Congratulations to Philadelphia, which has just become the first American city to earn the distinction of World Heritage City.
Like World Heritage Sites, which are named by UNESCO, Cities are deemed to be worth protecting for their value and position in world history. In Philadelphia's case, it was named for its role in promoting democracy.
"The universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in these documents are of fundamental importance to American history and have also had a profound impact on lawmakers around the world," according to UNESCO's site.
There are some 260 such cities in the world, including Paris, Cairo, and Jerusalem, but until now, none was in the United States.
How will this translate into tourism? It's a validation. The city predicts the new stature will attract more international visitors, who will bring as much as $150 million a year in spending. Now, many international visitors—many of whom hadn't known much about America's fifth-largest city—will add the city of its list of stops, bringing it closer in stature with popular cities such as New Orleans and New York. The designation will also gain the city into the organization that includes the other World Heritage Cities—and all the improved business connections that enables.
Independence Hall was already a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Next year, the city will host the Democratic National Convention.
The designation will also encourage better preservation—something that Philadelphia has not always done well (many of the buildings in which colonial leaders lived are long-lost). Ironically, the award comes at the same moment the SS United States, once the fastest ocean liner in the world and one of the last surviving lines of the golden age of travel, languishes unpreserved in a Philadelphia dock, about to be scrapped. Let's hope Philadelphia's growing esteem and self-awareness can lead it to be fierce about preserving and elevating all the historic treasures it has.