To be defined as a UNESCO World Heritage City, a metropolis must be home to several places designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites; a label granted to only the most significant attractions in the world. For many years, this distinction was relegated to historically significant European and Asian cities (like Rome and Paris), but the United States is finally home to its first official World Heritage City: Philadelphia.
World Heritage Cities Around the Globe
There are currently over 260 World Heritage Cities in existence, but none have been in the United States until now. Major cities that have great historical significance have long had this status, including Vienna, Paris, Quebec, Cairo, Berlin, Jerusalem, and Rome.
Some of these cities are home to multiple sites with long-established importance to humanity, and it is mostly these that have held the World Heritage City status.
The World Heritage delineation recognizes a site - natural or made by man - that has significant meaning in a global context. Sites are nominated and approved by the World Heritage Organization (a branch of the UN), but just having a recognized site does not automatically qualify a location for a World Heritage City title.
Why was Philadelphia Chosen?
In 1979, Independence Hall was declared an official World Heritage site, as it was the birthplace of the United States where both the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were signed. The reasons behind the granting of this site were primarily because the documents created there are said to have impacted leaders and governments around the world, for what is now a substantial period of time.
However, it was not until 2013 that Philadelphia was granted "observing member status" in the organization, and after two years of lobbying has now been given full member status; the first city in the United States to do so.
The Benefits of Being a World Heritage City
Besides the notoriety, being a World Heritage City unites Philadelphia with other cities around the globe that have received the distinction. This opens up new avenues for communication, and the potential for increased international business relations. Particularly since many of these cities are major metropolitan areas, this is a huge asset for outreach to new audiences.
Furthermore, this title is a huge boost for tourism in the area. While Philadelphia has long housed some of the most significant structures in American history, these attractions have now been legitimized as international objects of importance, which is always attractive to potential tourists. Most cities that have received the title have significantly increased international tourism rates, which has helped maintain tourism as an active source of income.
Being a member of the organization also gives cities access to important resources and connections that are meant to help promote heritage sites as attractively as possible. This of course helps to result in more tourism and active interest in the site. Similarly, there are more resources available to help with the long-term preservation of sites, which can become increasingly more expensive over time.
The addition of Philadelphia to the ranks of other World Heritage cities is an exciting development that will surely grant the area more international recognition for its touristic appeal. For many US residents living on the east coast, the historic wonders of Philadelphia are no more than a short drive away, but don't forget there are plenty of other incredible sites to see around the globe!
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