Pope Francis landed in Philadelphia On Sept. 26 for a two-day stay, in what was seen as a massive cultural event along the east coast for Catholics and onlookers alike.
The weekend’s events included mass at Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, a visit to Independence Mall, and the Festival of Families event.
Thousands of people flocked to “The city of Brotherly Love” for a chance to see the controversial head of the Catholic Church.His tour of America took him to Washington D.C. and New York City before coming to Pennsylvania’s largest city.
However, not everybody was looking forward to the visit. Because of the large number of people expected to be in the city for the visit, roads had to be closed and blocked off, schools were closed, and businesses and residents were negatively affected.
When asked about the conditions in the downtown area prior to Pope Francis’s visit, Laura Stedenfeld, an urban designer living in Center City Philadelphia said, “So far it is porta-potties and barricades as far as the eye can see!”
Road closures included I-76 eastbound from I-476 to I-95 and I-76 westbound from I-95 to U.S. Route 1, I-676 both directions, and U.S. Route 1 both directions from U.S. 30 to Belmont Avenue, according to PennDOT. Cars were also not permitted to re-enter a nearly 5 square mile zone downtown, which hindered residents traveling to-and-from home.
People were permitted to walk or ride their bicycles in the areas closed off to cars. But for anyone wanting to use SEPTA rails, special one-day “Papal Passes” needed to be pre-purchased, and regular SEPTA passes would not be accepted for the Regional Rail during the weekend, according to SEPTA’s website.
Residents in the security zones were also responsible for moving their cars from the streets a week before the actual visit. While residents and visitors had the option of parking in certain parking garages, Philly.com reported officials estimated that 1,500 cars would have to be towed from the affected neighborhoods. If a resident’s car was towed, they had to pay a fine of $76 and pay another $175 to retrieve their car.
All schools and administrative buildings in the Philadelphia School District were closed for an extra day on Monday 28th, which will be made up during the district’s spring break, PSD officials announced prior to the visit. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Art Museum, Rodin Museum, and the Philadelphia Zoo were closed for the weekend. The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University was closed Friday-Monday. The Liberty Bell Center, Independence Hall, and all building on Independence Square were closed Saturday 26th, according to a notice on the website for the National Park Service, which oversees these buildings.
During the actual Papal visit, the streets were not as busy as expected. According to Philly.com, roughly 142,000 people were estimated to be at the Sunday Mass at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
This pleased locals like Stedenfeld. “For residents, it was one of the best weekends to be in Philly: super quiet, no traffic, full walking and biking privileges on the street, and your pick of any restaurant (since they had no reservations).”
But calm for locals like Stedenfeld was a major problem for local businesses. Restaurants were not as happy about the amount of people they saw—or rather, did not see. In preparation for the visit, many owners overstocked their restaurants to accommodate what they thought would be heavy business, and because of restrictions on deliveries during the week. However, business was extremely slow for most restaurants.
“We did less business than we would have done normally because all the locals were scared out of town,” said Melissa MacNair, a Center City Philadelphia resident who works in management at Aldine Restaurant. One customer all night, an excess of perishable items, and having to watch her staff split $15 in tips between them killed MacNair’s excitement over the Pope’s stopover.
“Where were these millions of people eating? Where was this boom in the tourism economy we were told to expect for the weekend?” she said. “I’m not looking for a target to place blame. I just think people should know this is a major problem for our (local) economy that the city now has to recover from.”
Other restaurants experienced similar problems, even giving out discounts to get rid of the perishable goods.
While the safety of the pope and citizens that went to the city was important, some of the measures the city took may have caused more hassle for residents and businesses than originally thought when the visit was first announced.