The papal weekend is upon us. After months of planning, Philadelphia will host the largest public event in the city’s history. The logistics and security issues are immense, causing a significant number of road closures and major disruptions to the normal flow of city life.
I was not at the numerous planning meetings, which involved dozens of public, private and governmental agencies, so I don’t know the dynamics of those discussions. I wonder whether other alternatives were explored for hosting the papal visit, and if the impact to city life of those alternatives were compared to the extensive impact that is currently underway.
Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which sits adjacent to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Photo: Fotosearch
The one obvious alternative that might have been considered would be holding the papal mass (or perhaps two masses) at Lincoln Financial Field, the home venue of the Philadelphia Eagles. This venue can accommodate over 69,000 people, not including thousands of temporary seats on the field. At Lincoln Financial Field, it is much easier to provide security for the pope and attendees. The stadium’s staff provides security for each Eagles game, so the Secret Service would already have an existing security infrastructure on which to build.
At Lincoln Financial Field there is plenty of parking available. The Broad Street subway moves thousands of fans to and from the stadium over short periods of time before and after each football game. Center city would suffer much less disruption than what is currently occurring. The core of the city would not need to be shut down. The fencing currently being installed around the Parkway security zone, which is not very welcoming, would not be needed.
An issue with holding the papal mass at the stadium is the limited number of seats. Video screens could be set up throughout the city so people could watch the mass, similar to what will happen anyway with Sunday’s mass on the Parkway. The Parkway could still be called the Francis Festival Grounds without the burdensome security measures.
With Lincoln Financial Field as the pope’s venue, elderly people would have a chance to attend the mass because the amount of walking necessary would be significantly less than what’s expected for the mass held on the Parkway. In New York City, the papal mass is being held in Madison Square Garden, with less advantages than Lincoln Financial Field due to lack of MSG parking.
So, was Lincoln Financial Field considered as an alternative? If it wasn’t, why didn’t anyone suggest it? If it was an alternative and rejected, Mayor Nutter should publicly explain why, given the huge amount of inconvenience and disruption the people and businesses of center city Philadelphia will experience over many days. Full disclosure of why these particular plans are being adopted verses an alternative would go a long way in raising people’s tolerance for the disruption in the daily life of the city.
The mayor and other city government leaders have a number of core imperatives, two of which are the city’s orderly and efficient operation, and ensuring visitors feel that they are welcome in Philadelphia. This is what preeminent, world-class cities do.
The Ben Franklin Bridge connecting New Jersey with Philadelphia will be closed to vehicle traffic, but open to pedestrians. The walk from the New Jersey side of the bridge to the Parkway, where the mass will be held, is five miles each way. How many people will choose this 10 mile round trip alternative, and how many will need medical attention during their journey?
Originally, there would have been no parking on the New Jersey side of the bridge, except for 1,100 spaces for designated buses. Because of comments about the difficulty of getting around the city during the papal visit, people have chosen not to attend, so the expected number of bus arrivals has been greatly reduced. Earlier this week, it was announced that these parking lots are now open to cars, but the Ben Franklin Bridge is still closed, except to pedestrian traffic. Why not transport attendees from the parking lots into center city Philadelphia via buses, and then have the buses go back to the New Jersey side of the bridge and transport more attendees into Philadelphia?
In August, New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox stated, “If you are not prepared to walk a considerable distance, you may want to reconsider your attendance.” Not a very welcoming statement to the many visitors to Philadelphia during the papal visit.
Within the past few weeks, a PR campaign has been launched with the tag line, “I’ll be there,” to help reverse the negative signals that have been sent to potential attendees. I have no doubt that the papal visit will be a great success, but at a significant cost to Center City Philadelphians and businesses. Perhaps it could have been more successful with a different paradigm, a different approach and a more welcoming visitor experience mindset.
About the author
Stan Silverman is a speaker, writer and advisor who focuses on helping businesses and organizations cultivate leadership cultures. He currently is a Leadership Catalyst for Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Stan is also Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Drexel University, a lead director on the board of Drummond Scientific and and serves on the board of Ben Franklin Technology Partners. He is the former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Stan can be reached by email or at his website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com.