What's the Scenario? Economy League's World Class Greater Philadelphia Initiative Images 2026

May 26, 2011

Joe Petrucci, Flying Kite 


Imagine that it's 2026 and oil prices have spiraled higher to $200 per barrel, while alternative energy efforts have fizzled out. The specter of terrorism still looms globally, and the U.S. is still a leader when it comes to keeping the peace, but we've emerged more competitive economically with a reformed and vastly improved education system.

The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia refers to this possibility as "Partners in Hard Times," and it's one of four future scenarios developed through its ambitious World Class Greater Philadelphia initiative. The others include "Global Village," "Tight Belts," and "America in the Driver's Seat," and the Economy League's latest report - 2026: Future Histories of Greater Philadelphia - details these scenarios, what led to them, and how it sets up opportunities and challenges specifically for our region. 

"The key is not to choose one future over another but rather to see which factors are common to all potential futures. If the region focuses on those, we'll be prepared for whichever scenario comes to pass," says Josh Sevin, the Economy League's deputy director. "It's being able to look ahead and take advantage of assets we already have as much as addressing deficits.

"The strength of the four narratives is that they stick with people more than tables or charts."

The 80-page report traces the region's growth, from Holy Experiment to Workshop of the World to Downtown Revival, which sets the stage for another era in Greater Philadelphia that will emerge in the next decade-and-a-half. The Economy League borrowed a management tool commonly used by major corporations and institutions and known as scenario planning - a strategic planning method used by organizations to make flexible long-term plans and that is rooted in classic military intelligence methods.

Fittingly, it's a tool developed in part at The Wharton School and executed in the region by Decisions Strategies International, a Conshohocken-based firm that works with Fortune 500 companies worldwide. Company founder and CEO Paul Schoemaker, who developed and perfected DSI's approach, is the research director for the Mack Center for Technological Innovation at Wharton.

The key to scenario planning isn't necessarily the scenarios themselves, but rather the common themes that can be identified through multiple scenarios. In the case of Greater Philadelphia's future histories, the following priorities emerged: Business creation and entrepreneurship, education and talent development, international connections, higher education, infrastructure, public safety and efficient government and public-private partnerships.

"Recent history suggests that nothing is more certain than uncertainty," says Steve Wray, Economy League executive director. "Working with these futures will help Greater Philadelphia to be resilient and to thrive because -- or in spite -- of change. The most successful regions are able to anticipate and adapt to the future as it unfolds, and the 2026 scenarios put Greater Philadelphia in a position to do just that."

There's also a video contest - FastForward Philadelphia - that challenges filmmakers to create original short videos about life in Philadelphia in 2026 as described in the report. Winning submissions win $2,026, and the judging panel includes actress Kim Delaney, filmmaker Tigre Hill and Sharon Pinkenson of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office.

World Class Greater Philadelphia began in 2009 as the Economy League celebrated its 100th birthday and wondered how the Philadelphia area could develop into the world-class region many believe it already is. World Class started with benchmarking of foundational research on where Philadelphia ranks in dozens of competitiveness metrics from educational attainment to air quality. 

This data informed 17 roundtables throughout the tri-state area where participants discussed headlines they'd most like to see in the papers ("Violent crime in region's core communities at 100-year low" and "3 of 10 most innovative products in last decade originate in Greater Philadelphia"). Those headlines formed the basis of a two-day scenario planning workshop for a cross-section of regional leaders in October 2010. The four scenarios, or "future histories" were released with the 2026 report at the end of last month. 

Over the summer, the Economy League will hold a series of roundtables to promote discussion around the four futures. At these roundtables, leaders from Greater Philadelphia's business, civic, and government communities will reflect on the regional implications of the four "futures" presented in our recent 2026: Future Histories of Greater Philadelphia report. Roundtable participants will engage in discussion about these four possible futures and work to identify the priority issues that we must focus on as a region, no matter which future comes to pass.

"It's not just a bunch of wonks going into a room and trying to get some ideas," says Sevin, who also noted that increased optimism in local government has helped keep momentum rolling for World Class. 

"It's meant to be an open source project. The success of World Class depends on input from all of the region's stakeholders. Our biggest role is to convene thoughtful, forward-thinking people, guide the process, and eventually monitor progress."

The Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Commerce Department agreea, announcing a $150,000 grant for World Class in early April. The initiative's next milestone will come in the fall with the release of three to four long-term priorities that World Class will be organized around, including strategy development through cross-sector focus groups around those priority areas.

No matter which scenario emerges, 2026 will be a historic time in Greater Philadelphia - the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Chances are, one of the four future scenarios - a poll of recent workshop participants gave each one an almost equal chance of occurring - will shape what kind of celebration will take place.


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Photos by Jeff Fusco, courtesy of Economy League:
View from New Jersey of Philly and the Ben Franklin Bridge
The Economy League's World Class Greater Philadelphia initiative
The Eiffel Tower at the Kimmel Center during PIFA last month