The city is considering a radical change in the route of the Mummers Parade that would take it south from City Hall to Washington Avenue, skipping the event's spiritual heart - South Philadelphia.
The new route would reverse the parade's direction.
The change was proposed by the Mummers themselves, and is intended to infuse more spontaneity and flow into the parade, which all too often has become a daylong queue of string bands, comics, and elaborate floats moving fitfully up South Broad Street from Oregon Avenue.
Worse, the Mummers say, is that the anxiety leading up to their turn to be judged at City Hall has undercut their joy in performing along the route.
"The Mummers say it's not fun for them anymore," said Leo Dignam, the city's deputy commissioner for parks and recreation. "And they are getting the idea it is not fun for the audience either."
Tom Loomis, president of the 17-member Philadelphia String Band Association, said it this way: "What we have become is a line waiting to be judged. We've stopped being a parade."
By starting at City Hall with the judging first, organizers hope, the event will become more parade-like and enjoyable for viewers and marchers.
"Taking the stress and angst of the competition out of the way, and just marching from City Hall to Washington, we can now focus on just entertaining people," Loomis said.
Dignam said the shorter parade route would also save the city money on police costs. Loomis said it would enable marchers to be done and home by early evening as opposed to 10:30 or 11 p.m.
While the change would take advantage of the large crowds that the parade still draws north of Washington, it would mean leaving behind the neighborhoods of deep South Philadelphia, home to generations of Mummers.
"We are not going to be in the heart of South Philadelphia, and that does hurt a lot," Loomis said. "We are asking people to work with us. ... We have been getting a little bit of pushback, which we understand. Change is always scary."
Since 1901, when it was first officially sponsored by the city, the parade has traditionally marched north on Broad from Oregon to City Hall, and, in some years, as far as Girard Avenue.
It has been redirected to Market Street periodically for various reasons, including construction of the Avenue of the Arts along South Broad.
This time, the proposed change seems in part a result of demographic shifts the city has undergone. South Philadelphia once was home to large populations of migrants from Ireland and Italy, who produced both Mummers and crowds along the route. Those populations have thinned and been replaced by new immigrant groups - Asians and Hispanics - with fewer ties to the parade.
Now, as Dignam pointed out, Broad Street on parade day can be largely empty south of Washington.
"All those Mummers marching up south of Washington are really marching to nobody now," he said.
Dignam has been in discussion since February with the heads of the five Mummers Divisions - Comics, Wenches, String Bands, Fancies, and Fancy Brigades - working out the details of the new route. Loomis said it would take until mid-September to nail everything down.
As envisioned, the various Mummers units would use the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as a staging area prior to moving to City Hall to be judged and then join the parade heading south. The parade would end at Washington, with some clubs still heading east to Second Street for the unofficial "Two Street Parade" - where serious carousing traditionally occurs.
One side benefit of the proposed route: The Fancy Brigades would again join the parade once they completed their own judged performances at the Convention Center.
"Getting the Fancy Brigades to join the other four divisions on Broad Street is really fantastic," Loomis said. "A lot of good is going to come out of this."