Impressions of Philadelphia

by Carrie LeZotte

So what happens if you live in a dangerous city, but it doesn’t make the list? One of the things I found really compelling about John’s Reimagining Detroit was how he talks about those lists and how they don’t always compare apples to apples.  I read a response from a Philadelphia local, asking how his city didn’t make those top ten most dangerous lists, when the murder and crime rate continues to be high.  It’s the perception of a place that keeps the tourists coming or going, or people moving in and out of a city.  So numbers matter, for sure, but what about those pictures?

As a filmmaker its images that speak to me.  I took a crew to Philadelphia twice.  The first trip was well planned and we shot at a of couple key locations.  The first being Spring Garden on 18th Street, on a beautiful August morning we met and interviewed Bob Grossman of Philadelphia Green when the garden was in its full late-summer glory.  The second day we interviewed Jane Golden of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

I returned to Philadelphia a year later to spent more time with Cesar Viveros (who appears in our Kickstarter video).  I also wanted to photograph more murals and to do so, I pre-scouted on the web and made myself a map through the neighborhoods.  This was a much different experience as we drove through blighted areas just a few miles from the Liberty Bell, Lon and I were asking ourselves which city was safer?  The Philadelphia blight feels so much different with housing stock not only older than Detroit’s, but so much of it right on top of each other.  So different than our blocks of vacancy and long grasses.

Alex Feldmen, who lives in Philadelphia but travels often to Detroit for his work in Midtown with U3 Ventures, told me that some people don’t like the murals because they feel they mark the blighted areas.   I think they are not only beautiful, but incorporate the spirit of a neighborhood in a way that only art can.  So what else to do about the blight?

In addition to community gardens, Philadelphia Green also oversees fence and moving crews that maintain lots, according to zip code, around the city.  This continues to be one of the things that’s impressed me most, as simple posted-rail fences, picked up garbage and cut grass result in an inexpensive way to increase property values and make the neighborhoods cleaner for the people who live there.  As I drive my daughter to school at Detroit Waldorf from our Lafayette Park condo, I wish I was seeing those fences down Vernor and back on Charlevoix.

It’s these images of beauty, transformation and spirit that I hope we show the world with in Lean, Mean & Green.

Cesar Viveros works on a mural in Frankfort with kids from a Boys and Girls Club.

The paint crew from Philadelphia Green, who maintain the fences.