Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Neighborhood Destruction?

"The neighborhood where I lived as a child, where for decades orderly rows of sturdy brick homes lined each block, is now the urban equivalent of a boxer's mouth, more gaps than teeth. Some of the surviving houses look as if the wrecker's ball is the only thing that could relieve their pain."

Daniel Okrent, "Notown," Time Magazine, October 5, 2009.

I didn't grow up in the city but I carry a sense of neighborhood loss from a few years living in Philadelphia during the early 1970s. I lived in a neighborhood with various names, such as Nicetown, on Wingohocking Street at 9th and the Blvd. On the southern edge of Logan, maybe.

It was a working-class, ethnic neighborhood, a little run down, but seemingly solid. Across the boulevard there was a little commercial area with great bakeries.

When I came back ten years later it was like something had sucked the economic life out of the neighborhood, what David Harvey called "blow out." Lots of abandonment and everything that comes with it accompanied the vicious process of urban racial change and disinvestment.

Another ten years and block upon block of rowhomes were demolished just accross the boulevard because they were sinking -- having been built on less-than-solid landfill decades before.

Philadelphia is not Detroit. And neighorhoods are resilient in their own peculiar ways. And sometimes even they bounce back with the right supports and investments.

Cities change and morph -- that's one of their good attributes. But the wholesale destruction of neighborhoods and cities is such a waste. I know that's simplistic but it's the feeling I always get. What a loss!

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