This Is the Speech Mayor Nutter Should Have Given on the Homeless
The following should be spoken in a friendly, folksy tone, which Nutter can muster when needed. And boy, is it needed.
The city is on the move: The last Census showed an increase in Philadelphia’s population—for the first time in 60 years. We continue to excel at high-end manufacturing; we have world-class education and medicine communities, and we’re growing in the tech and energy sectors. Our Master Plan for the city will make Philadelphia an internationally recognized built environment.
But we do face challenges. Philadelphians like straight talk, so let’s cut the bull. I’m going to speak frankly to you from the point of view of someone who loves this city and wants it to thrive. And I’m going to assume you share my love for the city and you also want it to thrive.
Some other assumptions I’d like us to share: We need to earn money. Right? That means attracting businesses and tourism. I know—Philly natives always have something to say about tourists. But the more tourists who come, the more hotel rooms they fill, restaurants they eat at it, businesses they patronize. Maybe a child who walks through Independence Hall today as a five-year-old comes back to Philly for college. Maybe one of her parents decides to consider Philadelphia for his office relocation. Tourists are our link to the rest of the country—and the world. They carry Philadelphia with them. Each tourist is an ambassador of Philly love just waiting to happen.
If, in order to keep your street cred, you have to talk about tourists with disdain, think of it this way: This summer, the suckers are coming here in droves. They’re coming to the reopened Rodin; the Philadelphia History Museum; the Gauguin, Cézanne and Matisse show at the Art Museum; the Springsteen exhibit at the Constitution Center; the birthday year of the Academy of Natural Sciences; the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Franklin Institute … and the opening of the Barnes Museum.
There, I said it. The Barnes Museum.
Now, I know we had some disagreement over the move. I admire people of goodwill who fight for what they believe in. But let’s face facts: That museum is going to open and tourists are going to come. I’m sharing that assumption with you because it’s reality. And as you can see from the list above, much of the tourism we’re promoting will be taking place in and around the Barnes—on the Parkway.
Let me direct my next remarks to a very important constituency: those of you who live on the streets and/or don’t have enough to eat. I need your help. We need to nail the summer tourism thing this year. And we can’t do that without talking about the food distribution on the Parkway, and we can’t talk about it without you all being involved.
Truth is, the Parkway food distribution is a beautiful thing. Generous Philadelphians—individuals, families, organizations—good-hearted folk serve food to the hungry. People spend hours in hot kitchens to prepare the food—not because they’re getting paid, but because it’s the right thing to do. You know why? They share a common assumption: No one in our city should have to go hungry.
But will the tourists see our food lines as an outpouring of civic generosity? Probably not. They might see the Parkway scene as, Philly is poor, hungry, dirty. And some of the people who live here are poor and hungry. But we don’t want the tourists to think that! We have to get these suckers to come back. We have to make them think it’s Shangri-La and Oz rolled into one.
So what I’d like to do is set up a task force composed of community stakeholders: the people who serve the food on the Parkway and the people who eat the food. I’m going to select five from the former group, and 10 from the latter group, and we’re going to meet so I can present my current plan, which involves shifting the focus of the activity to City Hall, working with the Board of Health on food regulations, and identifying indoor spaces to accommodate people. Let me be clear: I am not asking hungry citizens of this city to disappear. I am asking you to make your voice heard and help me figure out a solution to a problem in a process that I hope will be yet another Philadelphia first. To get started, I’ve set up a dedicated phone line and email address for those who want to participate.
Philadelphians might argue from time to time—especially during football season—but we share many basic assumptions, including (I hope) this one: Our future is as bright as we want it to be—but only if we work together.