Notes from the President: Access and Opportunity (Fall 2012 Trust Magazine)

Sep 25, 2012

By Rebecca W. Rimel
President and Chief Executive Officer

Message from the President, Trust, Fall 2012:

"Turning access into opportunity demands research, rigor, hard work and discipline—the approaches and principles that power the American Dream.”

During this pivotal election year, it is tempting to become enthralled by the daily political horse race. But all elections, including this one, provide an opportunity to embrace the powerful benefits of our democratic system to advance access and opportunity for the common good.

The topics in this issue of Trust—the American Dream of upward mobility, the refurbishment of Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Australia’s decision to create the world’s largest network of marine protected areas—all demonstrate how the enlightened pursuit of the democratic process, in the United States and abroad, can lead to remarkable progress.

The predominant theme of the 2012 elections is the state of the U.S. economic recovery. While some public surveys show increasing optimism, the struggle among young adults to enter the job market suggests that one victim of this recession may be the American Dream—the promise wired into our national psyche that each new generation can do better than the last. New research by Pew has found that while 84 percent of Americans have higher family incomes than their parents did at the same age, those born at the top and bottom of the income ladder are likely to stay put on these same rungs as adults.

As the 2012 campaign moves into high gear this fall, Pew’s Economic Mobility Project will continue helping to ensure a broad, nonpartisan understanding of the facts, figures and trends that will support an active policy debate about how best to improve economic opportunity—and reinvigorate the American Dream.
Few national heroes better personify the American Dream than Benjamin Franklin, a self-taught 17th child of an immigrant soap-maker turned successful printer and celebrated writer, inventor, scientist, politician, statesman and Founding Father. A new tribute to Franklin’s life and legacy, the transformation of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway running through the heart of Philadelphia, will provide access and opportunity for people from all walks of life to enjoy the best of arts and culture.

An expansive boulevard opened in 1917 and modeled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Parkway today is lined with some of the world’s great institutions of art, from the historic Philadelphia Museum of Art and Rodin Museum to the newest addition, the Barnes Foundation. In its new, highly acclaimed campus, the Barnes houses one of the world’s greatest collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Early Modern paintings, as well as Old Masters, important examples of African sculpture and Native American ceramics, American paintings and decorative arts, and antiquities from the Mediterranean region and Asia.

With support from a range of public, private and nonprofit partners including Pew, the opening of the Barnes this past spring was an important part of a comprehensive refurbishment plan for the Parkway itself. With its reincarnation as a more pedestrian-friendly boulevard, the new Parkway will embody Franklin’s belief that access to arts and culture enriches our lives, society and national well-being.

As Franklin experienced in his travels as statesman and diplomat, our fledgling nation has no corner on democratic passions and processes—in fact, we borrowed much from abroad. Today, as the United States seeks creative and constructive ways to protect and preserve natural resources, we have a chance to learn from other nations as they harness the democratic process to balance a range of interests.

This summer, Australia announced a historic decision to form the world’s largest network of marine protected areas. Supported by the Pew Environment Group, they included the Coral Sea reserve, known in Australia as a national park zone, which will be the world’s second biggest marine reserve. The Coral Sea, east of the spectacular Great Barrier Reef, is recognized as the country’s aquatic jewel and one of the last intact tropical ocean ecosystems on the planet.

Access and opportunity are core tenets of democratic systems. As Franklin captured in his “13 virtues” and his life’s work, turning access into opportunity demands research, rigor, hard work and discipline—the approaches and principles that power the American Dream in all it brings, from upward mobility, to cities enriched by culture, to global natural treasures preserved for future generations.

Read more about Pew's work in the Fall 2012 issue of Trust magazine (PDF).

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