This week, 150 leaders from Philadelphia are in Seattle to think about how to build future forward cities and regions that work, move, live, and thrive for everyone. The trip is known as GPLEX, and we call ourselves GPLEXers.

Jeff Hornstein, the executive director of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, started the day with a story about the differences in the neighborhoods of the region he serves. “About 10 years ago,” Hornstein says, “I was visiting a worker at her home in West Philadelphia near 54th and Christian. My foot fell through the rotting porch of the house where she and several other adults were living. She was the only one with a job, and it was a minimum wage job. As I extricated my foot from the floorboards, I looked up to see the gleaming towers of Center City in the distance.”

His own neighborhood, Hornstein continues, “represents one of the starkest race and class divides in our region. On the North side, almost all of the residents are white college graduates with upper middle class incomes, kids who go to summer camps and magnet high schools. On the South side of the street, incomes decline by two thirds, the families are black and brown, the kids do not go to summer camp, the parents did not go to college.”

“That’s why I’m here,” says Hornstein.

Listen to his invitation to work together with his 21st century think-and-do-tank to build a better Greater Philadelphia.

A love letter to Seattle: “We can dream anything”

Jonathan Sposato, the chairman and co-founder of, opened with his breathtaking love letter to Seattle, “Launching into Tomorrow: Unlocking Success from Sasquatch Culture.” Sposato only invests in female-founded companies, and his new book is entitled, “Better Together: 8 Ways Working with Women Leads to Extraordinary Products and Profits.”

“We have the potential to show the world here is an interesting and alternate way of doing things.” — Jonathan Sposato


How Seattle works

“If there is a salvation,” says Anuj Gupta, the general manager for the Reading Terminal Market Corporation, “it is going to come from American cities and the regions that surround them.”

Introducing a panel on the strengths and weaknesses of our metro areas, Gupta continues, “It’s going to be in places like Seattle and Philadelphia where a solution to homelessness is found…. It will be in cities like these that we finally figure out a way to deliver an equitable public education that teaches kids across racial and income lines….”

David Wertheimer, the director of community and civic engagement for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, moderated the panel on how Seattle works including Tim Burgess, the former mayor; Marilyn Strickland, the president of the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce; and Alejandra Tres, the executive director of the Municipal League of King County. On issues from education to housing, the panel discussed access, equity, and inclusion — and how to get things done.

Over lunch, the conversation focused on cultivating diversity and inclusion with Dalila Wilson-Scott, senior vice president of community impact for Comcast, and Rodney Hines, director of US Social Impact for Starbucks.

Exploring the region

Three regional explorations were offered for deeper, on the ground learning about the challenges and opportunities facing Seattle.

Models for inclusive redevelopment

A group of GPLEXers made their way to the 30-acre neighborhood near downtown Seattle called Yesler Terrace to explore Seattle Housing Authority’s (SHA) redevelopment of the state’s first subsidized housing built in the 1940s.

SHA has collaborated with community members, a private developer, the City of Seattle, nonprofits, and others to re-envision Yesler Terrace, which was also the first racially integrated public housing in the country.

With aging buildings and ideas emerging from conversations with residents, a process started in 2013 to create something new: a mixed-income community that offers a range of affordable housing as well as market-rate units. The new neighborhood is about 40 percent complete, says Jared Johnson, SHA’s policy and program manager of real estate development. The neighborhood will go from 561 units to 5,000 units — one of the densest neighborhoods in the city.

Hear from Ken Koth, executive director of the Center for Community Engagement at Seattle University, on how SHA collaborated with the local school district to find opportunities to help students and families. In the past year, Koth says 17 families experiencing homelessness with students at the local elementary school now have housing in the neighborhood.

Koth also asks big questions whose answers he thinks will determine the success of the initiative:

“One is, will renters from a variety of different economic backgrounds mix together and create a community, or will they be sort of isolated pockets by buildings?” Koth asks. “A second is, will the neighborhood lead to the opportunity for residents, particularly in public housing, to have upward mobility in terms of economic opportunity?”

The partnership between SHA and private developer Vulcan Real Estate, who is building the market-rate units, was a crucial one.

“Believe it or not, a lot of private sector developers could not see the vision,” Johnson said. “Yesler had always been a place where you drove through and not drove to.”

Johnson says once Vulcan got interested in the project, people started to pay attention. Mike Woo, Vulcan’s development manager, speaks on why Vulcan was attracted to the project.

SHA made sure to prioritize the concerns and needs of the residents of “old Yesler.” Johnson says choice was the most important part of helping residents through the transition of their community. Residents were promised comparable housing and financial support with moving if needed, a priority placement in new housing if they returned, or a direct move from old to new housing if available immediately.

Walking around the neighborhood today, one will find resident gardens, playgrounds with astonishing views of the city, parks with soccer fields and basketball courts, and, throughout it all, artwork.

Listen below to Jennifer Song, SHA’s Arts at Yesler administrator, on the role art played in the redevelopment process for residents.

Moving goods and people

Another group of GPLEXers visited the Sea-Tac Airport.

“Operated by the Port of Seattle, the Sea-Tac Airport serves nearly 47 million passengers annually and is the third largest international cargo airport on the West Coast. Reflecting the region’s growth, the airport continues to break annual passenger and cargo records as it looks for ways to meet increasing demand while utilizing limited space. Participants will get an insider’s look at airport operations, including the cargo handling facilities, followed by a panel discussion highlighting Sea-Tac’s innovative partnerships to develop sustainable aviation fuel and strengthen trade relationships.” — The Economy League’s Briefing Book

James Tyrrell, the chief revenue officer for the Philadelphia International Airport, notes the importance of e-commerce and “thinking cargo” now and in the future.

Building live-work-play spaces

The third group of GPLEXers jumped on a street car to go and visit what is known as Amazonia. Hornstein says, “We need to understand what happens when a company like Amazon drops thousands of jobs on a neighborhood.”

“While Amazon’s impact is felt across the region, nowhere is it more intense than in the South Lake Union neighborhood, or SLU. The company occupies 8 million square feet of office space and more than 5,000 Amazon employees live in the neighborhood. We will visit SLU’s tech and health research campuses and learn about the transformation of the neighborhood from a low-density industrial district to “Amazonia,” a live-work-play tech mecca. Following the tour, we will hear about innovative efforts to meet the tech sector’s workforce needs while expanding opportunity and diversifying the workforce.” — The Economy League’s Briefing Book

South Lake Union was built in 15 years. Amazon buildings are the dots in yellow. Designed for people to live, work, and play here, the streetscapes

Sheila Ireland, the executive director of the Office of Workforce Development for the City of Philadelphia and Jennifer Carlson, the executive director of the Washington Technology Industry Association Workforce Institute, discussed how to attract, develop, and retain workers, and “innovative efforts to meet the tech sector’s workforce needs while expanding opportunity and diversifying the workforce.”

Carlson said there is a huge gap between supply and demand for tech workers, and even wider gaps when you look at gender and race. Closing the gap will happen through apprenticeships and developing competency, she said, not credentials. Median wage for incoming Apprenti apprentices is $28K, and 53 percent of them have college degrees. Carlson said the single greatest barrier to growth is access to talent.

Here is a video about Apprenti:

Here Hornstein unpacks the architecture and culture of Amazonia, and offers takeaways from this regional exploration.

“When you have an engaged business community that wants to develop the workforce, you can do pretty amazing things.”

So what? Now what?

At the Seattle-Philadelphia leadership reception held at the Museum of Pop Culture, Nick Frontino with the Economy League and Danya Henninger with Billy Penn announced GPLEX Labs and the Full City Challenge:

This Full City Challenge is focused on food. Frontino said GPLEX Labs will allow the Economy League to harness the knowledge and relationships of GPLEXers —a cohort that is now 1,000 strong — using their influence, expertise, and passion to foster equity, inclusion, and growth. Henninger, looking at the crowd, said, “Who better to come up with innovative ideas ideas but you?”

A force for change indeed.


The Economy League and Billy Penn will be releasing additional details about the Full City Challenge this fall. Stay tuned.

Understanding what this leadership exchange means to these leaders

It’s only day one of our GPLEX trip to Seattle, but already the leaders were reflecting on the importance of the experience.

This is what it looks like “to be of the city, and make it a better place for everyone,” said Henninger while announcing GPLEX Labs. This is the work and leadership of think-and-do tanks in the 21st century.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *