When the Center City District (CCD) completed the renovation of Dilworth Park on the west side of City Hall two years ago, we aspired to transform a badly designed, derelict space into a 21st century version of William Penn’s Center Square. During last week’s DNC events, you just might have seen a smile on our founder’s face from his perch atop City Hall.
Pedestrians in the park surged 50% higher than a typical July weekday, peaking at 54,200 people on Wednesday, July 27. To the normal mix of workers, transit riders, local residents, visitors and three to four dozen children playing in the fountain, the park added twelve pop-up art and musical performances by local groups; an event promoting mental health and substance use reform; an art installation; local DJs at two evening “happy hours” including a special CCD Sips on Wednesday that drew 1,800 people, five times the average at prior events. There was a “play date” for more than 600 children from recreation centers across the city in Philadelphia’s transit-oriented water park. Bernie and Hillary delegates ate at adjacent tables in the cafe, joined by media and protestors on break, tripling daily revenues.
Threaded into the mix, from left to right on the political and cultural spectrum, were 14 separate protests that had no permits for Dilworth Park, but either passed through or coexisted peacefully with other events.
Under the terms of our lease with the City, all applications for protests or other first amendment activities go directly to the City of Philadelphia. But protests without permits are accommodated by the Civil Affairs unit of the Philadelphia Police Department, if they don’t interfere with scheduled events.
During the DNC, the park hosted demonstrators on stilts, dressed as nuns, carrying signs about ethical treatment of animals. There were representatives from the Equality Coalition for Bernie Sanders, Occupy the DNC, Bernie or Bust, Legalize Cannabis, The Poor Peoples’ Economic Human Rights Rally, Justice for Berta, the Camden to Philadelphia March, Boricuas Unidos Para Puerto Rico, and several deployments from Westboro Baptist Church.
Through its lease, CCD assumes responsibility for all operating and maintenance costs for the park and concourse. To keep it clean, safe and well-lit, to ensure that plants keep growing, fountains are running, and to move chairs, tables, tents and movie screens for scores of events at center stage, almost two dozen people can be working in the park at any time.
Penn’s “green country town” has been transformed multiple times in the last three centuries, but Center Square endures and thrives.
Paul R. Levy
President & CEO