Zach Wilcha and Greg DeShields | The Philadelphia Citizen
May 25, 2023
Local business leaders on what the City must do to bring more visitors — and their economic impact — to Philadelphia
You can tell a lot about a city government’s desire and effort to provide for its residents by looking at its streets. Fundamentally, citizens demand our streets be safe and clean. Removing our collective waste is one of the original functions of modern municipalities. A failure to do so shows a lack of will and leadership. We know that Philadelphia is a world-class city. We need to ensure the people in charge lead like it.
The Independence Business Alliance is the LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce for the Greater Philadelphia region. We are active citizens of our communities in addition to being business owners. As voters in Philadelphia decide who the next mayor will be, we, as business owners, want to stress the “four c’s” we think our next leader must address: the cost and clarity of doing business in the city, crime and its devastating impact in our neighborhoods — and the cleanliness of our streets.
The last two are of great importance to our members, many of whom work in hospitality, tourism and the arts. These are industries that rely on clean and safe streets to welcome our tens of millions of visitors each year. Thanks to two comprehensive studies by the Urban Health Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, we have proof of the linkage between crime and cleanliness. Researchers there found that by choosing vacant parcels randomly throughout the city, and turning them into regularly maintained green spaces, gun violence dropped significantly in the neighborhood. The biggest reduction in crime numbers were in the poorest places, showing that helping the blocks that need it most has the greatest effect.
It breaks our collective hearts when our favorite teams lose; we should care just as much if we lose out on major economic development or hosting major cultural events. Our image matters. We should be ready for our moment in the spotlight.
But study participants noted that more than statistical improvement, their positive feelings and self-esteem toward their home increased. They made more of an effort to do things with neighbors. That sounds like a better place to do business. In this day and age, your workday does not begin when you arrive at work; it starts on your stoop.
There are many possible solutions to this ever-present problem. Restoring funding cut from the 2008-09 recession as well as the recent pandemic would be a great start. Laws to curb illegal dumping need to be enforced. Technology can be better utilized to improve pickup route efficiency and identify what Big Belly bins need to be emptied. It’s vital that a “back to basics” strategy is what our Streets Department needs because Philadelphia is once again about to get a close-up on the international stage.
We are no stranger to hosting events of worldwide importance, however, 2026 is a game changer for our city. When the World Cup and 250th Anniversary of our nation happens here, our leaders must be prepared to meet the moment. Millions of visitors will be here to enjoy all that makes Philadelphia one of the best cities in the world. They are seeking an experience of discovery full of memories. If their trip is dampened by the presence of overflowing trash, they will go home carrying a poor impression of us. They might not be eager to return and spend money here, and they likely won’t recommend that others make the trip, as well.
The city faces incredible competition from other metropolises to host the same events, recruit large employers and receive government funding. It breaks our collective hearts when our favorite teams lose; we should care just as much if we lose out on major economic development or hosting major cultural events. Our image matters. We should be ready for our moment in the spotlight. If our next mayor doesn’t prioritize cleanliness and trash removal, they may have to deal with embarrassing headlines like our friends in New York; we don’t want to hire our own “rat czar.”
Zach Wilcha is the CEO of the Independence Business Alliance, the LGBTQ+ Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Greg DeShields is the Executive Director of Tourism Diversity Matters.