Sequestration Frustration, Close to Home
Sooner or later, politics hits a little too close to home. As the federal government sequester looms, set to hit this Friday unless a deal is reached, government agencies in cities across the U.S. are bracing for spending cuts. In Philadelphia, this will affect operations at the local Department of Labor and FBI offices, as well as at the U.S. Mint. But the most visibly impacted—at least to us—will be the National Park Service. Independence Hall, Independence National Historical Park, the Liberty Bell, New Hall Military Museum, the Todd House, the Bishop White House—all are expected to cut hours during the summer months.
Of all the public spaces in Philadelphia, OLIN has an extra special connection to Independence National Historical Park. Not only did we spend the better part of a decade master planning and redesigning the site, in 2000 we moved in right next door, to the 11th floor of the Public Ledger Building at 6th and Chestnut. It’s a vantage point like no other—we can see many folks using the space the way we envisioned it, gathering for Fourth of July concerts and following desire lines between historic destinations. We definitely didn’t expect the park to become the launching point for Ride the Ducks, one of the city’s more idiosyncratic attractions. Launched in 2003, the goofy bus/boat sightseeing ride quickly became popular with families looking for a fun, unique way to experience the city. And while we locals may groan every time those duck bill-shaped whistles honk and squawk by, it’s become an indelible (even endearing?) part of summer in Philly.
The park’s social and economic success extends throughout the city. In 2011, 33 million tourists visited Philadelphia, and nearly 8 million of them went to INHP, making it by far the region’s top attraction. Those 33 million people in turn spent over $9.6 million between cabs, hotels, restaurants, shops and other attractions, supporting 86,000 full time jobs. What happens, then, when visiting hours to our national parks and landmarks across the country are cut short at the height of the summer vacation season? The example of INHP in Philadelphia shows that the effects extend far beyond vacation plans. Does the benefit of saving government dollars up front outweigh the potential repercussions for local retailers, hoteliers, and restaurateurs? And if fewer folks are encouraged to brave the July heat and humidity on Independence Mall, won’t that equal fewer families lining up for a leisurely amphibious city tour and a free duck whistle?
Clearly the politics of this question run deep, and as advocates of the urban public realm, we can’t hope to remain unbiased. But maybe if we, as advocates and citizens, can join the conversation, we can encourage the power players in Washington to start talking as well. After all, it won’t be a summer in Philly without our favorite national park…or the ducks.
“A View of the Sequester from Independence Mall,” Newsworks.org
“About Us,” Ride the Ducks Philadelphia
“Greater Philadelphia Tourism 2012: A Report to the Region,” GPTMC
“Guide to Philadelphia’s Most Popular Tourist Attractions: Slideshow,” Philadelphia Business Journal