Delaware Today has covered issues in the city of Wilmington more heavily than usual over the past year. For all our examination of violent crime and troubled schools, we are as excited as anyone by efforts such as development of new housing downtown, an effort to spur dining and nightlife options, discussions about placemaking and a Riverfront that last month celebrated 20 years of transforming a brownfield into a lively place to live, work and play.
Despite a lack of effective leadership in the city, there is much to celebrate. It’s worth noting that efforts in the city are often driven by the state, as in the case of the Riverfront Development Corporation, or private investors—not by the city administration. Sometimes those investors are corporations, philanthropic organizations or forward-thinking individuals. You can learn about a few of them in this month’s issue.
You’ll meet brothers Thére and Ben du Pont in writer Michael Bradley’s story “Du-ing Well by Du-ing Good.” Ben and Thére take the family legacy seriously, for very good reasons. Their father, former Gov. Pete du Pont, was architect of the Financial Center Development Act, legislation that made possible the boom of banking and credit companies in Wilmington and reignited the state’s economy starting in the 1980s. Ben, Thére and their associates do their part through efforts such as Zip Code Wilmington, a new school that offers a kind of crash course in HTML coding for those looking for a marketable skill; Reinventing Delaware—let’s call it an entrepreneurial think tank, for want of a better term—which created it; and Longwood Foundation, which supports nonprofits that work toward better education, health care, social services and more in Wilmington and across Delaware.
The city’s new Creative District is the latest effort of the 23-year-old Wilmington Renaissance Corporation, which began the redevelopment of what we now call LOMA (Lower Market). The district is becoming a place for members of the creative class to live and work while enriching our lives through classes, exhibits and public art projects. Among the partners is the nonprofit Interfaith Community Housing, which is renovating properties to be sold as low-cost homes, and NextFab Studio, a privately owned maker space born in Philadelphia. The district shows that public-private entities and visionary investors make powerful partners that can accomplish great things without the politics or bureaucracy (or at least diminished politics and bureaucracy) that can come with city government. See Larry Nagengast’s story.
Then there are efforts by arts organizations based in Wilmington. OperaDelaware’s leaders have not only pulled off a remarkable artistic feat in premiering a major work during this month’s Shakespeare festival, they have used it as an opportunity to raise awareness of our excellent arts organizations and to elevate the city’s profile across the region. Yes, there is a profit motive, but a large driver was sheer stoke for Wilmington. Read more in associate editor Danielle Bouchat-Friedman’s story.
What makes a city great is the people who believe in it. The folks behind the arts organizations, co-working spaces such as the coIN Loft and The Mill, the Tech2Gether conference, Delaware Innovation Week and a chapter of Girl Develop It and other great efforts are a large part of what makes Wilmington hum. We owe the people who act on bold ideas our thanks.