On July 15, 2009, I moved to Philadelphia. I’m a walker who has enjoyed discovering the city’s hidden history and cultural heritage. The once underrated City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection is now a magnet for millennials and empty-nesters.
I’m also a lifelong activist and citizen watchdog. The reactions to the conviction on all counts of Congressman Chaka Fattah showcase the underbelly of Philly’s political culture which more than 100 years ago was described as “corrupt and contented.” Fattah and his enablers boast about his “accomplishments.” Fact is, the poverty rate in the second congressional district is higher today than when Fattah was first elected in 1994.
With an overall poverty rate of 26.3 percent, Philadelphia is the poorest big city in America. Nearly 37 percent of the city’s children live in poverty. Philly has the highest rate of deep poverty (12.9 percent) of the nation’s 10 most populous cities. Roughly 200,000 residents have incomes below half of the poverty line.
There’s not enough money for the schools or affordable housing. Even with the new soda tax, Mayor Jim Kenney’s goal of universal pre-K remains elusive.
So my antennae went up when I read in Hidden City Philadelphia the City was on the hook to pay the $10,000 annual dues for Global Philadelphia Association’s membership in the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC):
There are no application forms for membership into the OWHC and no official guidelines, which perhaps has added to critics’ claims that Philadelphia was merely joining a private club.
“You need to get voted into the World Heritage City Club,” says brand strategist Alan Jacobson. “It’s kind of like getting into the baseball Hall of Fame. You don’t need a certain number of runs to get in. You just need to be accepted by the group.” Plus pay the annual membership dues–$10,000, a sum guaranteed by the City of Philadelphia (the U.S. government pays substantial annual dues to UNESCO, on account of U.S. World Heritage Sites, including Independence Hall).
Global Philadelphia Association (GPA) self-servingly conflates UNESCO’s designation of Independence Hall as a World Heritage Site and OWHC’s designation of Philadelphia as a World Heritage City. Fact is, OWHC and Global Philadelphia Association are private organizations. GPA’s board of directors includes the politically-connected one percent and a stunning lack of diversity.
Last year, the City got stuck with an $8 million bill for an event organized by a private organization, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Looking ahead, I’m concerned that taxpayers’ money will be used to pay for political insiders’ annual membership fee in a private club and junkets to the OWHC General Assembly.
World Heritage Philadelphia, the “brand,” has maintained a deafening silence as historic buildings, including the church where the legendary contralto Marian Anderson learned to sing, are demolished.
I want to know how much the City has shelled out for the World Heritage City “brand.” I also want to know what it will cost the poorest big city in the U.S. to remain a “member in good standing” in a private organization. Under OWHC bylaws, the City of Philadelphia may be obligated to pay the pro-rated expenses of a Canadian organization.
To get some answers, I filed a Right to Know request. Stay tuned.