In a recent episode of our podcast, “AFP Conversations,” we talked with Brooke Lazizi, senior destination services manager for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. Philadelphia is a thriving city undergoing an incredible rebirth, which can be seen in the inspiring and beautiful murals painted all over the city, to the cutting-edge research happening at Penn State. The city of brotherly love and sisterly affection is a fantastic gathering place, which why we're so excited to host AFP 2022 there, October 23-26.
In our conversation with Brooke, we get her perspective on Philly from her 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry and learn what made Philly land the top spot in many travel magazines’ must-see lists, as well as what's going on in the arts and food scene, and whether Brooke has ever run up the Rocky steps.
AFP: In one word, how would you describe Philadelphia?
Lazizi: There are so many words I could use to describe Philadelphia, but one that comes to mind right off the top of my head would be inspirational. You don't have to go very far, from wherever you are in the city, to find something that can inspire you to try something new. It’s a really exciting place to be.
AFP: How is Philadelphia sectioned out? I've heard of north Philly, south Philly …
Lazizi: Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, and each neighborhood has its own unique identity. We have the Italian market area. People are talking about Northern Liberties and the Fishtown neighborhood; they’re the most up and coming neighborhoods. Because we are made up of so many individual and unique neighborhoods, it makes the city feel like a small town, which is a great feeling.
AFP: Philly has recently made the list of best destinations with major travel publications — National Geographic, Condé Nast and Travel & Leisure. What would you say accounts for this rapid rise?
Lazizi: We have such a rich history here, and an incredible art scene. And of course, great food. It's a very walkable city. We have more public art than any other American city and are known as the unofficial mural capital of the world with over 4,000 murals, sculptures and mosaics integrated right into our landscape. We're also the first World Heritage city in the United States; we have so many historic landmarks and the nation's most historic mile, which is just up from the convention center, so easily accessible to all of the attendees coming to the city. And of course, I mentioned the unique neighborhoods. I think that really sets us apart as a destination.
AFP: Tell me a little bit about this historic mile.
Lazizi: Not too far from the convention center, you'll find Independence Hall, which is not to be missed. We also have the National Constitution Center and the Independence Visitor Center all within just a couple of blocks.
AFP: That's fantastic. The art scene appears to be huge in huge part of the city. Since you were saying how you have so many murals, how would you say this is reflected in your day-to-day comings and goings around the city?
Lazizi: Anytime I leave my house, I feel like I run into a new piece of art. I've lived in downtown Philadelphia for the past 16 years, so I've certainly seen a lot. It's inspiring to walk through the city and see something new every day. They'll take sides of buildings that may have been renovated and paint a mural there to make it more beautiful. It makes you feel something as you walk through the city. Every time I walk around, I look up. I always tell people, when you come to Philadelphia, don't look down at the ground; make sure you look up because you'll always see something new or exciting.
AFP: What is one place you always take someone new to the city?
Lazizi: I'd probably have to say the Franklin Institute. It's one of the oldest premier centers of science education and development in the U.S. It was designed to inspire a passion for science, and to support the spirit and honor of American scientist Ben Franklin. There are 12 exhibits. One of my favorites is a 5,000 square foot, giant heart that you can actually walk through. They also have a planetarium and an IMAX theater. It's also the home to a national monument to Ben Franklin. There is a 20-foot statue of him in the larger rotunda, in the middle of the museum, and all throughout, you'll see little nods to him.
AFP: Is that why our conference planners decided to have the kickoff party there?
Lazizi: It may very well be. It's certainly a great feature of our city and a place not to be missed. There are some new exhibits that will be announced a little later on this summer, so I would highly recommend folks coming to the city to keep an eye on what might be coming from Franklin Institute.
AFP: What are some of the common misconceptions about the city?
Lazizi: Our passion here in Philadelphia is often misinterpreted. Philadelphians are extremely passionate about our city, our history, and of course our sports teams. We hear that a lot, but you know, this same passion also leads to innovation. And, as you mentioned, this is city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. We're a strong community full of passion for whatever makes our city the best for our communities, each other, our visitors, our businesses — Philadelphia loves hard. I always say, when we love something, we really love something, and that something is our city.
AFP: Around the time we'll be there is time for fall foliage. Does Philadelphia have anywhere special people can see the changing colors?
Lazizi: Absolutely. We have several parks throughout the city. We have Rittenhouse Square, the Rittenhouse neighborhood of Philadelphia, Logan Circle is a beautiful place to stop on the way to the art museum or the Franklin Institute. There is also Washington Square, and all of these are walkable from the convention center and a lot of the hotels where people will be staying when they're in town for AFP 2022. The foliage can also be seen on the lawns of the historic mile that I mentioned earlier. And if you're up for a little ride, you could go into the Fairmount Park area, from which you can see some of the best foliage in the city. It’s a perfect time to be here.
The weather in October should be lovely to get out and about and see the city, not to mention October is a mural arts month in Philadelphia, so there will be events going on throughout the month.
AFP: Tell us a little about the music scene in Philadelphia.
Lazizi: You’ll find just about anything you could imagine here. There are several different small theaters that feature all types of artists, a couple of jazz cafés downtown. Music is part of the art scene here; there is a lot of history in the Philadelphia music scene.
AFP: We can't talk about Philadelphia without getting some insight on the culinary scene, especially those Philadelphia cheesesteaks.
Lazizi: While the culinary scene of Philadelphia is much more than cheesesteaks, we are really good at cheesesteaks. The culinary scene here is fantastic. If I had to describe it in one word, I think I would say delicious. We have some of the most amazing restaurants in the country, several James Beard nominated and winning chefs. You don't have to go far or spend a lot of money to get a really memorable culinary experience here in Philadelphia. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the Reading Terminal Market, which is located right across the street from the convention center. The market is over 125 years old. There are more than 80 merchants inside with several great restaurants, all under one roof. Make sure you stop in there, and they do have cheesesteaks there as well.
AFP: I've also heard about … was it pizza pies? Apparently, it's a sheet of dough with tomato sauce and no cheese.
Lazizi: That's a tomato pie. Cooked on a big sheet tray, and it's a thicker dough. They put tomato sauce on it, but there's no cheese, though they do oftentimes put a little Parmesan on top. And a lot of times it's served cold. It's a snack. But yeah, tomato pie is a big thing. You can find those in the Italian market in Philadelphia; they're really popular.
AFP: I understand that you are foodie. What's one of your favorite restaurants?
Lazizi: That would be like picking a favorite child. I don't think I could pick just one restaurant. Plus, we have new restaurants popping up all over the place. I love everything from a Hoy or a cheesesteak up to fine dining. I really can't pick just one, but I can say that I've never had a bad meal in Philadelphia.
AFP: The AFP conference will be taking place October 23rd through the 26th. Will there be any other events taking place at that time?
Lazizi: As I mentioned earlier, it is Mural Arts Month, so there will be a lot of different art activities taking place during that time. I would definitely check out the mural arts website and their social media for any announcements. October is also football season, and while the schedule hasn't been released yet, football is big in Philadelphia, so you’ll likely see some activities surrounding that. And then of course it is prime time for any kind of night markets or street festivals, things of that nature would be happening around the city. Those typically don't get announced until a little bit closer to your conference date. I would recommend watching our social media channels to see the latest, but it is prime time for fun stuff going on in the city.
AFP: Have you ever run up the Rocky steps?
Lazizi: I sure have! All 72 steps, several times. I'm okay with people referring to them as the Rocky steps, but it's important to note that they’re the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They were made famous by a very big training montage in the 1976 film, “Rocky.” There's a statue of Rocky at the bottom, so if you do run up the steps, I would highly recommend taking a look at the statue of Rocky at the bottom. It’s a big photo opportunity, and did you really visit Philadelphia if you didn't take a picture at the top of the steps with your arms in the air, jumping up and down?
I feel like you have to do that, and the view from the top is unbelievable. It is really the ultimate view of the city of Philadelphia.
AFP: We should have a photo contest, best reenactment wins.
Lazizi: We've all conquered a lot these last couple of years, so that's a great sign of beating the odds.
We're so excited to have your attendees and AFP here in our city. We can't wait to welcome you. It's going to be a fantastic week while you're here. We're so thankful you’re visiting our city.
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