To live in a city is to be in a constant state of flux. Philadelphia is no exception. Every corner is covered with infinite layers of memories. One block can take on a thousand different meanings for a thousand different people.
It is the human tragedy spilled onto a stage shared by millions, a center of life and death, happiness and sadness. It is your home and mine for as much time as we spend here, and whether you read this and leave tomorrow or grow old in this city, you will have been shaped, even in the slightest way, by its flux.
It is critical that we, as residents of a community as large and important as Philadelphia, recognize and educate ourselves about all the various happenings that alter our city and, vicariously, ourselves. I will try to give my perspective on how the city changes and the characters that participate, for better or worse, in the constant evolution of Philadelphia. Given the realistic scope of a single column, this will largely be confined to the politics, social issues and other developments that commonly affect every Philadelphian.
Hopefully, these broad strokes will at least give a reference point for the unfathomable number of other random daily events that make up life in our city.I make no secret that I am biased: I love cities and I love this city. I love living in cities, and I think urban areas are the engines that drive human culture
I also think this country has neglected these great furnaces of thought and humanity, that as a nation we have gravitated away from urban life. We have lost something in this transition, become more disconnected from one another and lost some of the community identity that made each region of the country unique.
I also think, and I may be gravely mistaken, that this is finally changing. We stand now on the precipice of an awakening of many great cities that were for years allowed to rot, Philadelphia especially. Places like Philadelphia were brought to the brink of ruination by many forces, in part because many citizens were not conscious and educated about the various forces that shape their surroundings.
I’ve heard many long time residents ruefully ask, “What happened?” upon returning to the decayed neighborhoods of their childhoods as though there were a single event or explanation for what turned palaces to dust. Just as frequently, I hear Philadelphians, new and old alike, see neighborhoods brought back out of obscurity and poverty to become havens of opulence.
They also wonder, “What happened?” Both scenarios reflect a feeling that we all have at times: the world is changing around us and we have no influence over the seemingly mystical forces that are causing these changes. This is an illusion.
Especially in a place like Philadelphia where everything is subtly connected, and the actions (and more often the inaction) that we take in everyday situations always matters.
From the mayor to businessmen to the homeless, every person changes the city in his or her own way, even if it is not immediately perceptible. The least we might do is be aware of these changes so that never again will the city slide down the path to destruction, while the populace shrugs and asks, “What happened?”
Ryan Briggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.