Can we all agree that the City went completely overboard for the Pope visit?
Here’s what I saw in Center City Saturday and Sunday:
-Locust, Spruce, Pine and Lombard Streets were vacant — literally a mile from where the Pope or any of the crowds. Was it really necessary to extend the zone that far?
-A more than quiet Rittenhouse Square, save for a lonely band of military guys sitting on their Humvee and a medical tent armed with emergency personnel looking for someone with a mosquito bite to treat.
-Empty restaurants both days — a manager at a normally busy eatery near Rittenhouse Square told me crowds were less than half that of a typical Saturday lunchtime.
-Reports of shopkeepers, restaurants and food trucks who overbought and took a bath.
-Endless rows of unused port-a-potties, some still locked as recent as Saturday afternoon. Activity picked up on Sunday, but still there were too many.
-Cars flying around the city on I-95. (My car, unfortunately, was imprisoned in a garage and not to be released until Monday at the earliest).
-Empty streets at 10 p.m. south of Walnut patrolled by bands of roving policemen on bicycles or a group of National Guardsmen in combat fatigues.
-Retail stores that don’t sell food shuttered for the weekend, their owners at home hoping to make up for the lost weekend’s sales in the months to come.
-The now-famous security lines that caused some people to miss seeing the Pope.
-Ridicule from my friends in New York and D.C. who shook their heads and laughed at the over-the-top reaction Philly had to the Pope’s visit – as if we’ve never hosted a foreign leader before.
And yet … it was the right thing to do. The Mayor was right to be frustrated with all the negative reports. He’s right to be angry with the negativity. And he was right about all the security (not that he could have done much about it).
What if something would have happened? What if a terrorist attack occurred? What if medical help were needed? What if there weren’t enough port-a-potties or if the weather was so hot that people suffered from dehydration and heat stroke? The expenses were paid by someone other than the taxpayers. Things went off without a hitch. People can say Philadelphia over-reacted. But nobody can say the city wasn’t prepared. It was.
For businesses that lost money this weekend, my sympathies. But to a point. No one told you to buy all that food in expectations of big crowds. No one forced you to shut down in fear of those same crowds. You made decisions. You took risks. You took a gamble. If the weekend turned out to be a boom you wouldn’t be complaining. This is not the city’s fault. It was your miscalculation in hopes of more money. This was no different than a failed marketing campaign. You’ll make it back, I’m sure.
In the end, the Pope’s visit was glorious. And fun. And celebratory. And an experience. Even for us city residents. We walked our dogs down the middle of empty streets and rode our bikes without fear of being driven into the curb by a taxicab. We braved the crowds and saw the Pope and enjoyed the weather and the visitors and how beautiful our city looked and how well it operated. The city over-reacted and over-prepared. And it was the right thing to do. So good for the Mayor and the leaders who pulled this all off. And thank you to all the thousands of volunteers, policeman, military, medical and security people who kept an eye out.