Still Calling

Philadelphia: Disrespect City


When the Pope first announced his visit to Philadelphia, everyone was REALLY excited. Catholics, obviously, but also a lot of people who saw a great chance to show off our city and our cultural life, and of course to make a few bucks.

But then we learned the city -which has no time to go after tax deadbeats and slumlords- had quickly voted to impose a tax Airbnbers and others began renting out their homes for the event.

And then we learned that the city -with the help of the Secret Service- had decided to shut down our entire subway, train, and trolley system, and close down the city to cars. “We’re working to make sure that Philadelphia is open and accessible,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, who apparently lives in a universe where having no transit and no way to get anywhere is “open”. You will need “special passes” to ride the very restricted trains. “”Be prepared to walk at least a few miles or more,” the Mayor said.

Then we learned that the city and the Secret Service plan to erect an 8′ high security fence around “parts” of Center City. Which parts?

Parked vehicles will not be allowed within the secure (likely fenced-in) perimeter, with some exceptions for emergency and other essential vehicles, which will be swept by the Secret Service. Certain streets will be closed to cars and buses. Those closures are still being determined, but early plans are from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill as far north as Girard Avenue and as far south as South Street, beginning hours ahead of the pope’s Sept. 26 arrival.

Ladies and gentleman, this is not “parts” of the city. This is the entire peninsula, stretching from river to river and encompassing thousands of residences. To quote one wag on Facebook, “Since when is Philadelphia Palestine?” Meanwhile, those arts and culture organizations -many of who are strapped for cash- will be closed due to the restrictions:

But the ability to take in the city’s cultural riches will be hindered. Citing the long hand of the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security as well as logistical hurdles, several – if not all – of the arts groups along the Parkway are expecting to be compelled to close for the two or three peak days of festivities, Sept. 25-27.

Arts leaders say they are thrilled for the visibility the event will bring – and distressed to be letting all those visitors and dollars slip through their fingers….

The closure of arts and culture groups may extend well beyond the Parkway. Museums around Independence Mall, also bracing for the crush of humanity, will hold a meeting Wednesday to discuss who might close and for how long. The Kimmel Center does not yet know whether its building will be open that weekend. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia is assembling a show called “Catholics in the New World,” but will be closed Saturday and Sunday.

Arts groups that had hoped for a revenue bonanza are still waiting to know the full financial fallout. While ticket sales will be lost, some groups will be able to recoup revenue by renting out facilities for private events related to the World Meeting of Families and papal visit. On the other hand, the deluge also means added bills for security and other operating expenses.

Oh, and if you WORK for any of these places, bring a sleeping bag, because (if you can even get down to work) you ain’t going home. From the same article:

Whether or not they will stay open to the public, some groups are anticipating that staff will not be able to get to work, and are considering keeping workers overnight for several days – and everything that would entail.

“We might bring in food, temporary bedding, facilities for showers, having meals prepared right there – it’ll be a movie night for staff,” says Collins. “It’s a challenge, but it’s still a historic moment for the city.”

Sounds like fun, a campout with your boss. HOW’S THAT FOR A TEAM BUILDING EXERCISE, AMIRITE?

I personally may shut down my rental, which I was looking forward to. That’s because the main perk I offer people is free parking (in a city legendary for its utterly hated Parking Authority) and easy access to transit: within walking distance to my house are three trolleys, two of which run 24 hours, a Regional rail line, and several buses. But none of the buses go near Center City (and won’t be allowed within city limits during the event anyway), and as you can see on the map, none of the trolleys have any stops other than the end loops, none of which are the kind of neighborhoods visiting strangers are going to feel comfortable parking (not there’s parking out at these loops anywhere) or walking to (because most are scary-looking distressed neighborhoods with high crime rates).

Are you noticing a pattern here folks? I sure am: it’s a pattern that says “ordinary Philadelphians who live here year round, the vast majority of who are not Catholic are going to have their lives and livelihoods turned upside down for a two-day event that’s turning our city into an enormous outdoor prison”. It is exactly the kind of disrespect we have come to expect from this city, a place that sends our children to hazardous, unsanitary schools; that gives enormous tax breaks to wealthy corporations while raising taxes on everyone else, usually the poorest, year after year; that has no public plan to keep us safe from the oil train bombs that travel directly through dense residential areas; and that won’t exact PILOTs from “non-profit” institutions like ivy-league UPenn and Drexel, which are swimming in money. This is a city that tried to shut down its public libraries, rec centers and pools, all of which serve poor and middle class people. A city that hasn’t even filled potholes from winter 2013-14, never mind LAST winter’s holes. A city that is happy to allow blight to fester until firemen die in flaming conflagrations, a city that allows buildings to fall down because they can’t be bothered to do adequate and regular inspections. A place where more than half the adults are functionally illiterate. Where there’s trash blowing through the streets of every single neighborhood, where homelessness and poverty is rampant.

We have lived with this for years. it has been like this ever since I moved here 16 years ago. I thought I couldn’t be shocked anymore, and frankly have sometimes defended some of the taxes as the cost of living in a big city. Now they’re gonna shut down the transit system and fence in everyone who lives anywhere between the Schuylkill River and the Delaware like they’re a bunch of animals, while making sure those of us who live in the more farther-flund neighborhoods cant go anywhere either. I think about the low-income single mom who lives way at 63rd and Elmwood: how is she going to get to work with no trolley services? An elderly man who needs to get to his doctor, located in Center City. The waitress who depends on tips, and can’t get to work (or home from work). The old lady who takes the trolley to get to the grocery because it’s too far to walk. This isn’t the city of brotherly love or the city that loves you back. It’s the city that disrespects you -in every way possible- and expects you to sit there and take it. They are treating us like unwanted guests in our own city.

It is no secret that I’m moving at the end of the year. Frankly, I wish I could leave now.

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