Between Stephan Salisbury's Philly.com article, Victor Fiorillo's piece in PhillyMag.com, and Inga Saffron's comments on Facebook, it seems the media has spoken: Franklin Square's Chinese Lantern Festival was a failure before it even opened.
If you're not clear on what the festival is, you're not alone. It's essentially a light show that consists of about two dozen Asian themed lanterns. However, despite being hailed as "the first ever in the Northeast," its cultural or historic relevance is scattered. Historically, Chinese Lantern Festivals are held on the fifteenth day of the first month in the Chinese calendar, or in 2016, February 22nd. Franklin Square's festival opened last night and will run through June 12th.
With the exception of a "sponsored by" logo for the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation on the festival's site, it has very little to do with neighboring Chinatown, if much else. In fact, the PCDC's website doesn't even mention the festival despite it occurring during the organization's 50th anniversary. Chinatown's tourism website doesn't say anything about it either. That's because the company running the show, Sichuan Tianyu of Zigong, didn't consult with the Chinatown community on the project.
But what really fired up the media wasn't the festival's murky relevance or shoehorned history; but the park's closure, cover charge, and the foreboding black curtain that now lines almost the entire perimeter of Franklin Square. This isn't just a privately operated festival occupying a park for a week to generate some spending money for the non-profit Historic Philadelphia, it's being walled off from view for two full months, not including the absurd amount of time it's taken to set up.
Entrance to the park after 6pm will cost a whopping $17, blocking evening access to the historic merry-go-round and putt putt golf course. Historic Philadelphia was quick to point out that the park closes at 7pm this time of year. But the festival run until June, and the park has never closed earlier than 9pm during the summer. And although all of Philadelphia's public parks technically have a "closing time," they're open to pedestrians passing through twenty-four hours a day.
The worst abuse of this space, though, is the black tarp running around the park. What would Rittenhouse residents say if the city's most popular square were not only closed, but blocked from view? The city would lose its mind. But this isn't just a Pope Fence or one of Independence Hall's security walls. In fact, Franklin Square already has a fence in place. This wall serves one purpose and one purpose only: to block the festival from unpaying eyes walking the sidewalks around the park, and ultimately Sichuan Tianyu's wallet. It's offensive and an insult to neighbors, particularly the hardworking Chinatown community that might not want to shell out $17 to see a festival that I have to assume was situated nearby specifically for them.
If you really want to see this festival, I suggest you head here and buy yourself a $40 drone. It's still legal in Philadelphia and - unless Historic Philadelphia and Sichuan Tianyu decide to built a tarp over the park - there's nothing they can do about it.