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.