10.22.2013

The Streets of Philadelphia

He walked the avenue till his legs felt like stone | Still from music video for "Streets of Philadelphia" (1993)"I was bruised and battered and I couldn't tell what I felt, I was unrecognizable to myself; I saw my reflection in a window I didn't know my own face; oh brother are you gonna leave me wasting away on the streets of Philadelphia."

So begins Bruce Springsteen's haunting song, "Streets of Philadelphia," which was part of the soundtrack of the movie, "Philadelphia," staring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.  The movie came out in 1993, 20 years ago, and Hidden City Philadelphia reminds us in this article that Philadelphia back then was indeed grimmer and grimier.

It was around that time (1991) that I arrived, a fresh-faced kid from suburban Northern California, and got an immediate baptism into gritty urban life by volunteering in soup kitchens, mentoring a 4th grader, and giving haircuts to the homeless guys who worked the pavement outside the on-campus Wawa.  And it was around that time (1996) that a popular Penn professor was stabbed to death on the sidewalk just a couple of blocks where I lived at the time.

Philadelphia, and University City in particular, could've gone one of two ways at that time, as could have I.  Thankfully, things played out the way they did: cities in general, including Philadelphia, saw an urban renaissance, University City has boomed, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the city life.  And I am bullish that even better days are ahead.  (Case in point: Check out the video below.  At the 0:09 mark is Aaron's old school.  It still looks like that today.  But there is an ambitious greening effort underway.)

Still, it's not hard to find places in Philly that resemble the apocalyptic scenes in Springsteen's video.  Though I mostly trade in the vibrant pockets of University City and Center City, I am fully aware of the blight and despair of a thousand other blocks in this city.  Let's hope that in 2033 we can take another look back and be glad that we have made even more progress.


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