September 16-22, 2004
Illustration By: Don Haring, Jr.
City Paper's crash course in making a good city great.
We're clicking our heels here, people. We've long known the town Billy Penn built is like no other. We love the gritty attitude, miles of greenery, affordable rents, creative spirit and a thousand other things big, small and irritating that make living here what it is. We have our complaints: the wage tax, dearth of late-night public transit, pea-soup humidity and all that "yo" business, for starters. But we've embraced our New York Inferiority Complex and learned to revel in our underdog status. When push comes to shove, we wouldn't have it any other way. (OK, we'd take the odd sports championship; one per decade would more than suffice.)
What we would change about Philadelphia is the fact that we're shrinking. With that glorified pueblo they call Phoenix poised to oust us from the five hole among America's most populous cities, we got to thinking: How can the city not only stop the bleeding, but give itself a booster shot of the sort of creative, open-minded, industrious individuals we've already got in spades?
Some people in the city are bending over frontward to bring in tourists and businesses, and we commend that. But these are the same dollars for which every metropolis is clamoring. In July, several of the biggest organizations involved in marketing Philadelphia (including the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corp., the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce) gathered at the behest of the Center City Proprietors Association at Brasserie Perrier and offered presentations on current efforts. Some of these efforts are never seen by the general public, but the meeting, attended by City Paper publisher Paul Curci, made it clear just how much money and effort is being put into pushing the city's image.
With Philadelphia's marketing efforts escalating, we decided we'd clear our throats and pipe up with our entree to the discussion. We may not be marketers, but we know that Philadelphia must redefine itself by building on its strengths.
Marketing Philly: The Basics
Over the last decade, someone got the bright idea that cities are basically brands and can be marketed in much the same way one might sell laundry detergent or a set of Ginsu knives. Several Philadelphia organizations have sprung up, charged with bolstering tourism to the region as well as spurring an influx of business through strategic investment.
The Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corp. (GPTMC), founded in 1996, has done a yeoman's job bringing outsiders to the city for visits. With campaigns including "You just can't do it in a day" (with the bald Goldberg-looking dude in his PJs), and the "Get your history straight and your nightlife gay" effort that made national waves (including a sidesplitting segment on The Daily Show), the GPTMC has been working diligently to change perceptions of Philadelphia around the country and at home.
According to the GPTMC, tourism in Philadelphia is up 39.5 percent over the last five years versus the 8 percent national average, which says as much about where we are as where we've come from. In fact, when the GPTMC started, says Meryl Levitz, the organization's president and CEO, one of the biggest challenges was changing Philadelphians' negative attitude about their own city.
And in the aftermath of 9/11 when it's been nearly impossible to get Americans off their collective tuchus to travel Philadelphia's hotel occupancy is up 3.2 percent versus a 1 percent national decline, and its revenue per available room is up 3.9 percent against a 2.5 percent decline nationally. (Figures courtesy of The Boston Foundation report "Cultural Tourism: Where Culture and Economy Intersect.")
While Levitz focuses on tourism, she explains, "People relocate for the same things tourists [travel for]. Anything that's good for tourists is good for residents."
Perhaps as a result of the GPTMC's efforts to raise Philadelphia's profile, in April, for the first time ever, travel publisher Lonely Planet put out a Philadelphia guidebook.
"Philadelphia used to be competing with Baltimore and Williamsburg, [Virginia]," says Levitz. "Now we're in with New York, Boston and Chicago. Of course, it's more costly to play in that league."
Business might not be a huge factor in tourism, but residents sure like it. In December 2001, Innovation Philadelphia (IP) was launched to create, retain and recruit cutting-edge tech companies (often dealing with life sciences and information technology) within the Philadelphia region, as well as enticing area graduates to stay. This public-private partnership, says IP's president and CEO Richard Bendis, "makes investments in early-stage businesses [and] helps entrepreneurs access financing." It also invests in these companies itself, courts investors for what it calls an "angel fund," facilitates access to federal research funds, and helps local companies become more competitive in their grant proposals.
IP has had its successes. One of the more recent involves a Conshohocken technology company called TurnTide, founded with the help of IP investment. TurnTide makes a product designed to stem the flow of junk e-mail to corporate servers. In July it was purchased for approximately $28 million by global security solutions company Symantec. The operation, Bendis says, will remain in the Philadelphia area.
In this vein, Mayor Street's dream of turning the entirety of Philadelphia into a wireless hot spot (forgive us if we can't stop picturing him tooling around in the Mayormobile, wearing a tinfoil hat and Googling himself) is sure to up our tech cred.
GPTMC and IP are not the only organizations cheerleading for Philadel-phia, but they are two of the standout examples, both nationally recognized for their efforts. We endorse more tourists, grudgingly, and if suits want to start or relocate their businesses and wallets here, well, Stephen Starr's got restaurants to fill and there's always room at the Hard Rock. We'll take 'em. Bring on the trickle-down.
The City Paper Plan
At the editorial meeting for this, our umpteenth Fall Guide, we got to thinking: How can we a staff of been-there-done-that know-it-alls talk differently about Philadelphia?
Instead of delivering just the arts and entertainment season previews our readers have come to expect from us right about now (you'll find that stuff in the middle of this issue), we decided to offer up a guide of a different stripe. To look at Philadelphia not as if we've been here for years, but look at it with fresh eyes, and think real hard about what makes it attractive to us and, by extension, people like us, people like our readers. After all, we're quite fond of ourselves and our readers over here. We welcome more of them.
There really is no place like our home. Because Philadelphia is a great and sorely underappreciated place to do and partake in some really excellent stuff. So, here's who we'd like to see more of, the kinds of people we think would benefit as much from coming here as we'd benefit from having 'em:
Families with children
The plan for our writers: Identify what makes Philadelphia attractive to these groups, troubleshoot, then put on your marketer's cap and envision the type of campaign that would not only reach them, but get them to pack their bags for a trip or hit craigslist for the Philly job postings. This is what we got:
Brewers: Philadelphia is already a pretty great beer town. Best on the East Coast. Why is that? We've got (believe it or not) great water for making beer, one of the lowest excise taxes and easy access to ingredients. Most importantly, I reckon, we've got a long history of beer consumption (the Founding Fathers were big fans) and have proven that we're willing and able to support local products, from Yuengling to Yards.
Music aficionados: Philadelphia doesn't need more musicians, figures music editor Patrick Rapa; we've got lots of those. Good ones, too. We've got all the makings of a great music scene, minus the rep of, say, Austin or New Orleans. For starters, if SEPTA would keep the trains running for a few extra hours till after bars close it'd be one less detriment for fans worried about getting home at 2:30 in the morning.
Pet owners: As our interim editor, Brian Hickey, points out, we're an increasingly pet-loving lot, we humans. Philadelphia's got the makings of a pet-friendly city: There's a plethora of dog parks, stores offering the dernier cri of critter fashion and a handful of restaurants that welcome four-legged diners. As he finds from talking to a rep from Loews hotel which openly goes after guests who travel with their pets if you accommodate their animals, you've got yourself a customer for life.
Independent filmmakers: Much is being done to make Philadelphia attractive to auteurs big and small, according to food and listings editor Juliet Fletcher. But national productions can only be brought in with one-on-one meetings and financial incentives. Those rather than any general ad campaign are what entice the Hacks and Jersey Girls. At the local level, finding Philly filmmakers a central venue in which to show work and network would strengthen their community.
Graduating students: Stemming the steady flow of graduates of Philadelphia colleges who put down stakes elsewhere has been at the top of the city's to-do list forever. Recent University of Pennsylvania grad and CP intern Jonas Raab finds that many students never really connect with the city, and some are unaware of efforts to make that connection.
Families with children: We don't think of ourselves as a family paper, what with the f-bombs we drop every other page. But we're coming to realize that many of our readers do have tykes in tow. CP contributor Trish Boppert discovers that making information about public school options easier to attain solves one part of the problem of how to keep families in the city. Ultimately, parents need to understand that city life will enrich their children's lives in a way no gated community can.
Artists: Philadelphia, says City Paper art critic Susan Hagen, has long been considered close enough to New York to launch a career in the visual arts while being affordable enough to live in relative comfort. But with myriad galleries, a flotilla of art schools and hundreds of restaurants and cafes (where artists can work before they actually sell stuff), we're more than a waystation on the path to NYC.
Immigrant entrepreneurs: For a country that was built on the honest efforts of immigrants with a glint of hope and gold in their eyes, we sure don't break a sweat to accommodate them now. As assistant editor Helen i-lin Hwang discovers, whites have flocked from the city for the suburbs and beyond, while immigrants looking to make their mark seek out densely populated areas in which to open stores and restaurants. Steps are being taken to lure this group, but more can be done.
Bicyclists: Given our current parking and traffic issues, getting more people out of their metal boxes and onto a pair of pedals would make everyone breathe a little easier. And, I beg of you, consider that commerce is easier when you don't have to drive around for 20 minutes looking for a parking spot.
Our Creative Class
Are we wishcasting? A little bit. We're tossing pies into the sky and seeing where they land. We know marketing isn't free; we hear it from our promotions department every week. We may not be marketers, but we know marketing requires an intimate knowledge of what's being sold. As a newspaper staff that predominantly lives in the city (take that home to the 'burbs with you, Daily News and Inky), we're pretty confident we've got that part down. I'll repeat: We know who and what this town needs.
As we threw these ideas around the conference room table, someone commented, "This could be the least cynical thing we've ever done." Everyone got kinda quiet. It's our job to be skeptical. We're smart-ass by nature and reputation. We love our critical detachment. But when it comes down to it, pretty much everyone in that room can see what Philadelphia is, and has hopes for what it could become.
We're sticking our necks out here. There's no place like home. This is how we'd sell it.