Philadelphia's World Heritage City Status: What does it mean for tourism in your neighborhood or community? A DVRPC event

Article by Talia Lev, GPA Ambassador (Oct. 5, 2017)

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission titled its event “Philadelphia's World Heritage City Status: What does it mean for tourism in your neighborhood or community?” and that truly was the question of the hour for the group of 35 professionals who met this past Thursday for a round table discussion. In 2015, Philadelphia joined the ranks of 280 cities throughout the world recognized for their Outstanding University Value and the presence of a UNESCO World Heritage Site within their borders. Zabeth Teelucksingh, the Executive Director of Global Philadelphia Association, spoke first about the ways other World Heritage cities have leveraged the honor for touristic purposes such as opening the door to the city’s other historic landmarks and neighborhoods. The group learned more about Philadelphia’s past and present touristic campaigns from Fritz Smith, a Vice President at Visit Philly. Paul Steinke, Executive Director of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, then demonstrated the importance of preserving Philadelphia’s built heritage and history for which the city gained access to the Organization of World Heritage Cities in the first place. Finally, Susan Glassman, Director of the Wagner Free Institute of Science, talked about how the museum has strategized bringing tourists off the beaten center city trail to experience the marvels that it has to offer and speculated on how the World Heritage City label may bolster that kind of work in the future.

The speakers then engaged the other participants in a Q & A panel, which was followed by a round table discussion. Participants were curious about the role of private sector in preservation, ways to increase reuse and resilience of Philadelphia’s heritage resources, ways to integrate tourism for Philadelphia locals into tourism strategies, and many other relevant topics. The group then hashed out major obstacles to leveraging the World Heritage City designation for purposes of tourism and community development. Glassman noted visibility as a critical challenge for heritage-related sites and activities, and highlighted the Wagner’s success in that area via collaborations and partnerships on both the local and the national level. However, many in the audience were most concerned about the hindrances from Philly’s transportation structure, which does not allow tourists to readily reach many historic locations. This issue not only limits the tourist experience, but also puts undue pressure on the central sights. Many believe the way forward is through collaboration across the board- between public and private interests, between industry and infrastructure, and between the local community and the tourism industry.

The speakers and participants of the round table all came from different perspectives and with different backgrounds and interests, but were united in their desire to see Philadelphia flourish as a place to live and a place to visit. Strategizing ways to make heritage accessible, to spread benefits to the community, and to fully flourish as a World Heritage City and a city of the world’s heritages all made the agenda, and perhaps this meeting of the minds, replete with future collaborations and potential improvements and initiatives, was the first step to attaining these goals.