…and they’ll probably say “you ain’t got a plan so why must you dismiss us for trying to help.” Good People & Gentrification.
This resonates with our approach to find value in the forgotten, the dismissed and the discarded. To open anything in a vacant building within 4 weeks of gaining ownership is an incredible feat and therefore we appreciate your support in continuing to reimagine what this building can be and work together to ensure it does not continue to sit empty. Lindsey Scannapieco, responding to critiques of Le Bok Fin.
That is what made me compare American sentimentality to a “wounded hippo.” His good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated “disasters.” All he sees are hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can. All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need. Teju Cole, The White Savior Industrial Complex.
For the past week, I have been trying to understand what I am really mad about when Le Bok Fin crosses my ears and eyes. Lindsey Scannapieco, and her team SCOUT, are made up of good people. Good people in the American way that we define good to be made up of honest intentions and some effort. Were we to elevate our level of good to be in recognition of the daily, collective, and cumulative impacts that we make on one another, I’m not sure that (m)any of us would make the cut. Maybe that’s my issue. It’s too easy to be considered a good person in a world where we know increasingly ugly things are happening. Where we know increasingly ugly things are forgotten. Where we find increasingly ugly things are dismissed. In this process, good people find opportunity (and often, capital and state-leverage) to reimagine deep histories of beautiful ugly for shallow, surface, pop-up allure. Because reinventing, repurposing is what keeps us afloat amidst the oceanic abyss of poverty, violence, and injustice. Under the veil, this serves a clear purpose: We must quickly do away with the feelings of anxiety, guilt, disgust, and fear that haunt, cloud, judge good people when reminded of yesterday’s persisting failures. Or more specifically, the present history of how good became ugly.
I’m not sure that I’ve recovered yet from the closing and rhetoric surrounding the Gallery. Growing up in Chester, the Gallery was our adolescent amusement park for the admission price of a SEPTA R2 ticket. We stormed the floors through every Power99-blasting, Black-employee-having, urban clothing store to see who had the best price on 6-inch butter Timberlands. Mommas took you to Burlington Coat Factory for clothes. You took your money to City Blue and overpaid for your favorite rapper’s logo. “How many numbers you got?” was the discussion on the train ride home. Getting older, that Chick-Fil-A became my siesta from downtown Center City workdays. Inevitably, someone would walk up to me with some forever-changing plotline that always ended in their request of a couple dollars. I never cared if they were true. I paid for the entertainment. The Black bookstore on the ground floor was my stop on the way back to work. I was mired in the belief that one of the books I purchased there held the secret to my liberation, at minimum, the potential to have more than this 30 minute lunch break I perpetually stretched for its limits. A couple years later, I scroll onto Philly.com to see:
“Everything you see today, forget it. It’s not going to be there,” [PREIT CEO] Coradino said. “We want to make sure when you come in this center, you say, ‘Wow.’”
The forgetting machine was making promises. It said you but I just knew it couldn’t have been meant me. Nah, not Black-bookstore-loving, Power99-listening, Chester-born me. A friend through Facebook asked “Chris, you can’t honestly believe that today’s Gallery is the best use of that space?” His counterpoint was meant to bring us back to the realities, the daily heartbeat of community economic development to meet people’s everyday needs. There are plenty of good reasons for explaining why we don’t have the wherewithal to reinvent, repurpose, reimagine our relationship to community and economic sustainability. It’s too ingrained. Too deeply-rooted. Too disruptive. Too redistributive. Too much pain without an anesthetic. Too many good people would suffer before we find the remedy.
Returning back to Bok, I’ve been struggling to discover internally what, at its core, is the offense that bothers me. Christopher Sawyer, good person and property expert, believes that its all misdirected outrage through Al-Dia’s editorial. He lives in Kensington and knows what blight looks like:
On first read, I tapped out around Save-A-Lot. Arctic Splash Grape Drink haunts me in dreams. Michelina’s Sweet-and-Sour Chicken still makes my mouth water. I know through oft-experience that the Save-A-Lot in Brookhaven is not the place to visit on the 1st of the month because thats when benefits hit and they try to make their profits on reduced labor (and of course, less than quality foods). It probably wasn’t a big contributor to Brookhaven’s tax base, not one to Chester at all, but that Save-A-Lot taught us how to eat when my mother had to work extended hours, when my father wasn’t home. I assume it depends on who you define as community, what you assume to benefit them. Certainly, this is a unfiled public form that most white males in community development ignore. Imitation Frost-y Flakes sure benefitted me on Saturday mornings. Eat them quickly because they get soggy faster in the milk. Don’t buy the Fruity Loops because they don’t taste the same.
Yet in returning to his rant, he brings the truthful highlights of all policy-minded and white-male-logical sense. The community should engage the property owner to determine how it could adapt to community culture and meet community needs. The property owners are making the best of a bad situation here. The property owner was not involved in closing the school. It is only inviting blight to keep an empty building empty. He knows what blight looks like, and he wants it gone. I imagine Christopher Sawyer would be a welcome contributor to most neighborhoods as he’s dedicated to property upkeep and a solvent tax-base.
I am not from South Philly, nor did I attend Bok or work(ed) for the School District of Philadelphia. If Christopher Sawyer is to see this essay, he would probably remind us all of this and my SJW tendencies. What I would like to challenge is that empty buildings sit empty, divorced from the memories and histories that make up its interior and find themselves projected on its facade. What I would like to offer is that these histories and memories are very much so alive within the heart and soul of a community of people. In some ways, these remnants stand yet to be discovered. What I believe is that there is something that inhabits this dynamic personal relationship between history, memory, identity, and culture that detests its displacement through the political and industrious axioms of community and economic development. What I know is that gentrification’s purpose is about good people forgetting, dismissing, discarding all of this. And, at my core, it frightens me that I myself may be found within good company.