This afternoon three friends and I embarked on Neighborhood Exploration #2. We headed to the East Passyunk neighborhood in South Philly, looking to explore this lively cultural district. We enjoyed our afternoon of taking photos, meeting shop owners, and buying more than we originally expected (including 2 comic books, a graphic novel, a big bottle of beer, lunch at a lovely cafe, and a Jackson 5 album from 1984).
We met the proprietor of a great shop called Medium Bob’s Curiosity Shop, which carries everything from a collection of early 80′s R&B records to a pair of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle rollerskates to vintage menswear. As I purchased a $4 Jackson 5 album, we discovered that the store is named after the co-owner’s grandfather. His name was Bob, and he wore a size medium. Bob’s large collection of clothing and collectibles formed the initial supply for Medium Bob’s. So clever.
We lunched at a local cafe, found a place to play comic book quizzo, discovered shops that sell items made by local artists, got 15% off a graphic novel for a foursquare check-in … and took photos to document the day.
Walking east from 13th to 9th, down East Passyunk Ave., there’s a striking juxtaposition of traditional and edgy, as two very different cultures have found a way to harmoniously coexist. A National Geographic reporter described the neighborhood as “a traditionally Italian neighborhood that has been sort of taken over by the quote-unquote hipsters who have put their own stamp on it.” A description that definitely resonates. On a single block, you might find a used record store, an artist making one-of-a-kind bike accessories, a shop showcasing a lovely assortment of gleaming white First Communion dresses in its store window, and another selling Christian gifts and religious items.
East Passyunk is an interesting window into the complexities of urban development and how a neighborhood’s social fabric may shift over time. A thriving artistic community brings a renewed economic vitality to this South Philly commercial corridor. Is the corresponding cultural transition simply the natural evolution of a place?
Bounded by the Schuylkill River to the east, Baltimore avenue to the north, and the city limits to the west and south, Southwest Philadelphia is home to Bartram’s Garden, the Southwest Community Development Corporation, the African Cultural Alliance of North America, the Southwest Community Enrichment Center, a small local farm called Farm 51, and dozens of other active nonprofits, community groups, and associations.
This neighborhood offers so many creative opportunities to its residents, but more often than not, it seems to make the nightly news for its violence, drug activity, and economic struggle. SW faces these issues, certainly; however, they don’t fully define the place or its people. How can we re-frame our collective understanding of our neighborhoods, seeing them for their contributions and possibilities rather than their struggles?
People often refer to Philadelphia as “The City of Neighborhoods.” I’ve only been here since 2003, so still new to this town, really, but this description of Philly resonates with my experience here. Each neighborhood seems to carry its own personality and pride, and each contributes something unique to the wider city and its history. A few come to my mind: the art galleries in Old City & along Frankford Avenue, the music scene in West Philly, the Mummers from South Philly, the diverse restaurants in Center City, the many, MANY festivals & events in our city’s diverse local parks, and the list goes on.
This got me thinking …
It would be cool to learn more about the neighborhoods of Philly. Where are the clusters of creativity? How do neighbors gather to improve their spaces? What inspires each neighborhood? Who are the small business owners and social entrepreneurs in these areas?
So I designed a project. The Neighborhood Project. Using the colorful map to the right as a guide, I’m hoping to visit each of Philly’s neighborhoods over the next 3 months, asking those questions I outlined above. I’ll take some photos, talk to residents, and then write about my weekly adventures here.
Stay tuned for the first neighborhood. I’m starting with my own, Southwest.
Also, would love suggestions on places to see, people to meet, questions to ask. So, if you have a particular Philly passion that I should check out, comment below or email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.