Friday, July 4, 2008

Gentrification in The City of Brotherly Love

What does Noam Chomsky, Will Smith, Sylvester Stallone, Stan Getz, Billie Holiday, Pink, Richard Gere, Benjamin Franklin, Grace Kelly and John Coltrane all have in common?

Yes indeed; they are from or lived most of their life in Philadelphia, or "Philly" as the locals call their beloved city.
The name Philadelphia comes from the greek philos "love" and adelphos "brotherly" and was given by William Penn, who also gave name to the state Pennsylvania where Philadelphia is the state capitol. His plan for the city was to make it into a small rural English styled town, with a street grid that would spread the city out with small brownstone brick houses and orchards. The old part of Philadelphia still has this layout and is quaint and very neighborhood oriented. Philadelphia was also the first American capitol and was run by Benjamin Franklin (on the $100 bill) who took it to become the largest city in the union.

M. Night Shyamalan, director of "The Sixth Sense, "Unbreakable" and "Signs" who was born in India, was brought up in Philadelphia. He insists to always produce and film his movies in Philadelphia, that is a good backdrop for his contemporary supernatural plots that usually ends with a twist.
The film "12 Monkeys" directed by Terry Gilliam also is set in Philadelphia, as well as Tom Hanks film "Philadelphia" where Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen sings his lungs out in a song about its streets.

Philadelphia is brimming over with love and even though it is only a two hour ride south of New York, the people of the city are more friendly and actually greet each other in the streets, with eye contact and an occasional tip of the hat. In the absolute center of the city lays the "LOVE Park". It is a park with a sculpture by Robert Indiana, a water fountain with blue colored water and during the winter the cities biggest Christmas three is placed in the middle of the circle. A replica of the "LOVE Park" was featured as a level in the computer game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 and in Tony Hawk's Underground 2.

In the above picture, you can see  Philadelphia Museum of Art between the legs of the LOVE sculpture. In the image below from the classic Philadelphia film "ROCKY", Sly runs up the stair to the museum and a visit to Philly is not completed without this experience. Youtube is full of people who uploaded their own versions of this rather breathtaking run and view once you are at the top. During the holidays the local TV stations play all the Rocky films over and over again, but the Philadelphians love their local boy and can name every street where the film is made.

To your right in the above picture, you will find the Rodin Museum housing the largest collection of Auguste Rodin sculptures outside of France.

Philadelphia has for a long time had a bad rep for devestating crime rates, scoring high amongst the top contenders on the "Murder Capitol of America" list. This has however changed lately and after 2001, when the city instead became one of the main escape destinations for young New Yorkers leaving the city after it was traumatised on September 11th. They moved to Philly and inspired by the warehouse districts in New York like Williamsburg, Redhook and DUMBO, found areas in Philly that was not yet gentrified. "Gentrification" derives from "gentry", meaning the people of gentle birth, good breeding, or high social position. The New Yorkers moving to Philly might not be very "gentry", but they have had a good influence on the local flourishing art scene. The city has funded more than 2700 graffiti murals that grace the walls of both the inner city, shopping malls and parking lots supporting generations of graffiti artists since 1984.

The Fishtown district of Philadelphia was known as a tight-knit Irish Catholic enclave — and a place to score drugs. Set along the Delaware River in the northeastern part of the city, the area was the former home of a Stetson hat factory and a Schmidts beer plant, before its brick warehouses and shad markets were abandoned. If you ask native Philly woman and former New York gallery director, turned Philadelphia real estate agent Megan Curry; Philadelphia is not feeling the same recession that the rest of America is suffering under in 2008. This might be because the city has been under recession for the last 50 years, and now seems to only boom with young creative professionals.

Leading the neighborhood revival is Johnny Brenda’s, a stylish gastropub that manages to feel both macho and intimate. Named after the original owner, a Philadelphia boxer, the restaurant has vintage lamps salvaged from the street, local beers on hand-pumped tap, and a mixed crowd of would-be artists, musicians and even some Penn grad students from clear across town. An open kitchen lets you watch the pierced, tattooed chefs whip up seasonal dishes and after dinner, the action moves upstairs to a new music hall that holds 250 and has played host to indie rock acts like the Walkmen, Tokyo Police Club and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth. Philadelphia also created the "Philly Sound" with bands like MFSB, The O'Jays, Billy Paul, Teddy Pendergrass, The Three Degress, Patti LaBelle and even some rather funky white boys like Daryl Hall & John Oates.

The latest music hype out of Philly are the Hollertronix parties started by instant legend Diplo, who had gone to Film School of Temple University, much like legendary film maker David Lynch  who went to Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in the 60's. His first cult classic film "Eraserhead" tells the story of a quiet young man (Jack Nance) living in an industrial wasteland, whose girlfriend gives birth to a constantly crying mutant baby. Lynch has referred to Eraserhead as "my Philadelphia story", meaning it reflects all of the dangerous and fearful elements he encountered while studying and living in Philadelphia. He said "this feeling left its traces deep down inside me. And when it came out again, it became Eraserhead". 

But let's go back to Fishtown 2008! During the day, Fishtowners roam between coffee shops, thrift stores, an underground bookstore and other low-key arty hangouts. At Bambi, a gallery and artist consignment shop, the owner, Candace Karch, sells local fashions, including her own kitschy Mexican belt buckles and handmade tunics by the Philadelphian Nicole Carey. Rotating works by photographers and mixed-media artists grace the walls.

The local favorite, however, is still Johnny’s Hots, a cinderblock shack along the Delaware. Hot sausages are the staple, served by John Danze Jr. the same way his father did: on a fresh, crusty Italian torpedo roll with “the works”: mustard, relish and pepper hash. “It’s a tough guy’s hot dog,” Mr. Danze said. Old-timers, however, prefer a crazy Philadelphia concoction — hot sausage with a fish cake smashed on top.

Two years ago, Mr. Danze also started serving cheese steaks — no small undertaking in the cheese steak capital. It was named Best of Philly cheese steak by Philadelphia Magazine. The secret, Mr. Danze said, is thick cuts of hanging beef, the kind Rocky used as punching bags.

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