Holidays in Philly

16 things Philly can be proud of in 2016

What to tell your weird, out-of-town family members about our fair city.

Philadelphia Skyline
Joan Brady / Billy Penn

We’re here to interrupt your complaining that 2016 was just the woooooorst. 

It’s the holiday season, and many of us are likely to have contact with out-of-town family members, whether we’re hosting them here or schlepping it out somewhere else. They’re all bound to have questions: What’s going on in Philly? Have a boyfriend? How’s the neighborhood? What’s new in Philly? When will you have a boyfriend? What’s up in Philly?

And look, we can’t help you with the “why-are-you-forever-alone” questions, but we have come up with 16 choices of things you can tell them to show how proud you are of Philadelphia this year. Or you could just print this out and hand it out on the holiday. Your choice!

1. We hosted the DNC, and it went fine!

The Democratic National Convention crowd rallies for their nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic National Convention at Wells Fargo Arena.

The Democratic National Convention crowd rallies for their nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic National Convention at Wells Fargo Arena.

Sean M. Fitzgerald/Asbury Park Press via USA TODAY NETWORK

It probably depends which family member we’re talking to here, but everyone can pretty roundly agree that hosting thousands of delegates, media members, politicians and celebrities in a city for the Democratic National Convention isn’t easy. And while there were certainly some logistical issues (that can be attributed to the DNC Host Committee, not necessarily the city itself), everything went relatively smoothly. Philly did a good job putting on a show for the visitors. It was a boon for the economy. Protesters felt police treated them fairly. There was even an app that helped get 9,000 meals to hungry Philadelphians during the DNC. And nothing notable happened to local politicians… until about a week later.

2. Wine is in our grocery stores now

Wikimedia Commons

Put this one in the “things-that-should-have-already-been-a-thing” column. But still! This year, the Pennsylvania legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf actually got something accomplished. And it makes drinking easier in PA. Lawmakers in Harrisburg earlier this year approved measures that relax state restrictions on selling booze, and that means that wine and beer are becoming more and more common in grocery stores across the state. On top of that, here are all the places that now sell wine to-go in Philly.

3. The NFL draft will be here in April

Dan Levy/Billy Penn

Whether you’re into football or not, the NFL draft is undoubtedly cool. And this coming April, Philadelphia will play host to the draft in one of the most undoubtedly cool city spaces: Right on the Art Museum steps overlooking the picturesque Parkway. Sure, there are some challenges — but it’s still another nationally and internationally-watched event taking place in Philly. And that’s something to celebrate (and actually matters, because…)

4. We had high draft picks this year

Carson Wentz with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

Apr 28, 2016; Chicago, IL; Carson Wentz with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Philadelphia Eagles as the number one overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at Auditorium Theatre.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It started in April when the Eagles unexpectedly traded up to the second overall pick to draft Carson Wentz, a quarterback from North Dakota State. Then, in June, the Sixers took LSU forward Ben Simmons first overall in the NBA draft, securing a bit of young talent to hopefully turn the team around. Neither have had smooth rookie years in Philly. While Wentz’s Eagles are 5-9 (last in the NFC east), the quarterback has showed growth throughout the season under new head coach Doug Pederson. Meanwhile, Simmons is still recovering from a right foot fracture that happened during training camp.

5. Our community spaces are being rebuilt


Over the next several years, half a billion dollars will be set aside to revitalize Philadelphia’s parks, recreation centers and libraries that are in desperate need of some TLC. Take the Conestoga Community Playground in West Philly, which was recently featured by The Inquirer, for example. More than half a million dollars was spent refurbishing the park which will now serve as an example for what’s to come: Improved community spaces that have impacts far beyond being just a playground or just a library. The money to finance the massive “Rebuild” is coming from $300 million in bonds, $100 million from the William Penn Foundation and other city funders.

6. Geno’s took down their “Speak English” sign

No more 'Speak English' sign

No more 'Speak English' sign

Danya Henninger

Despite it being the founder’s dying wish, the infamous “Speak English” sign at Geno’s Steaks is no longer. The well-known cheesesteak spot in South Philly featured a “This is AMERICA. When ordering, speak English” sign since 2006. But this year, current owner/ son of the founder Geno Vento quietly removed the sign, possibly as early as before the DNC. So go order your steak in Spanish, or for that matter, whatever language you’d like.

7. Bon Jovi’s helping with Ben Franklin’s gravesite

Wikimedia Commons

Ben Franklin’s gravesite at 5th and Arch streets is getting a makeover, thanks in large part to a $5,000 donation from Jon Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea. In November, Philly Mag reported that Franklin’s gravestone is cracked, likely because of a renovation that took place in the 1950s. The Christ Church Preservation Fund launched a GoFundMe to raise $10,000 to repair the site. Bon Jovi’s donation and a grant from the Eagles helped the GoFundMe reach its goal.

8. Uber is finally legal


It’s not like UberX and Lyft being illegal in the city of Philadelphia made that big of a difference in usage. But it didn’t look great. For two years, Philadelphia wasn’t legally open to ridesharing, as it wasn’t technically legal. And while Uber and Lyft were awarded experimental licenses to operate in the rest of the state, it’s been a back-and-forth in Philly between the ridesharing companies, the lawmakers, the Philadelphia Parking Authority and taxi companies. Finally in November, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill passed by the Pennsylvania legislature that officially made UberX and Lyft legal in Philly. Phew.

9. We had Open Streets PHL and got a protected bike lane

The hardcore security measures from the papal visit left Philly's streets wide open in 2015, and then the city tried something similar last year.

The hardcore security measures from the papal visit left Philly's streets wide open last year, and then the city tried something similar in September.

Open Streets PHL

It was a great year for cyclists. We got both our first protected bike lanes, 24 new Indego stations *and* our first director of complete streets. But one of the best developments was Open Streets PHL — an effort to shut down streets in the city (it was inspired by the papal visit) for a period of time to make way for cyclists, pedestrians and others just looking to use community space without the fear of speeding cars.

10. You can (kind of) pay for SEPTA digitally!

SEPTA is considering making the Key compatible with PPA kiosks

It has been a literal decade since SEPTA started working on its digital fare payment system and the rollout of that system, dubbed SEPTA Key, has been plagued by bugs and delays. But for the first time this year, working kiosks were installed and some SEPTA users who bought reloadable cards are able to pay their fares with credit cards and load money onto their prepaid SEPTA Key. Tokens are still a thing, but their days are numbered. Finally.

11. There are Targets in Center City now

Via @6abc on Twitter

Now we can walk into Target to buy soap and walk out with $200 worth of stuff in Center City. There are now two Targets in Center City. One, at 11th and Chestnut, opened over the summer. Another, at 19th and Chestnut, opened in October. While the stores are smaller than, say, the one off Delaware Avenue in South Philly, they’re part of Target’s nationwide expansion into urban areas.

12. We drank in our parks this summer

People enjoy Parks on Tap at Fairmount Water Works

People enjoy Parks on Tap at Fairmount Water Works

Photo via Parks on Tap

Parks on Tap was one of the best new features of the summer. Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, the Fairmount Park Conservancy and FCM Hospitality teamed up this year to put on 18 pop-up beer gardens in parks across the city. This is one summertime specialty we hope continues into 2017.

13. A petition actually made a difference in City Council

An image from an online petition

Don’t ever let anyone tell you grassroots efforts to impact city decision-makers don’t work. Toward the beginning of this year, City Councilman Mark Squilla introduced a bill that would require music venue owners to collect the names, addresses, and phone numbers of entertainers in a registry and to then share that info with police upon request. This may surprise you, but that did not go over well! A huge online petition against the bill garnered 16,000 signatures, and Squilla eventually pulled it. 

14. Attendance is up at Philly schools

School District of Philadelphia administration building

School District of Philadelphia administration building

Wikimedia Commons

In the 2015-16 school year, “4,000 more students were marked present 95 percent of the time” compared to the previous year, The Inquirer reported in September. That means more Philly kids are spending most of their time during the school year, well, in school. The district, like many big city systems, still has a ways to go before absenteeism isn’t a chronic problem. Though attendance is better, still only 42 percent of Philadelphia school kids are attending more than 95 percent of the time.

15. The Divine Lorraine is livable

Facebook/Divine Lorraine

The most iconic building on North Broad Street sat idle and crumbling for years. Now, it’s been completely redeveloped into a mixed-use apartment complex and will be ready for tenants to move in by January. How’s that for turning trash to treasure? This week, we caught up with developer Eric Blumenfeld to talk about how the Divine Lorraine has changed and why it has such a hold on people. And check out photos of the new apartments here.

16. The Binary Bandits changed their minds

Meghan Haley picks up a zero that was one of dozens dropped on her porch early this morning.

Meghan Haley picks up a zero that was one of dozens dropped on her porch early this morning.

Anna Orso/Billy Penn

The odd story of the Binary Bandits spread across Philadelphia (and, in some ways, the country) earlier this year. You remember the story: Two people went around East Kensington prying 0s and 1s off of the front of homes for no apparent reason. And while police never made an arrest in the case, the Bandits did apparently have a change of heart. In the middle of the night last week, a man dropped a trash bag on Meghan Haley’s front door. In it? Eighty-three 0s and 1s. Merry Christmas, indeed.