In the afterglow of the papal visit to Philadelphia, a lot of city residents are mostly congratulating themselves and the city for a job well done.
But not everyone was impressed. There was a pretty steady beat of criticism of the city’s planning efforts leading up to the visit. In a widely read column in the Philadelphia Daily News, Will Bunch called out Mayor Michael Nutter specifically.
“Here’s the thing, Mayor Nutter,” Bunch wrote. “I know that you and your increasingly testy aides really don’t want to hear this, especially after the way you freaked out over questions about The Pope Fence (even though The Pope Fence is real, my friends). But here goes. You. Are. Screwing. This. Up.”
Following the visit, it wasn’t hard to hear more criticism about how things went – from assertions that the media overestimated the demand on train stations and traffic to complaints that security lines were just too long.
Right after the visit, Nutter gave an interesting interview to Philly Magazine’s Citified writer Patrick Kerkstra in which he openly questioned the source of the criticism.
“We have to figure out as a city, how do we declare victory, how do we enjoy success, how can we be more positive about any number of things that go on in this city,” Nutter told Kerkstra.
Nutter pointed out just how small-minded some of the criticism was, particularly grousing by restaurant owners that they didn’t make as much money as expected.
“The weekend was a spectacular success for us, notwithstanding long lines, security restrictions or how much money people made,” Nutter told Kerkstra. “I mean, are you serious? The pope comes here, he talks about poverty, inequality, and capitalism, and folks are complaining that they didn’t make enough money from pilgrims who are sleeping on folks’ living room floors and eating sandwiches.”
You could write off Nutter’s complaints as defensive, cranky or both. But I think there’s actually something to them.
What sort of city is Philadelphia? For me, it’s the best big city. It has rich history, great neighborhoods and the best urban park in the country. It’s the perfect size – Big enough to have everything you want but not so big you get lost.
But Philly just might be one of the most provincial cities in the country. It’s apparently been that way for a long time. Once the capital of the country and its industrial center, it has since ceded greatness to New York and D.C., making it little more than an Amtrak stop between the two.
The pope’s visit was an event that definitely redefined Philadelphia’s place on the map, so to speak. It’s the kind of event that demonstrated the city’s ability to be a real international city. A destination that can do more than house the Liberty Bell and serve cheesesteaks.
Philadelphia can indeed have nice things, if it wants. It can graciously accept the hassle of a weekend of closed highways and security gates in exchange for demonstrating that it can host a world leader and accommodate visitors from around the globe. It’s worth it.
— Pete Mazzaccaro