Readers respond: ‘Pope visit: Quit hitting the panic button’ touches a nerve

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on August 25, 2015

I have received many comments about my Aug. 18 article headlined, “Pope visit: Quit hitting the panic button, Philadelphia, and let’s make people feel welcome.” None of my previous articles have garnered as high a level of response. Many readers felt a need to voice their opinions, and weighed in with their thoughts about the planning for the papal visit.

In my article, I wrote that Philadelphia should have three goals for the papal visit: the paramount goal of ensuring a safe and secure event, have visitors feel that they are welcomed guests and to the highest extent possible, minimize any disruption to the daily lives of the citizens of Philadelphia. These goals are not incompatible. Rather than make it hard for people, you want to make it easy as possible, given the security and logistical constraints. This is what world-class cities do.

As the event approaches, increasingly restrictive plans have been announced regarding a very large security and vehicle perimeter, along with the closure of major portions of I-76 not only in the city, but also in the outlying suburbs. On Aug. 20, Philly.com reported that the city will now permit registered buses to access restricted roads. This is a step in the right direction.

The Ben Franklin Bridge connecting New Jersey and Philadelphia will be closed to vehicle traffic, but will be open to pedestrians. However, all major approach roads in New Jersey leading to the Ben Franklin Bridge will be closed, making it very difficult for people who want to walk the ten mile round trip distance to and from the event to get to the Bridge.

A sampling of the comments following the Aug. 18 article is as follows:

“We live in the Washington, DC area and the [Pope’s] visit to DC is being treated as [the visit of] ‘another very important world leader’. In Philly, it sounds like a lock-down. An opportunity to promote the City is turning into a reason to stay away.”

“We now have a certain notoriety – the wrong kind. Inside the security zone, the Secret Service has the responsibility for security. Outside the security zone, the mayor has the responsibility to effectively move people around. Looks like he has ceded all of that to others.”

“I’m not sure what the city is thinking, but in my mini-poll, no one is even thinking about coming down to the city. … I have friends who work in the medical tower at 17th and Locust Streets, and they have no real practical choice but to shut down. Other friends own restaurants, and they are considering the same thing. They depend on daily deliveries. One city official suggested they do a limited menu. … I feel equally bad for the supposedly 1.5 million visitors. Not only will they be putting in 10 mile days, they will be limited to mini-menus from our fabulous eateries (if they are open). In DC they are not going to this extreme. NYC same thing.”

“Instead of making the event a world-wide recognition of the city and opening it to the world in a positive manner, all you hear about is …more and more restrictions. Many people wanting to see the Pope and attend this one in a lifetime event are older or sicker – they are essentially being kept away. This is a meeting of families: can we see families walking miles upon miles with young children?”

“If [Philadelphia] … cannot handle it and make it a positive experience why … did they choose this city? We run the risk of turning a once in a lifetime positive PR event into a fiasco that will do poorly for the city’s reputation.”

On Sept. 28 after the Pope has departed, the fences have been dismantled and city life returns to normal, the planners for the event will pronounce that the papal visit went as planned and was a great success. This will be the case – for those able to attend.

What will be missed, however, is the opportunity to demonstrate that the papal visit could have been more successful by better accommodating the city’s visitors and making it easier for the residents and businesses of center city to go about their lives with as little disruption as possible. What also will be missed is the opportunity to demonstrate that Philadelphia could have handled the papal visit without much of the city shutting down.

Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com

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