Pope Francis, Rocky Balboa, and the Eagles are some of the legends that have made the Benjamin Franklin Parkway an iconic gathering place for the city and the world. Celebrating there is a part of Philadelphia's DNA.
Since 2012, Jay-Z has added the Made in America music festival to the city's DNA chain. The two-day festival, held over Labor Day, attracts more than 50,000 people each day who come to listen to a line-up of hip hop and other artists.
Now, the future of the festival is unclear.
On July 17, Billy Penn reported that the city said that the 2019 festival would not take place on the Parkway. Jay-Z claimed the announcement was a surprise; in an op-ed for the Inquirer he wrote, "We are disappointed that the mayor… would evict us from the heart of the city, through a media outlet, without a sit-down meeting, notice, dialogue, or proper communication."
According to Jay-Z, the festival has paid $3.4 million in rent to the city and generated $102.8 million in economic impact. The city insisted it had alerted Roc Nation, Jay-Z's entertainment company, and Thursday, the mayor responded, "I love Jay-Z" and that the city wants to keep the festival, but that holding the event on the Parkway has caused problems. MIA is the only large gathering that is ticketed, closing down a major part of the city for anyone who hasn't paid to get in.
But the issue here is less about the festival than about how decisions are made about a large public space in the heart of our city. There is a lack of transparency and consistent policy in the way the city decides how the Parkway gets used.
That was echoed in a recently published study by the Parkway Council Foundation and the city's Managing Director's Office, which pointed out that "residents and stakeholders questioned how decisions regarding the Parkway are made."
Every decision has a trade-off. A giant festival can generate economic activity and at the same time be a nuisance for nearby residents. Transparency is important for our ability to understand how a city – and its residents – decide what trade-offs are worth making.
Surely Kenney, who has shown himself to be a savvy leader, can't be blind to the fact that the Parkway is a divider between a zip code that is 66 percent white and a zip code that is 79 percent white in a city that is 41 percent white. The also savvy Jay-Z pointed out that Made in America is one of the few black-owned music festivals. It is reasonable to ask whether the decision to move the festival from the heart of the city is related to the type of music and crowd that the festival draws. That impression was bolstered by another artist, Questlove, the drummer of The Roots, who connected the administration's treatment of Jay-Z to the all-black band being pulled from the yearly Welcome America concert when Kenney became mayor.