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 shares her memories and experiences of the Manayunk Wall.
The sound of cowbells and hovering helicopters is part of a comforting early June Sunday morning soundtrack. These sounds, otherwise obnoxious, symbolize the return of the summer heat and automatically trigger memories of me and my mom walking side by side through my favorite part of Philadelphia. The sight of yellow and blue police barricades piled up on the corner of Lyceum and Mitchell is a familiar sight. Steel traffic barriers line the sidewalks and streets. The light breeze blowing through acts as the only relief from the burning sun.
For 364 days of the year, I, and probably most residents of Roxborough and Manayunk, could care less about cycling, but for that one Sunday in June, everyone comes together to cheer on the hoards of cyclists. The Philadelphia International Cycling Classic has been a classic throughout my whole life.
When I tell people I live in Roxborough, on the border near Manayunk, they look at me funny. Roxborough/Manayunk isn’t as easily recognizable as saying West Philly or the Northeast, but remind them of the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic (lovingly and simply nicknamed “the Bike Race”) and then a spark of recognition flits across their eyes. The Bike Race played a huge role for me growing up in Roxborough. I live a short block away from the course where the streets of Philadelphia will test the lungs, legs, and spirit of about 180 pro cyclists from all around the world.
The hills of Manayunk rival those of San Francisco. The most prominent part of the Bike Race is The Wall. The Wall, made up of Levering Street and Lyceum Avenue, is a giant among the locals, both literally and figuratively. Everyone has a story tied to the steep, dangerous iconic incline. In first grade, my mom would drive up and down The Wall to take me to school and I’ve even walked up The Wall once (which I promised myself I would never do ever again). The Wall is a 12 to 17 percent grade incline over about 800 meters and during the Bike Race, the strongest racers will climb The Wall ten times.
The Wall isn’t only a part of the culture of the residents of Roxborough and Manayunk, but it is part of the American cycling culture. This simple hill in Philadelphia is a famous climb. Here, block parties and memories are planned and made; traditions are carried out and friends and families come together. Race day in Philly is sweaty shoulder to sweaty shoulder, loud music and cheers, but it brings everyone to one place and stitches us together as a community, celebrating a tradition and celebrating something that truly makes us unique - The Wall.
(Photo used found here.)