This is nobody's space
by Shavon Norris
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.
Shavon Norris 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.
I was 25 and searching. And then 9/11 shook my foundation. I was looking for my space and my place. I had a new desperation to do what I loved.
I decided to go to graduate school. Away from home. Far from family. I challenged myself to do what was scary.
Moved to Mt. Airy. There was space. There was green. There was plenty of parking. I went to school. Rehearsals. And home. I was living in Philly, but not really a part of Philly. I committed to being here but not quite being a part of here. I think this colored the first part of my Philly experience.
19th and Christian Street. I moved so I could walk to work. So I could be social and participate. I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on. I didn’t really understand the history or the changing landscape.
I remember a friend’s mother commenting on how much I was paying for rent. I thought it was a good deal. Her face looked so confused. But I had a backyard and a basement. A washer and dryer. Then I really started paying attention.
I started looking at who was walking up and down the block. Who was sitting on the steps. Who was saying good morning and good afternoon. My neighbors were transient, getting younger. People were moving in and out. I had become aware of the sexy. That everything was shiny and bright and pretty.
Like me, folks were moving in and living without really having to work for the pretty. Without understanding how it got that way. Sexy without any work.
This is nobody’s space.
I remember there being about ten empty lots between 16th and 20th on Christian Street when I moved in. Now there is just one and it’s the lot next to my apartment.
Last Summer, I saw my first mouse. Folks say this is a normal, expected thing when you live in urban areas. When you live next door to people………..Five years in and I had never seen a mouse. And then there were six.
I know this is about all of the shaking. All of the shifting in the earth, the dirt, the building, the digging. We are paying attention to the façade and not tending to the foundation. The foundation of the building, of the community, of the landscape.
Claiming Philadelphia or my block as mine feels like a big thing for me. This is somebody’s space.