While the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance
was fighting to maintain the city's Cultural Fund
budget -- which faced steep cuts for the next fiscal year -- Philly was on track to become the United States’ first World Heritage City. The designation, announced
last week after a vote from the World Congress of the Organization of World Heritage Cities
(OWHC) in Arequipa, Peru, went up like a firework in local news feeds.
Philly is the 267th World Heritage City, having logged one major qualification back in 1979, when Independence Hall became a World Heritage Site
"Philadelphia is the largest and most complete fulfillment of the kind of model city envisioned by Enlightenment architects," OWHC notes on our city’s new page
It’s an exciting first for a city already spreading its wings on the national and global stage, hosting Pope Francis in September and the Democratic National Convention in summer 2016.
Cultural Alliance president Maud Lyon is excited about the possibilities of Philly’s new distinction, but notes that our identity as a city with strong ties to the rest of the world is not a new one.
"It’s really important for us to focus on being a global city," she argues. "We have been from the very beginning, and I think it’s important for us to have that perspective.
"I think culture is always the first ambassador that goes out for a city,” she continues, noting the success of a world tour for the Philadelphia Orchestra in the past year. "Those concert halls were packed everywhere the Orchestra went."
It’s a good time to be getting our world-class cultural offerings out there because according to a Global Philadelphia
study cited in the Inquirer
, the city could be looking at a significant tourism boost: a one to two percent increase in domestic visitors (generating an economic impact of up to $200 million), and a rise in foreign visitors that could reach 15 percent, or the addition of up to 100,000 tourists annually.
Lyon is excited by the possibilities of more visitors from overseas, particularly a growing population of middle class travelers from throughout Asia, especially China and India.
"I think that we will in the next ten years be seeing more people coming from that part of the world who want to tour Philadelphia, and we absolutely want to be a destination for them," she adds.
The next ten years will be important ones for America, too, as the 250th anniversary of the country's independence approaches.
Culture is "the most approachable and welcoming and inclusive way of being an ambassador [for a] city," says Lyon, and the influx of international visitors -- and hopefully more collaborations between foreign artists and Philly institutions -- will be "the kind of cross-fertilization that you need between cultures.”
From Philly’s history as the United States’ birthplace to our musical tradition to our scientific and educational institutions, our city has plenty to offer. In considering the World Heritage designation, Lyon says we need to take pride not only in the international visitors we attract, but in the longtime diversity of our home. It’s not just about honoring the framers of the Constitution.
"Certainly the diversity of ethnic heritage that’s part of this city and this region is very rich and very important to who we are," she explains. "It’s important for us to remember that and to really own being a global city."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Maud Lyon, the Cultural Alliance of Greater Philadelphia