Center City weathering the effects of the coronavirus pandemic

Pat Loeb
April 26, 2020 - 12:15 pm
South Broad Street has seen more parked than moving vehicles since the coronavirus pandemic forced officials to issue stay-at-home orders.

Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — It’s stunning to see Market Street with no traffic and Broad Street with more cars parked than moving but at the intersection of the two, in Dilworth Park, the spring flowers are in glorious bloom and teal-jacketed helpers stand by.

“We’ve kept everyone working,” says Center City District president Paul Levy. “Our sidewalk cleaners, our pressure washers, our graffiti removal teams, our public safety teams.”

Of all the neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Center City has been perhaps the most altered by the stay-at-home order, issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The garden at Dilworth Park
Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio
Normally the most bustling area, it’s now as quiet as everywhere else.

Levy says the district’s 12 pedestrian counters show foot traffic is down 86% but he also notes there are 66,000 residents downtown and thousands of essential workers.

“While downtown is much emptier, it’s not abandoned,” he says.

In some ways, the District’s employees are busier than ever. When shut down stores boarded up their windows with plywood, they became an instant target for graffiti—one of the things the district was created to eliminate. So workers are in the midst of painting the boards black, which makes it less attractive for graffiti artists.

Levy says the district, through Wawa, is providing all 140 employees lunch because the vendors they normally depend on are closed, and it’s provided each of them masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

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The district also decided to put out its annual report, last week, despite the fact that so much has changed since it went to press.

Levy says the report always gives an account of the prior year and the picture of 2019 hasn’t changed so the information remains valid. But, more importantly, Levy says the report shows the strong fundamentals the city has on which to build when it reopens.

“There will be a vaccine, there will be ways to address this, and just like we rebounded from 9/11 and just like we rebounded from 2008, there’s a fundamental resiliency about cities, I think, that will be there,” he says. 

Market Street
Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio

There will be challenges too, he says: existing ones such as the high poverty rate and what Levy considers a faulty tax structure, too dependent on the wage tax, which has been thrown into high relief by the loss of revenue that is likely to throw the city budget into crisis.

But there will be new challenges, too.

Density is one of the things that makes the city desirable, the convenience of being close to amenities and other people. Now, Levy says, it’s become a liability.

“Everybody’s scared stiff of density right now,” he says. Everybody’s focusing on social distance. But that’s everywhere."

Levy says he believes the city’s affordability and the diversity the district has helped painstakingly foster in the downtown employment base are assets that will help the recovery.

“So many of the strong points of the city, once we get past this awful crisis, and this is an awful crisis, the next three months, six months, 12 months, we’re positioned well with a lot of strengths.”