third way" with the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. While operating 19 historically underserved institutions within the L.A. school district, the partnership has dramatically improved educational outcomes while driving an impressive array of district-wide policy changes - an original, though largely unfulfilled, promise of charter school expansion.

 

Go big on infrastructure. Decades of frustration in Los Angeles over traffic congestion and long commute times contributed to the passage of landmark funding for transit investments in 2008. A half-cent sales tax increase provided $40 billion for transportation projects over 30 years, and a permanent extension of the tax was approved by voters earlier this month. Significant investments in the port and airport - including a $2-billion modernization of the airport's international terminal - are likewise helping L.A. maintain its competitive advantage as a transport hub.

 

Build on tech strengths. Building on its legacy strengths in the entertainment, aerospace, and health-care industries, Los Angeles is nurturing a growing tech sector that's giving other cities a run for their money. Silicon Beach, a three-mile stretch on L.A.'s Westside, is now home to more than 500 tech start-ups, as well as established firms like Facebook, YouTube, and Disney that are seeking to capitalize on the area's momentum. The region has also become a leader in clean-tech innovation, in part driven by a state mandate for utilities to acquire 50 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030.

 

Bring home the federal bacon. In an era of scarce grant funding, pooling limited resources is a necessity for communities seeking to tackle big, entrenched challenges. Los Angeles has taken this imperative to heart with LA n Sync, a cross-sector partnership that pursues highly competitive government and foundation funding. To date, the partnership has won 13 grants totaling $156 million and four federal designations for $114 million, leveraging new private philanthropic contributions along the way.

 

Organize for the long haul. In the wake of the 1992 riots and civil unrest in L.A., collaboration and coalition building across ethnic and racial communities has become a defining feature of the region. The local labor movement - reinvigorated by an expanding immigrant base - has played a critical leadership role in rallying diverse coalitions around progressive policy reforms, including community benefits agreements and the recent passage of a $15 minimum wage. In addition, sustained investments in neighborhood organizing have notably expanded the capacity of community development corporations.

 

As we look to apply the lessons learned, we're more confident than ever that the Philadelphia region's business, civic, government, and philanthropic leaders are well-positioned to tackle our biggest challenges and opportunities. It always helps to take a close look at our peers for inspiration and perspective.

 

Christina Chepel ( cchepel@kpmg.com), Julie Coker Graham (JulieC@discoverPHL.com), Peter Gonzales ( peter@welcomingcenter.org) and Hugh Lavery ( Hugh.Lavery@jefferson.edu) are the co-chairs of the 2016 Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange, an initiative of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.

 

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