Philadelphia's World Heritage City Working Group Welcomes Denis Ricard

Peter Chawaga, for GPA -- On Monday evening, Denis Ricard stood before Philadelphia’s World Heritage City Working Group. Ricard's audience, comprised of the city’s governmental, cultural and business leaders, had been working to secure a visit from him for years. Gathered in the offices of Reed Smith, LLP, they listened eagerly as he thanked them for this warm reception, acknowledged all the work they had put in to get him there and described their city’s unique place among the international community.

Ricard was in the middle of a two day visit to Philadelphia, part of a larger world tour that will take him to Mexico and South America next. As the Secretary General of the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC), he came to visit historic landmarks and discuss the advancement of Philadelphia’s World Heritage City designation with elected officials.

The OWHC is a division of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a specialized agency created to promote international collaboration. It consists of nearly 250 cities from all over the world, which have been determined to have sites worthy of inclusion on a World Heritage List.

Independence Hall was named such a site in 1979. Monday’s reception and Ricard’s subsequent tours and meetings were in an effort to promote Philadelphia as a whole to the status of World Heritage City. This would make it the first such city in the United States, encouraging collaboration and cultural exchange with other UNESCO members. Philadelphia, the World Heritage City Working Group argues, is synonymous with the ideals of democracy, innovation and liberty that UNESCO strives toward.

The efforts to secure World Heritage City status have been years in the making. In 2012, the Global Philadelphia Association (GPA) began initial steps towards advancing the status; in mid-September of 2013, the city was granted “Observer Member” status within the OWHC; in November, GPA members and city officials met with Ricard and other OWHC officials in Mexico to continue the process. Of all the efforts to date, Ricard’s recent visit has been the most crucial in obtaining World Heritage City status.

“We anticipate the activities of the next two days will play a very large role in defining our next steps as a community towards our desired status as a World Heritage City,” said Zabeth Teelucksingh, GPA’s Executive Director, on Monday. “This community is uniquely qualified and extremely well-positioned to succeed in this important initiative.”

Photo courtesy of Jacob Colon