by Lauren Thomas
Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia is building an expanded archive of cultural memory that includes multiple histories, re-place-ing the established with new narratives and understandings. Notes consider place via the street, sound, food, trees, and other portals.
In partnership with educator Joshua Block, students from Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy are creating and publishing their Philadelphia Field Notes. Lauren Thomas reflects on Philadelphia's sidewalks.
Sidewalks are an ignored aspect of everyday life. Sidewalks are made from a variety of different materials including, but not limited to concrete, brick, and stone slab. A unique and important piece to any urban environment and public space, sidewalks are everywhere and link everything. However, no one seems to notice them; as a society, we tend to take these footpaths for granted. Walking is a large form of transportation and when you walk, you engage your senses. You see, hear, and smell the neighborhood; walking is very important to our understanding of city life. Sidewalks allow us to see our streets in historic and modern contexts. Brick is a sidewalk texture that is commonly seen throughout the streets of Philadelphia, especially in the more historical and colonial parts of the city. For example, bricks were used for sidewalks during the 18th and 19th centuries, especially throughout east coast colonial cities and upscale neighborhoods.
For the most part, sidewalks are underfoot and therefore out-of-mind, but they hold the stories of every person that has walked on them—past, present, and future.
Everyone has stories that involve sidewalks, no matter how small or simple, they hold meaning and significance of city life. For me, the sidewalk in front of my house holds the stories of younger me riding my scooter back and forth; it holds the story of me performing hula hoop routines throughout the summer. Over the last three years of coming and going to school, I have learned the sidewalks of center city—the uneven paths that I slipped on in the winter and skipped on in the summer. What are the stories of the sidewalks in your life? Do you ignore these simple footpaths and take them for granted? For once, think of the sidewalks you walk on as major characters in your story, instead of as a useless setting.