Inquirer Editorial: EDITORIAL The same magazine that called Philadelphia grimy now says it's the top town for cultural outings.

Pennsylvania Ballet Company member Caralin Curcio performs with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Verizon Hall as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.
Pennsylvania Ballet Company member Caralin Curcio performs with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Verizon Hall as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. (JESSICA GRIFFIN / Philadelphia Orchestra Association)
Posted: December 03, 2011

It can be risky to read too much into a survey like the "America's Favorite Cities" contest by Travel+Leisure Magazine, which just ranked Philadelphia as the top city in the nation for culture.

After all, the same readers' survey in 2010 listed our fair city as one of the nation's most persistently dirty.

As a general snapshot of a city's reputation among visitors, though, it's far better to place in a positive top-10 category, or two - local fans also lifted the city with honors for being "sports-crazed" - than to anchor the "worst" position in every category.

With the city's ample cultural offerings, there's clearly something legitimately driving the latest positive review by Travel+Leisure.

Philadelphians probably don't have to read about that in a magazine, either. They're already experiencing it by visiting the wealth of historic attractions, or taking in exhibits at the Art Museum, a touring Broadway-style production at the Forrest Theatre, or a Philadelphia Orchestra or chamber music performance at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

While acknowledging such surveys are unscientific, city culture czar Gary Steuer calls the new rating "a great barometer of the growing stature and recognition of the cultural scene in Philadelphia, which encompasses both arts and heritage."

It also helps that Steuer is able to back up that assessment with data from a recent report out of his Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy, which portrayed the city as the fifth-fastest-growing "creative sector."

The latest sampling of opinions from the magazine's readers also shows the city is getting its message out, with marketing and online outreach (uwishunu.com) by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. and individual arts and culture groups.

The arts drive millions of dollars through the local economy. While not on the same scale as the region's life-sciences juggernaut, culture still generates thousands of jobs and nightlife sizzle for a thriving Center City that has spurred Philadelphia's first population growth in years.

One day, the region's policymakers may even face up to the need to create a sustainable funding source for the cultural assets that, even with strained government and corporate help, manage to earn so much praise.

As for the perception among Travel+Leisure readers that the city is too grubby, well, the survey could be on target. But that just means there's work to be done to assure no litter blocks the way to the theater.

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