Philadelphia Becomes the First American City to Become a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Add World Heritage Sites to the list of Philadelphia firsts. The founding fathers first met in Philadelphia and the city was the first capital while Washington, D.C. was under construction. Philadelphia is the first American city to be named a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Philadelphia’s new title of World Heritage City joins the ranks of 266 other cities like Florence, Paris, St. Petersburg, Rome, and Jerusalem. Another 800 sites worldwide include temples, geographic locations, and landmarks like the Great Wall of China and the Egyptian Pyramids.

UNESCO selects sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of all of humanity. Under certain conditions, listed sites can obtain funds from the World Heritage Fund for upkeep and preservation. Many of the sites receive a boost from tourism, thanks to the awareness the UNESCO designation brings.

While each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state or nation where the site is located, UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site for future posterity.

Philly natives and all those who lobbied for the World Heritage designation call it a point of civic pride. They hope that the news will draw hundreds of millions of dollars to Philly in tourism revenue and strengthen Philadelphia’s international image.

”We have an opportunity to really look over the menu and decide what kind of relationship we’d like to foster,” said John F. Smith III, chair of the Global Philadelphia Association, which worked on the bid. “We would like nothing better than to connect people, to achieve commercial marriages, to let people start talking directly to each other … and see where it goes.”

Interestingly, UNESCO named a location in Philly as a World Heritage Site before the city. Independence Hall became a UNESCO heritage site in 1979. The council found Independence Hall significant to humanity because both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution–documents responsible for the founding of the United States–were signed there.

Increased city revenue from tourism is the biggest benefit. The city commissioned a study to weigh the benefits of such a designation before deciding to lobby for the title. The study found that a UNESCO designation has the potential to increase foreign tourism by ten percent to fifteen percent, amounting to an additional 60,000 to 100,000 additional visitors annually. The increase would create approximately $150 million per year in expanded economic activity, according to the report.

And domestic tourism could grow by a modest one percent to two percent but generate an additional $100 to $200 million in economic impact, according to the study.

But the benefits of the UNESCO designation go beyond an increase in tourism. Denis Ricard, secretary-general of the Organization of World Heritage Cities, added that Philadelphia will gain access to many funded programs that assist cities maintain and promote their heritage.

“It opens up a full network of cities around the world,” said Ricard.