Cantonese Connection

Guangzhou Metro Imagined 2040

Trade with Canton in Southern China helped Philadelphia get rich in the 18th century. The connection to that city was a notable one, as Philadelphia homes filled with Chinese pottery and silks and the merchant trader Stephen Girard hung portraits of his Chinese business partners. The Philadelphia-Canton connection was also notable for the length of the journey (Girard had his ship captains stop constantly, doing business at ports along the way) and for the strange way the Delaware Bay on one end of the trip perfectly mirrored the Pearl River estuary on the other.

Canton is now the 12.5 million person mega-city Guangzhou, like Philadelphia a leader in higher education and medicine.

Until 1997, Guangzhou had no metro system. But sustained investment, nimble leadership, and creative public policy since then has made the city a global mass transit heavyweight. Guangzhou Metro has 4.4 million riders a day, a contactless fare system, and a consultant division, which advises other cities on how to expand mass transit (how’s that for innovation in the public sector?).

All this points up our lack of leadership and imagination on this key facet of urban development. Last week, facing the prospect of having to act on transit issues, Governor Corbett said he already had “too many balls in the air.”

It’s not fair, of course, to compare American and Chinese cities, but neither is it right to ignore what these fast-growing, by necessity innovative places are doing. In fact, the more we try to connect to that broader urban world, the more we will be compelled to take our own future seriously. We might say it’s a strategy that worked for Stephen Girard.

About the author

Nathaniel Popkin is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including the forthcoming Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (Temple Press) and a novel, Lion and Leopard (The Head and the Hand Press). He is the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
In Sharswood, Effort To Save Dox Thrash House Gains Momentum

In Sharswood, Effort To Save Dox Thrash House Gains Momentum

March 20, 2018  |  News

As modern urban renewal continues to erase African-American history in North Philly, one group works against the odds to preserve a renowned Philadelphia artist's legacy. Starr Herr-Cardillo has the story > more

New 40th Street Trolley Portal Design Dull On Arrival

New 40th Street Trolley Portal Design Dull On Arrival

March 19, 2018  |  Vantage

University City District's beautification of the 40th Street Trolley Portal was high on concept, but appears to have fumbled on delivery. Contributor Ann de Forest has the full review > more

Confusion And Quibbling At Mayor's Preservation Task Force Meeting

Confusion And Quibbling At Mayor’s Preservation Task Force Meeting

March 15, 2018  |  News

Mayor Kenney's Historic Preservation Task Force convened today following the release of a draft of a summary of summaries on the state of preservation in Philadelphia. Logistical bickering and sticker activities ensued. Starr Herr-Cardillo reports > more

Remembering Philly's 1967 School Walkout & The Attack On Teen Activism

Remembering Philly’s 1967 School Walkout & The Attack On Teen Activism

March 13, 2018  |  Vantage

On the eve of the national student walkout honoring the victims of the Parkland shooting, Michael Bixler takes a look back at November 17, 1967 when teenage activists demonstrating for equal rights became the target of a violent police attack > more

Oscar's Tavern Still Parties Like It's 1972

Oscar’s Tavern Still Parties Like It’s 1972

March 12, 2018  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow saddles up to the bar at Oscar's Tavern where the spirit of "Old Philadelphia" is as effervescent as their lagers > more

Back When We Burned Trash On The Delaware River

Back When We Burned Trash On The Delaware River

March 9, 2018  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. takes us on a whirlwind exploration of Philadelphia's notorious garbage problem, starting with the long-gone East Central Incinerator at Penn's Landing and then sailing around the globe before returning to today's trashy situation > more