Every year Travel + Leisure magazine runs a poll as part of its "America's Favorite Cities" feature. Readers of the magazine and visitors to their Web site are invited to rate cities on a wide array of criteria, both their own city as well as other cities they visit.
It is exciting news in Philadelphia that in 2011, this poll resulted in Philadelphia being named by visitors the #1 city in the nation for Culture. This is quite a coup, given the competition and how Philadelphia has ranked in the past. In 2010 we ranked #10 for culture. Here is the link to the 2011 results.
Now, the survey is really not scientific, but it still is a great barometer of the growing stature and recognition of the cultural scene in Philadelphia, which encompasses both arts and heritage. There are four sub-categories in "Culture": Historical sites/monuments, where we ranked #1 (up from #6); Theatre/performing arts, where we ranked #5 (up from #18); Classical music, where we ranked #2 (up from #10); and Museums/galleries, at #5 (up from #8). Live (non-classical) music is a category under "Nightlife" which also includes bars, singles scene, cocktails, etc. In this category we were up from 28 to 9.
So Culture is not the only area where Philadelphia made a big leap in the rankings, though it is the only area where we are now #1. In "Food, Drink and Restaurants" the city went from #22 to #3. In "Shopping" Philadelphia went from #30 (out of 35) to #5, and in the creative economy-related sub-category of "home decor and design" we rose from 29 to 9.
What is also gotten a lot of attention is the perception that the survey also ranks Philadelphia as relatively unwelcoming and dirty and Philadelphians as unattractive and unstylish. While there is some truth to that take on the ratings, there is also a lot more nuance. On the category "Quality of Life and Visitor Experience" we went from 31 to 18, with big improvements in "public transit and pedestrian friendliness" and in "public parks and outdoor access." Under the "People" category, in "Diversity" we went from 20 to 5, and in "Stylish" we went form 32 to 17. In "athletic/active" we went from 33 to 21, but it is important to note there are no East Coast cities in the top ten, which include places like Denver, San Diego, Seattle, Portland and Austin, known for their outdoorsy, athletic lifestyles. And yes, under "attractive" we are #25, but that is an increase from 33 last year. And, yes, we are #30 for "cleanliness", but in 2010 we were #34, and cities like New York City, Baltimore, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas , Miami and Memphis are also in the bottom ten in this category. W can't be in the top for everything.
Faced off "head to head" - a cool feature of the T+L web site, Philadelphia tops NYC, LA, Boston, Chicago, DC and Miami, some of our top competitors both for tourism and talent. The only other major City that seem to "beat" Philly in a head-to-head match-up for over-all rankings is San Francisco.
Another factor that bears mentioning is that Philadelphia is one of the few - if not only - cities where the residents consistently rank the City lower than visitors. Even in Culture, our ranking by residents puts us at #3 (tied with DC and Boston) as compared to #1 by visitors. This is clearly the much-discussed negativity about itself that still persists in Philadelphia. It is not a coincidence that the recent "Creative Connectors" project of Leadership Philadelphia, which selected 76 people as the leaders in connecting the creative sector, found that roughly 70% of the "connectors" were people that had moved to Philadelphia. This challenge of the City's negative self-perception was even evidenced in the press coverage of the great news about the Travel + Leisure ranking. In the Daily News, the story did not explicitly mention that we were rated #1, or what a significant leap this was in the ranking, and it also paired the news by emphasizing we were "bashed for being dirty, dangerous and home to some rather grumpy residents." We seem incapable of accepting good news without pairing it with a "yeah, but..."
On a more serious note, I also think we need to consider that the reason Philadelphia residents may rate their own city lower than visitors, is that they do not see the same City as visitors. They take our cultural and other assets for granted and are often unaware of the depth and breadth of what is here, in their own backyard. We are now discussing with the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) and others some ideas about how we could better promote the city's assets to residents as effectively as we are selling the city to visitors. And while they are probably not the residents who filled out the Travel + Leisure survey, we also have vast numbers of residents who through poverty and lack of education and opportunity are not able to take advantage of our rich cultural assets. That also needs to be addressed.
Bravo to the cultural community, our artists, GPTMC, the Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the City Representative's Office, The Center City District and other BIDs and CDCs, and everyone else involved in both producing and maintaining our cultural assets, and communicating them to our visitors. This is a great city, that is only getting better every day.