On Friday afternoon, the City of Philadelphia was a ghost town. While some streets were already blocked off in anticipation of tomorrow’s Festival of Families and Sunday’s Papal Mass, the streets were much clearer than most days in the City of Brotherly Love. The map above is intimidating, but it was easy to walk around Center City Philadelphia Friday. That is partially because people left.
Weddings and corporate events are essentially non-existent today. The World Meeting of Families scared people away. The reality is, during the week there were only about 17,000 people attending the conference. While that seems like it is a lot, it is less than one-fourth the crowd of a typical Philadelphia Eagles game. So with many people heading out of town, Center City Philadelphia has been very light.
Speaking of the Philadelphia Eagles, they are playing up in the Meadowlands against the New York Jets on Sunday, so they will not interfere. The Phillies will be in Washington, D.C., playing the Washington Nationals. So, the Sports Complex will be free and clear and no traffic will be headed to South Philadelphia.
Early estimates of 1 million visitors sent many Philadelphians running out of town. “Popecation” and “Popepocalypse” are two terms popular on social media. With schools closed and many businesses closed, people took advantage of the long weekend to take trips out of town.
Patrick Franklin, who until recently even worked in one of the parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, headed to Walt Disney World for the weekend.
“Have fun with the Pope, everybody”, Franklin’s Facebook reads. “I’m so glad to get away from the mess.”
However, the Festival of Families and the Papal Mass will take place on a fenced in area of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. With a limited number of tickets, there will be a limited number of attendees. An Associated Press report makes it seem like those allowed in the ticketed area will be relatively light:
“The Secret Service told The Associated Press that about 80,000 people with tickets distributed mostly through local parishes and an online lottery will fill the first three blocks in front of the pope’s altar for the Mass on Sept. 27.
The rest of the mile-long Benjamin Franklin Parkway, stretching to City Hall and also within a secured perimeter, is projected to hold from 150,000 to 200,000, special agent David Beach said.”
80,000 is just 10,000 people more than fill Lincoln Financial Field for a Philadelphia Eagles game. Tall fences create a barrier keeping those without tickets out. In order to get into the enclosed area, people will need to pass through metal detectors. Tickets will be necessary to get in.
The entire City of Philadelphia has 1.5 million people, so it seems that the early attendance estimates are overstated. It is reasonable to think that the 17,000 who went to the World Meeting of Families will attend, though many of them are Philadelphians already. As we mentioned before, some people took tickets as a souvenir, without planning to attend at all.
For comparison, the annual July 4th celebration on the same Benjamin Franklin Parkway has “hundreds of thousands” in the same space.
It is indeed true that the event required extra work for many to make this happen. Philadelphia police are working four 12-hour days in a row, and planned vacations are canceled. The State Police, National Guard, Park Rangers, and various branches of the military are all in town making this event go smoothly and keeping everyone safe.
So while there is the buzz of a major disruption or some sort of city shutdown, everything appears to be smoothly moving along. There is the possibility that after this is all over, people will look back and ask, “What was the big deal?” and wish they had stuck around.