The City Hall Parking Lot Is Finally Dead

In one of his first acts as mayor, Jim Kenney took away a longtime perk for local pols.

Before (top) and after (bottom). Isn't this much better? | Photos by HughE Dillon and Patrick Kerkstra

Before (top) and after (bottom). Isn’t this much better? | Photos by HughE Dillon and Patrick Kerkstra

City Hall’s doorstep is no longer a parking lot for Philadelphia’s self-important political class. And thank God for that.

On Monday, newly-inaugurated Mayor Jim Kenney kept good on his campaign promise to clear cars from the north apron of City Hall. Before that, Council President Darrell Clarke, former Mayor Michael Nutter, School District Superintendent William Hite and dozens of other officials had parked their automobiles in the area for years.

“Jim was always clear that he thought no one should park on the apron. It’s public space, and should be used as public space,” said Lauren Hitt, Kenney’s spokeswoman, when we asked her about the suddenly car-free apron. “There was a preexisting executive order that said no one was supposed to park on the apron, but it had never been enforced. So we’re just going to be enforcing it now.”

This move will greatly please urbanists, who have long complained that the VIP parking is an eyesore that detracts from the grand beauty of City Hall. In recent months, the urbanist PAC 5th Square railed against it, and an Associated Press editor created a single-issue Tumblr mocking it. But the so-called “City Hall parking lot” pissed off more than journalists and urban design geeks. Seeing politicians treat public space like their own personal driveway offended many residents on a gut level.

This is one of Kenney’s first (small-ball) moves as mayor, and it sends a smart, populist message: His administration will work for all Philadelphians, not just elites.

It’s also one of many ways in which Kenney is already distancing himself from Nutter. In 2014, then-Councilman Kenney introduced a bill that would have scaled back the size of the VIP lot. “To feel you can’t walk an extra 30 or 40 feet from a reserved spot on the street to me just shows the arrogance that [Nutter and his aides] keep trying to act like they don’t have,” Kenney told Citified at the time. “It’s all transparent and ethical and good government, but let me put my car where I want.”

In one way, though, closing the City Hall parking lot reminds me of something that Nutter did. Or, rather, it reminds of something that Nutter tried to do. In his 2009 budget address, Nutter called on City Council members to give up their taxpayer-funded cars, another perk for politicians that many find maddening. It made sense: It was the Great Recession, after all. But lawmakers were irked that Nutter called them out in such a public fashion, and they decided to keep their keys.

Are Council members going to be pissed that Kenney made them move their cars? I don’t think so. Not publicly, anyway. A few years after the budget address brouhaha, Kenney told me that Nutter should have pushed legislators to give up their cars privately, instead of shaming them about it at a big event. It seems that Kenney took his own advice. So far, the new administration hasn’t so much as tweeted about the death of the City Hall parking lot.

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  • Cookie23

    Lets see what it looks like in 90 days after the “New Mayor Scent” has worn off.

    • Holly Otterbein

      I promise to write a follow-up story if the parking lot comes back to life.

  • Circa79

    Sorry but this is not something that was on the radar of real Philadelphians with real problems. I’m all for politicians walking more but this was mountain out of molehill situation. I hope Kenney doesn’t get too caught up on symbolic changes that don’t really change anything.

  • roe

    Good going, Mr. Mayor! Philadelphia has long been accused of “crony politics”, given the fact that one party has been in control for so long. Hopefully Jim can change that perception. BTW, Cookie & Circa, you wanna cut the guy some slack please? It’s only his first day on the job! I guess some people are just natural malcontents, whereas I see this as a sign of good things to come for our city.

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  • pd

    While we’re on the roll of enforcing and following actual laws, does Kenney want to enforce parking laws in South Philly too?

    Parking on the median on South Broad St and Oregon ave is technically ILLEGAL and statistically increases rates of accidents and traffic. But the law has never been enforced in South Philly. Will someone in city hall at least acknowledge the issue at some point?

    • Richy from Mayfair

      enforce ticketing everyday for people parking on the strip. that will stop it.

    • Politburo

      “statistically increases rates of accidents and traffic”

      Where can one find the stats on this?

      • Jonathan Mandoza

        I’m guessing the stats are sitting inside one of the many many many cars parked 100% on the sidewalk throughout neighborhoods south of Washington Avenue.

      • John Smith 1882

        Really? Go walk down the street and look at how sight lines are blocked for cars and pedestrians.

        Look at cars parked IN turn lanes, causing difficulties with cars and trucks turning.

        • Politburo

          Obstacles etc. can lead to drivers being slower and/or more careful and as a result things are actually safer, even though this might be counter-intuitive. e.g. “To Make Streets Safe, Make Them Dangerous” or “Area-wide traffic calming for preventing traffic related injuries”.

          But we don’t know whether this is the case for South Broad. OP claimed they had statistics and I requested them.

    • Circa79

      well he likely wont do or say anything about that unless the local “blogger class” gets offended by it and makes it a huge issue. I don’t think that will be as likely because the concern about parking on city hall apron really was about pedestrians, not cars or traffic safety. Since parking in the median of broad street really doesn’t offend urbanists it’s not likely to be big deal.

    • John Smith 1882

      Kenny would have to instruct the new police commissioner to instruct the captain to instruct the lieutenant to instruct the rank and file in the district that patrols south broad.

      Since the Captain of that district stated in Philly Mag in the summer of 2015 that he “fears a riot” if he tickets/tows, we will see a change only when the captain is removed from the force and placed with someone with cojones.

  • tony g

    Sometimes small acts are huge symbolic ones.

  • HolyFrijoles11

    I give it a week.

  • Lil Diabetes

    Next scale back the use of tax payer funded government vehicles used by pols with no accountability.

    • Circa79

      Nutter mentioned council members giving up their cars and they were offended. I doubt Kenney will revisit that issue. Especially if he’s focused on playing nice with council.

  • Guy

    “Newly inaugurated” doesn’t need a hyphen.

  • citywide

    if this means that they all just park on the street/curb next to City Hall then is it net gain?

  • WINDSOR SLIM

    I didn’t vote this election, but I believe that Kenney will at least become a WAY better mayor than Nutter, who I feel is the worst mayor we had for a while. Now whether he’s better than Rendell, Street, or Rizzo is only a matter of time.