Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia

 

Urban decay: The peril of Hipster economics?

Fighting Urban Blight With Art

When urban decay becomes a set piece to be remodeled or romanticized.

On May 16, an artist, a railway service and a government agency spent $291,978 to block poverty from the public eye.

Called psychylustro, German artist Katharina Grosse’s project is a large-scale work designed to distract Amtrak train riders from the dilapidated buildings and fallen factories of north Philadelphia.

The city has a 28 % poverty rate – the highest of any major US city – with much of it concentrated in the north. In some north Philadelphia elementary schools, nearly every child is living below the poverty line.

Grosse partnered with the National Endowment of the Arts and Amtrak to mask North Philadelphia’s hardship with a delightful view. The Wall Street Journal calls this “Fighting Urban Blight With Art“.

Liz Thomas, the curator of the project, calls it “an experience that asks people to think about this space that they hurtle through every day”.

The project is not actually fighting blight, of course – only the ability of Amtrak customers to see it.

“I need the brilliance of colour to get close to people, to stir up a sense of life experience and heighten their sense of presence,” Grosse proclaims.

“People”, in Grosse and Thomas’s formulation, are not those who actually live in north Philadelphia and bear the brunt of its burdens. “People” are those who can afford to view poverty through the lens of aesthetics as they pass it by.

Influx of hipsters

In February, director Spike Lee delivered an impassioned critique – derisively characterised as a “rant” by US media outlets – on the gentrification of New York city. Arguing that an influx of “… hipsters” had driven up rent in most neighbourhoods – and in turn driven out the African-American communities that once called them home – he noted how long-dormant city services suddenly reappeared:

“Why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better? The garbage wasn’t picked up every day when I was living in 165 Washington Park… So, why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!”

Lee was criticised by many for “hipster-bashing”, including African-American professor John McWhorter, who claimed that “hipster” was “a sneaky way of saying ‘honkey'” and compared Lee to television character George Jefferson.

These dismissals, which focus on gentrification as culture, ignore that Lee’s was a critique of the racist allocation of resources.

Black communities whose complaints about poor schools and city services go unheeded find these complaints are readily addressed when wealthier, whiter people move in.

Meanwhile, long-time locals are treated as contagions on the landscape, targeted by police for annoying the new arrivals.

Gentrifiers focus on aesthetics, not people. Because people, to them, are aesthetics.

Proponents of gentrification will vouch for its benevolence by noting it “cleaned up the neighbourhood”. This is often code for a literal white-washing.

The problems that existed in the neighbourhood – poverty, lack of opportunity, struggling populations denied city services – did not go away. They were simply priced out to a new location.

That new location is often an impoverished suburb, which lacks the glamour to make it the object of future renewal efforts. There is no history to attract preservationists because there is nothing in poor suburbs viewed as worth preserving, including the futures of the people forced to live in them.

This is blight without beauty, ruin without romance: payday loan stores, dollar stores, unassuming homes and unpaid bills. In the suburbs, poverty looks banal and is overlooked.

In cities, gentrifiers have the political clout – and accompanying racial privilege – to reallocate resources and repair infrastructure. The neighbourhood is “cleaned up” through the removal of its residents.

Gentrifiers can then bask in “urban life” – the storied history, the selective nostalgia, the carefully sprinkled grit – while avoiding responsibility to those they displaced.

Hipsters want rubble with guarantee of renewal. They want to move into a memory they have already made.

Impoverished suburbs

In a sweeping analysis of displacement in San Francisco and its increasingly impoverished suburbs, journalist Adam Hudson notes that “gentrification is trickle-down economics applied to urban development: the idea being that as long as a neighbourhood is made suitable for rich and predominantly white people, the benefits will trickle down to everyone else”.

Like trickle-down economics itself, this theory does not play out in practice.

Rich cities such as New York and San Francisco have become what journalist Simon Kuper calls gated citadels: “Vast gated communities where the 1% reproduces itself.”

Struggling US cities of the rust belt and heartland lack the investment of coastal contemporaries, but have in turn been spared the rapid displacement of hipster economics.

Buffered by their eternal uncoolness, these slow-changing cities have a chance to make better choices – choices that value the lives of people over the aesthetics of place.

In an April blog post, Umar Lee, a St Louis writer and full-time taxi driver, bemoaned the economic model of rideshare services, which are trying to establish themselves in the city. Noting that they hurt not only taxi drivers but poor residents who have neither cars nor public transport and thus depend on taxis willing to serve dangerous neighbourhoods, he dismisses Uber and Lyft as hipster elitists masquerading as innovators:

“I’ve heard several young hipsters tell me they’re socially-liberal and economic-conservative, a popular trend in American politics,” he writes. “Well, I hate to break it to you buddy, but it’s economics and the role of the state that defines politics. If you’re an economic conservative, despite how ironic and sarcastic you may be or how tight your jeans are, you, my friend, are a conservative …”

Lee tells me he has his own plan to try to mitigate the negative effects of gentrification, which he calls “50-50-20-15”. All employers who launch businesses in gentrifying neighbourhoods should have a workforce that is at least 50 percent minorities, 50 percent people from the local neighbourhood, and 20 percent ex-offenders. The employees should be paid at least $15 per hour.

Gentrification spreads the myth of native incompetence: That people need to be imported to be important, that a sign of a neighbourhood’s “success” is the removal of its poorest residents.

True success lies in giving those residents the services and opportunities they have long been denied.

When neighbourhoods experience business development, priority in hiring should go to locals who have long struggled to find nearby jobs that pay a decent wage.

Let us learn from the mistakes of New York and San Francisco, and build cities that reflect more than surface values.

Sarah Kendzior is a St Louis-based writer who studies politics and media.

 

Pennsylvania Dialect: Where Yinz At?

The 4 hour and 46 minute drive from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh is marked by several views: barns, oddly timed roadwork projects, 4 tunnels that lend themselves to breath-holding competitions, turnpike rest stops featuring heat-lamped Sbarro slices and overly goopy Cinnabon.

But perhaps the most noteworthy or useful hallmark of that road trip is all the bumper stickers that one spies along the way.

Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo

From Center City Philly to about Reamstown, it’s all Eagles and Phillies and Flyers stickers.

Then there’s a 150-mile stretch of road where anything goes. Penn State paraphernalia, Jesus fish, and stickers about deer hunting mix with every other form of car commentary to create a hodgepodge that predominates until about Bedford.

From there, it really is all Steelers stuff. And for those who make this drive fairly often, that bumper sticker progression serves as an old-school GPS.

Of course, you’ll also spot stickers referencing cheesesteak lingo, as well as those emblazoned with “N’AT,” on this trip. And if you’re from out of state and decide to rest-stop query the owner of a car bearing one of those stickers, within the first few words of that person’s spoken response you’ll realize why linguists love the Keystone State.

Pennsylvania, in case yinz didn’t know, is a regional dialect hotbed nonpareil.

A typical state maintains two or three distinct, comprehensive dialects within its borders. Pennsylvania boasts five, each consisting of unique pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar elements.

Of course, three of the five kind of get the shaft—sorry Erie, and no offense, Pennsylvania Dutch Country—because by far the most widely recognized Pennsylvania regional dialects are those associated with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The Philadelphia dialect features a focused avoidance of the “th” sound, the swallowing of the L in lots of words, and wooder instead of water, among a zillion other things.

In Pittsburgh, it’s dahntahn for downtown, and words like nebby and jagoff and yinz. But, really, attempting to describe zany regional dialects using written words is a fool’s errand.

To get some sense of how Philadelphians talk, check out this crash course clip created by Sean Monahan, who was raised in Bucks County speaking with a heavy Philly accent.

Then hit the “click below” buttons on the website for these Yappin’ Yinzers dolls to get the Pittsburgh side of things, and watch this Kroll Show clip to experience a Pennsylvania dialect duel.

According to Barbara Johnstone, a professor of English and linguistics at Carnegie Mellon University, migration patterns and geography deserve much of the credit (or blame) for the variety of speech quirks on display in Pennsylvania.

A horizontal dialect boundary that roughly traces Interstate 80 spans the length of the state. The speech and vocabulary of those living north of that line of demarcation, she says, were influenced by those who migrated into the U.S. through Boston mainly from the south of England. “Whereas the people in the rest of Pennsylvania below that tended to come to the U.S. from Northern England and arrived in Philadelphia and other places along the Delaware Valley,” Johnstone says. “They came from Northern England and Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

Those living north of I-80 have historically used different words for certain things than those living in the southern half of Pennsylvania—pail vs. bucket, for instance. And the pronunciation of various vowel sounds north of the boundary doesn’t align with how those vowels are pronounced in other parts of the state. “Rot can sound, to south-of-I-80 ears, like rat,” she adds, “or bus, like boss.”

Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo

Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo

Settlement in western Pennsylvania began to pick up around the time of the American Revolution, and those who set down roots in the area—predominantly Scotch-Irish families, followed by immigrants from Poland and other parts of Europe—tended to stay put as a result of the Allegheny Mountains, which bisect the state diagonally from northeast to southwest.

“The Pittsburgh area was sort of isolated,” says Johnstone. “It was very hard to get back and forth across the mountains. There’s always been a sense that Pittsburgh was kind of a place unto itself—not really southern, not really Midwestern, not really part of Pennsylvania. People just didn’t move very much.”

The result was a scenario in which—with some exceptions, such as the transfer of the word hoagie from Philly to Pittsburgh—the two dialects could develop and grow independently. Fast-forward 250 years or so, and people from Pittsburgh are talking about “gettin’ off the caach and gone dahntawn on the trawly to see the fahrworks for the Fourth a July hawliday n’at,” while Philadelphia folks provide linguistic gems like the one Monahan offered up as the most Philly sentence possible: “Yo Antny, when you’re done your glass of wooder, wanna get a hoagie on Thirdyfish Street awn da way over to Moik’s for de Iggles game?”

He deciphered the easy elements—like “Antny” (Anthony), “hoagie” (submarine sandwich), “Iggles” (the Philadelphia Eagles)—before transitioning to the more upper-level material. “We have this very unusual grammar quirk with the word done,” Monahan explains. “When you say ‘I’m done’ something, it means the task is done. The rest of the country would say ‘I’m done with my water.’ But if I say ‘I’m done with my water’ in Philadelphia, that would mean I’ve had some, and I don’t want to finish the rest. If I say ‘I’m done my water,’ that means I’ve drunk all of it. They mean two different things.”

Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo

Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo

That’s not really the case anywhere else in the country. There also aren’t many places, he adds, where people refer to someone named Mike as “Moik” in conversation. “That ‘oi’ is what I would call the defining Philadelphia sound in the way that the Philly accent is today,” Monahan says.

As for “Thirdyfish Street”? That’s “Thirty-fifth Street” to you and me. Philadelphians often replace “th”s in words with other sounds and “everything just winds up getting all blurred together.”

According to University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor William Labov, the Philly dialect represents a tug of war between the city’s connections to, and influences from, different parts of the country.

“I think Philadelphia is torn between its northern and southern heritage,” Labov says. The result is a regional dialect that combines many influences to form a one-of-a-kind manner of speaking. And, he adds, it’s a way of speaking that has become a source of pride for many residents.

Labov is currently working on a project at Penn that involves interviewing students who have graduated from Philadelphia high schools to determine their perceptions about Philly. “Most are very positive about the city and see themselves staying in Philadelphia,” he says.

“As far as the dialect is concerned, only a few points have become self-conscious. For most of Philadelphia, the general attitude is quite positive.”

 St. Patrick’s Day Weekend: And being a White in Philly…

As j.n. salters walked down 15th Street in Center City this past Saturday night, amidst drunken white girls in green mini skirts and green heels with green bows in their hair, and belligerent white boys wearing green beaded necklaces and funny-shaped glasses yelling and chasing after the girls…

She I could not help but think, this is what it actually means to be white in Philadelphia.

j.n. salters,  black feminist writer and PhD candidate, posted this March 18, 2014 on The Blog:

Being White in Philly St. Patrick’s Day Weekend

In February 2013, Philadelphia Magazine published the now-infamous article “Being White in Philly: Whites, race, class, and the things that never get said,” in which author Robert Huber asked select, anonymous white from Philadelphia to share their “race story” (in other words, their individual feelings about black people).

According to Huber:

[E]veryone might have a race story, but few whites risk the third-rail danger of speaking publicly about race, given the long, troubled history of race relations in this country and even more so in this city. Race is only talked about in a sanitized form, when it’s talked about at all, with actual thoughts and feelings buried, which only ups the ante. Race remains the elephant in the room, even on the absurd level of who holds the door to enter a convenience store.

In keeping with Huber’s purported aim to get rid of the elephant in the room, I offer some of the thoughts that crossed my mind Saturday night as I passed a young blond girl in a “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” T-shirt peeing on the sidewalk while a redheaded boy with freckles pinched her.

You cannot be fucking serious. But, of course you’re serious.

You’re white in Center City.

As I continued to make my way down the shit show covered in shamrocks, I asked myself, what if all these people outside were black?

If we are to go by recent Philadelphia policies and legislation — many of which disproportionately target people of color (e.g., stop and frisk, “zero tolerance” policies, curfew ordinances, voter ID laws) — I am almost certain that had these been masses of drunken black teenagers and young adults decked in matching colors, they would have been deemed gang members, looters, flash mobsters, and subsequently stopped and frisked, beaten, and/or arrested.

I am thinking about the Philadelphia “flash mobs” that garnered much media attention in the summers of 2010 and 2011, during which the media created a moral panic around black youth, violence and crime organized via social media sites after hundreds of black kids spontaneously appeared on South Street in downtown Philadelphia.

Newspaper headlines read “Black-mob violence flooding Philadelphia” and “Another Flash Mob Rocks South Street: In the ‘Tsunami,’ chants of ‘Burn the City!‘” — the menacing language reminiscent of the alleged “wilding” that, most infamously, was purportedly behind the 1989 vicious rape-beating of the “Central Park jogger” in Manhattan.

Though some Philadelphia teens did engage in acts of vandalism, the majority were nonviolent kids just hanging out, some watching break-dancing performances.

Nevertheless, Philadelphia mayor, Michael Nutter, imposed a stiffer curfew for people under 18 and delivered a Bill Cosby Pound-Cake-esque lecture from a pulpit at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in which he told black youth: “You have damaged your own race,” and instructed them to “Pull your pants up and buy a belt.”

In addition, social-media networks were monitored with assistance from the FBI, news crews and Philadelphia police flooded the streets, and dozens of people were arrested.

Thus, as I watched the white mobs in green on Saturday night, I was struck by the lack of law enforcement. I can personally recall several family cookouts, block parties, birthday parties and informal gatherings of black and brown family members and friends in which multiple men and women in uniform and police cars and even police dogs showed up.

How over 100 drunk people could be loitering on a major street and not one police officer be noticeably present was astonishing. It was also a reminder of the kind of society that we live in.

To most of America, more than one Black/Latino standing next to each other wearing the same color equals gang, threat, flash mob. Not drink specials, themed parties, and excused belligerence.

You call it St. Patrick’s Day

I call it white privilege — or being white in Philadelphia and America.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

July 2020
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