The people who call their hometown Fluffya -- which is to say, the people who have lived all their lives in its rowhouses -- are feeling pretty good about the place, I suspect. They've just come through a mayoral primary that was billed as black-vs.-white but that was probably just as much future-vs.-past.
They voted for the future. It doesn't look so scary anymore.
Fluffya went through a rough patch in the 1960s and '70s. Its job base was hemorrhaging and its population was shrinking and factory after factory was going either South or belly up.
What's more, the blacks were coming! There was panic selling in stable white neighborhoods. The jobs were leaving! So the slums, both black and white, kept getting bleaker and more boarded up.
Now it's 1983 and the truth is that the shrinkage is still rampant. But shrinkage doesn't seem to upset and unsettle the way it once did.
Maybe it's become a way of life, or maybe people surmise, correctly, that the cycle has run its course; barely one job in seven that's left here is in the manufacting sector.
Philadelphia was never quite as broad-shouldered as Chicago, but manufacturing did used to be king. Now two of the city's three biggest employers are the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University. The two big trophies that have local boosters crowing these days are a new insurance conglomerate (Signa) and a new phone company (the Baby Bell regional) that have decided to headquarter here.
So the city has traded lunchbuckets for computers and -- yo! -- survived. Strange: it is both shrinking and surviving at the same time.
It's center city looks great, bustling with the same pitter-patter of pedestrian feet (even at night) and the same construction boom (slowed somewhat by the recession) you'll find in a Boston or a Baltimore or the other East Coast dowagers.
So what if Houston just passed it by as the nation's fourth largest city. It's 1983: Does Houston know where its future is?
As for the racial business, there's been a fascinating transformation on that score, too. Listen carefully, Chicago, there's a lesson here.
In the late 1970s, Philadelphia's City Council was a circus of pouting, shouting, slugging. It was all racial. The turmoils, torrents and fears in a shrinking, 40-percent-minority town where blacks were for the first time starting to assert political power, all got played out on the floor of council.
Well, this is what has happened: On Tuesday the white councilman who slugged the black councilman in one of the more symbolic political acts of the late 1970s got beaten for reelection.
But guess what? All the black councilmen were supporting him. They'd been horsetrading and making common cause on neigborhood issues for most of this last term.
There hasn't been a decent demonstration on the floor of council in years. Councilman John Street, the angry one from North Philly who used to block the city's applications for UDAG money for center city development projects, now leads the charge in ramming the applications through. He's been able to negotiate some "goals" for black employment and black retail ownership in the gleaming new UDAG-leveraged construction projects.
Does this mean all is milk and honey? Of course not; people are people. But the acceptance that Wilson Goode, the black Democratic mayoral nominee, got when he campaigned this spring in the white neighborhoods -- even the tough white neighborhoods once thought of as Frank Rizzo's turf -- was something to see. People would cross the street when they saw him coming. Not to avoid him. To shake his hand.
Goode is Philadelphia, 1983. He isn't angry. He isn't prickly. He doesn't beat the toms-toms and nobody in the black community seems to want him to. He's got one foot in the board rooms and the other in the "community" and the tightrope walk doesn't even seem complicated.
Whites have noticed. Some may find the idea of a black City Hall terrifying, but for the most part the edge is off.
At age 301, Fluffya gives the impression of a town that knows where it has been, where it is headed and how to survive the trip.