Northern Liberties (3)
by Ava Olsen
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. The third in a series of Street Notes on Northern Liberties, Ava Olsen is giving memories back to places in her neighborhood that have been changed or covered up as a result of gentrification.
This used to be a daycare, clock tower, and parking lot. The Reading Rainbow Learning Center used to occupy this enormous space, and it surrounded a small parking lot shaded by lush emerald trees. On the corner of this property, there was a lovely brick clock tower that had an ornate red and gold sign. Every day after taking the bus down 3rd Street after middle school classes, I would walk past this property. I never saw a lot of people crowding the area, but even with the brand new condominium complex complete with above-ground parking lot, I still don’t see a lot of people.
Now, years later, instead of walking by after taking the bus, I walk through it after taking the train. Instead of walking by and seeing an ivory and peachy red building complex, I walk through it and see a black and olive archway of cement and housing that encloses the space. Instead of seeing the faded rainbow sign that clung to tan stucco walls, I see cars parked in the shade of the complex and I walk by windows that show me paintings of boats and sails on plain white walls. Instead of a wide open space, I am forced to look at a building that filled in the emptiness and eliminated the footprints of dozens of daycare children that used to run about there.
I never thought this space meant anything to me because it was merely the scene that a passerby sees on their way to work or school. However, a decade later when I came to the full realization that the building used to be something else, it was like a slap in the face. I was forced to take in the reality that my neighborhood is changing, perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worst. It still amazes me to walk through the tunneled parking lot and understand that the enormous cement structure used to be an asphalt-coated, tree-sprinkled property. You never really know the hidden magic of something until it’s gone, so enjoy all of the little things in life while you can.