The tourists are coming!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Originally published by The Philadelphia Daily News:

STUFF TENDS to get fixed at my house when we know company is coming. We race around the place, see it through a guest's eye, and wonder how we let ourselves get used to the busted doorknob, the dirty wall, the ugly chair.

So we repair, clean and replace. And after the guests leave, we enjoy the improvements we didn't know we'd needed until shame prompted us to look around.

Well, Philly, company is coming.

Over the next 17 months, we'll host the gigantic annual get-together of the NAACP (this July), the World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis (September) and, as we learned Thursday, the Democratic National Convention (July 2016).

That's hordes of people from around the country and the globe, most of whom have never visited us before.

What broken stuff, inconveniences or bad habits have we become so blind to that we won't know it until a tourist trashes us on a blog? What assets could we leverage if only we saw them?

When I put out a call for suggestions, my inbox lit up.

Brendon Shank, please get us started.

"Philly has so many social-media geniuses. And it has lots of rabid advocates who love telling people why the city is so great," said Shank, a communications expert.

"Why not have the social-media people develop an app to help visitors find a nearby Philly resident who has volunteered to be a tour guide," in the same way we now use apps to find an Uber driver?

"Let's say you're at Broad and Walnut with a question that Google or Yelp can't answer. You'd use the app to find a volunteer guide nearby. And they'd come over and answer it. They'd be like an ambassador who actually talks to you in person."

He even has a name for it:

The Philadelphia Phriend.

Quick, someone, steal this idea! The app would both help visitors learn their way around while killing with kindness the dumb trope that we're a city of cranks. We are so due for an upgrade.

Another great idea is one that has been floated before: Reopen the PATCO station at Franklin Square. It would not only provide an additional stop for conventioneers lodging in New Jersey (because we haven't the rooms to accommodate everyone), it would give all of us another way to get from the West Locust area to the historic district.

The stop is located right across the street from the police Roundhouse, which is slated for redevelopment, potentially adding significant population to the area. So the reopened stop could become a home stop.

"Given the construction about to start on The Gallery and its impact on transit, being able to use PATCO to move around Center City could be hugely beneficial," said "L.D.," who runs the crowd-sourced PATCO Watchers Twitter feed and Facebook page.

Speaking of transit, Jake Marini has a question for SEPTA.

"How is it that you can't get to the Market-Frankford subway from 30th Street Station without having to go outside and play 'dodge the speeding cars'?" he asked. "Every major city has its public-transit systems connected, so you can go from train station to subway very easily. I can't imagine it's all that complicated to create some kind of weatherproof/indoor walkway or tunnel" connecting the two.

Actually, a tunnel does, indeed, connect them. But the dark, hard-to-secure space was sealed off decades ago following a brutal assault. New security innovations, like high-tech surveillance cameras, would surely make the tunnel easier to monitor today, but SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Downs says that reopening it is "off the table."

The agency is instead focused on the overhaul of the City Hall subway station, which won't begin until 2018. The agency will certainly "clean up" the subway system for visitors, she says, but renovations won't come until later.

If we can't improve the underground, can we expand the The Porch above ?

The Porch, of course, is the open-air plaza on the station's Market Street side, sprinkled with chairs and tables, fluttering banners and interesting food trucks. If Prema Gupta has her way, over the next two years the the Plaza will evolve into a Rittenhouse Square-like destination with good restaurants, lush plantings and comfy seating for tourists and residents of the booming University City District.

"The area is slated for 5 million square feet of development over the next few years," said Gupta, the district's planning director. "Getting the public realm right is critical."

I'll tell you, the people I've been talking with the last few days had tons of ideas that would endure after our last tourist taxis to the airport.

Janet Warm Wind Powell wants us to erect a statue to boxing great Joe Frazier already. Realtor Denise Baron wants graffiti removed before it chases people away. Jon Geeting would like every Philly street cleaned twice a month.

Michael Diaz wants SEPTA to introduce Metro cards. Kiki Bolender wants to repave Broad Street, which is "rutted like a not-picturesque country road." And Christopher Wink wants Market East to "finally be less embarrassing."

Oh, and everyone wants more pop-up beer gardens.

Obviously, there's nothing like the impending arrival of company to light our imagination.

Let's get to it, shall we?


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