Friday, October 10, 2008

More Philly

This Ben Smith post about a canvasser in Philly has been widely circulated even though it's not nearly as substantive an illustrator of the same phenomenon as what I wrote days prior. (Not that I'm looking to be famous, Ben Smith.)

Anyway, the canvasser working the Fishtown neighborhood says the following:

"What's crazy is this," he writes. "I was blown away by the outright racism, but these folks are f***ing undecided. They would call him a n----r and mention how they don't know what to do because of the economy."

To drive the point home, I described the same exact thing, not that I'm bitter and clinging to my gun or anything.

But the point of linking the Ben Smith anecdote was to describe the Fishtown neighborhood to the curious.

Growing up in Philly, I was a very sweet child raised in a bohemian artsy punk grunge neighborhood in South Philly called Queen Village that was gentrifying at a blistering pace. My best friend lived in Fishtown, which was a few miles to the North. Queen Village was just south of Old City and Society Hill, the colonial heart of Philadelphia while Fishtown was just north, albeit a little further out, separated by another neighborhood and a crumbling warehouse/manufacturing strip. Where Queen Village changed drastically through the '90s, Fishtown remained a working class Irish neighborhood.

I was very sweet and small as an elementary school aged child, so when I went over to my Fishtown friend's house to play, I was red meat to the much tougher neighborhood kids and was harassed fairly regularly. I never did get beat up over there, as the charming friendliness of my friend and I always seemed to disarm those types of situations, not to mention the fact that Philadelphians often show their affection by acting just the opposite (I love this, by the way). Yet, there was no mistaking in my mind at a very early age that my native Queen Village was different from Fishtown, even before gentrification really exploded. My friend happened to live next door to an African American family but judging by the high number of novelty "parking for Irish only" signs adorning people's gates and front windows, R and his mom were pretty much isolated.

But now, since around 2000, Fishtown is transitioning too. Northern Liberties, just to the south of Fishtown developed a huge dive bar and nightclub scene toward the end of my high school days. Fishtown began to see a huge influx of hipsters looking to rent once people got priced out of Northern Liberties, where expensive lofts were developed at a ridiculous pace.

I'm not sure what it looks like now that the economy is falling apart, but I imagine Fishtown is still largely undervalued and attractive for hipsters fleeing the clearly inferior New York.

It is still largely a working class Irish neighborhood with a lot of blue collar union racists not particularly enthused about having to vote for this particular Democratic nominee (though most will). So Ben Smith's email is describing the Fishtown I grew up around pretty accurately. However Fishtown is increasingly popular for the young people, a trend that many old neighborhood guys may not be particularly happy about.


Scott Harney said...

Reading this post this morning is a trip because I was visiting a good friend in Fishtown last night. We ate at the recently opened Memphis Tap Room. vixnix (twitter id) and his wife have been in this place for years and seen the neighborhood changing.

Very interesting mix walking around there last night. You can definitely see the split. And yeah, you've undoubtedly got some undervalued property though these are generally rather small row homes from what I could see.

Anonymous said...

I got news for you Eli, you weren't that sweet