Paul R. Levy

Gloria Guard
2004
Leonore Annenberg
2006

Paul Levy received the 2005 Philadelphia Award for his contributions to the well-being of Center City’s residents, workers, and visitors. As the executive director of both the Center City District and the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation, Levy initiated an era of urban resurgence in Philadelphia’s downtown.


 
L evy was born in Newark, New Jersey, and grew up in a nearby suburb. While a Ph.D. student in history at Columbia University, Levy worked as a teacher at public schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx. “The subways were sweltering and smelly. Crime was a reality that cut very close and very personally,” Levy recalled. “It was not a great time for cities.” After being laid off due to budget cuts, he fled the city and moved to a farm in rural New York. Almost five years later, Levy visited Philadelphia during the 1976 Bicentennial celebration and, impressed by the city’s historic preservation efforts, moved to the city (as he said) “on impulse and without a job,”

Not much else about Philadelphia impressed him. As Levy later explained, “Dirty, graffiti-covered streets, a public environment in disarray, broken car windows, aggressive panhandling all send the message that no once cares; that no one is in charge.

Levy worked as a director at the Institute for the Study of Civic Values, the city housing and parking authority agencies, and the University of Pennsylvania’s real estate department. Since 1979, Levy has also been a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania.

I n 1990 Levy began his tenure as executive director of the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation (CPDC). With the CPDC, Levy organized numerous advocacy and planning initiatives to promote business development and improve the quality of life for residents, including a master plan for the cultural and residential development of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Soon after, Levy became the founding executive director of the Center City District (CCD) and has led the organization since 1991. The CCD is a corporation of business owners and commercial tenants, partnering with the City of Philadelphia to keep Center City clean, safe, and thriving. The starting point and linchpin of the group’s work, Levy believes, is security and cleanliness. The CCD’s ubiquitous street sweepers, with their attractive turquoise-colored uniforms, have transformed downtown from litter-strewn to pleasant and neat, aided by their regular power washing of the sidewalks. The street crew also provides information to the public and reports criminal and suspicious activity to the police. Under Levy’s leadership, the organization has added numerous streetlights, hundreds of new signs and maps, and over one thousand new trees and planters. The CCD also supports anti-graffiti campaigns and programs to help the homeless.

Levy worked as a director at the Institute for the Study of Civic Values, the city housing and parking authority agencies, and the University of Pennsylvania’s real estate department. Since 1979, Levy has also been a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania.

During the CCD’s first fifteen years, serious crime in Center City was cut in half, petty crime decreased by 80%, sidewalk illumination doubled, and the number of fine-dining restaurants increased by 219%. The residential population reached 88,000 as 110 non-residential buildings were converted into 8200 housing units. Levy described these efforts as “laying the foundation today for expanding the revival across the entire city and region.

Charisse Lillie announced that Levy was the recipient of the Philadelphia Award for his “continuous flow of ideas, leadership, and attention to the development and improvement of the Center City landscape…the paradigm of special services districts is now expanding to other neighborhoods and across North America and Europe.

In response, Levy declared: “I am extraordinarily honored to receive this award and accept it on behalf of 100 uniformed staff of the CCD who have worked each day since 1991 to make Center City clean, safe, and attractive.