When I moved to Philadelphia, I immediately knew I’d look West for real estate. I’m used to living in-between, and feel most comfortable in spaces whose boundaries/demographics/language/rules have not yet been mapped. As my professors used to say, I crave liminality. Whether it was growing up in Hyde Park Chicago, racial politicking on U. St. in Washington DC, or sitting on my stoop in Harlem, I’ve always heard my neighborhood being described as “in transition,” had a corner bodega instead of a grocery, and a city pool instead of a health club. I’ve certainly been slapped with the label “gentrifier,” or simply, “the white girl,” and have been forced to examine my place in the narrative of displacement and change. All in all, I’ve learned to appreciate the sometimes bizarre but often lovely moments of interaction that occur in this precious experiment we call the Next American City. Some people are baffled by my choices, tending to employ euphemistic approaches when asking me about where I live. I try to educate them, but most of all, I’m concerned with building community with those around me.
I arrived during a time of dualism in Philadelphia, when city officials and developers are heralding an economic boom, but a wave of violence is sweeping the city. I walk around Old City and Midtown Village, and see the shop-and-restaurant-speckled paradise that signals money is simply dying to change hands. However, I walk one block from my house on Chester Avenue, and see that municipal services have ceased to function, grocery stores are more about security cameras than nutrition, and trees have all but disappeared from the landscape. One block, and I can be sure that the shrieking school children are receiving a sub-par education, one block means that I see defeat in people’s eyes.
Quite frankly, I’m astounded. There’s no liminality. It’s just poor.
Clearly, the narrative of two cities is nothing new. But what is this…complacency? Where is the dialogue that I’ve grown accustomed to participating in/creating? Who are the people saying Let’s weave these cities together (and actually offering guerilla solutions for doing so?)
Somebody let me know, please. Or I’ll be forced to share in other’s mysticism when they ask: So, why exactly did you move to Philadelphia?