by Amelia Longo
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.
Amelia Longo shares her Street Note, developed through a workshop for The Redline Project. The Redline Project uses digital storytelling and community engagement to shed light on the impact of gentrification in a segment of South Philadelphia.
Last week, on my way out to the bus, I saw a family I didn’t recognize getting out of a car in front of a For Sale sign. I said hi. The woman looked around, said “You live here?”
“Yeah, right down there. Are you looking at this house?”
“We just bought it. Do you like it here?”
“Oh it’s a great block. When —”
“It’s an investment. We’re not living here. Is it . . . safe?”
I cringed. Flashed back to when I first moved in, the neighbors on the stoop across the street. “You bought this house? Are you really living here, or is it . . . an investment?”
My first realtor couldn’t imagine me living in Point Breeze either. He took me to houses I couldn’t afford, neighborhoods that didn’t feel right. He’d recently bought his daughter’s first house just a couple blocks up.
I found a new realtor. I did my own research, made my own maps that layered census tracts, crime rates, libraries, grocery stores, demographic data. Race. I wanted affordability and convenience, and I wanted to live on a block where not everyone looked like me. That was Watkins Street.
It’s been almost two years since I moved here. I’ve gotten to know my neighbors, and it feels like home. I say hi to everyone I see on my block, but it’s still hard to know where I do and don’t belong. I bought my house in part as a commitment to Philadelphia, but to be honest, I don’t know how long I’ll be this house, or in Point Breeze. If I get involved and then move, is that just interference? Am I imposing something on the existing community? Once when I waved to a neighbor as I passed by, I heard her friend say something like, “Don’t wave to her – her friends will be down here next.”
I think there has to be a way to be a good neighbor, to be a real part of the neighborhood, even if I’m only here for five or ten years. And I’m trying to figure that out.