neighborhood

Posted by Ellen

This tree was the very first one that got itself planted Saturday morning by these tree-planting students; immediately after posing for this tree-planting graduation photo, the class split up into crews and planted about fifteen more trees around the neighborhood, as part of Philadelphia's Million Trees Project.

This is a gingko tree, apparently the Fairmount Park gingko variety developed in Philadelphia specifically for urban settings. It has a more columnar growth habit than other gingkos, making it useful on narrow sidewalks or in other locations where there's little room for trees with spreading canopies. Frank Lloyd Wright was said to particularly admire the Fairmount Park gingkos, which he often utilized in landscaping around houses he designed in the Chicago area.

Posted by Ellen

Philadelphia is a city of brick row houses, block upon block, mile after mile. But this house on Lawrence Street in Northern Liberties looks a little different; for one thing, it's detached from all its neighbors, set back from the street in a large fenced yard. And for another thing, well, it's a log cabin. Two stories high, a citified height, but still, unquestionably, a log cabin.

It doesn't date back to the "real" log-cabin age, however. About a quarter-century ago, in the mid-1980s, an artist named Jeff Thomas put the cabin together from a load of logs trucked in from West Virginia; its stylistic allusion, we're told, is to the back-to-the-landers of the 1960s and early '70s. In the 1980s, Thomas and other artists then settling in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia were recolonizing a city landscape of abandoned factories, decrepit warehouses, vacant lots, and boarded-up, blighted homes. Their pioneering spirit, embodied in Thomas's house, succeeded only too well, and the cabin is now surrounded by renovated homes that cost way too much for a struggling artist.

Posted by Ellen

I have it on very good authority that these princesses were on their way to the drug store.

Posted by Ellen

Sadly, this is a "before" picture: the big American Elm tree in the courtyard of Shiloh Baptist Church in our neighborhood has been diagnosed with Dutch Elm Disease and is about to be cut down.

I'm told this tree made a cameo appearance in The Sixth Sense, a Bruce Willis movie shot in the neighborhood, but I can't confirm or deny. There's a pivotal scene near the end of the movie in which the boy and his mother sit talking in the car, which is stopped near the scene of an accident; there's a tree outside the car window on the boy's side, but all the camera shows of this tree is its lower trunk, which is not sufficient for a positive ID.

Anyway, the church building and probably also the tree date back to the 1860s, when the Church of the Holy Apostles was built to serve a neighborhood rapidly filling with immigrants from Ireland. Numerous annexes and additions were required, as the parish exceeded 10,000 by 1910. But by 1940, descendants of the Irish immigrants were leaving the neighborhood, and descendants of African slaves from the American South were pouring in. The church complex was sold to a Baptist congregation and renamed Shiloh.

Today, Shiloh's congregants have mostly left the neighborhood, replaced this time by newcomers who mostly grew up in middle-class suburbs; one long-time resident described the new neighbors to a newspaper reporter as "white people with big dogs." Churchgoers who've moved away return to Shiloh on Sunday mornings, causing traffic jams and parking conflicts. There is no church parking lot; for the church's first hundred-plus years, people got there by walking.

The congregation is shrinking fast and is already far too small to maintain the huge church complex. The elm will come down in the next few weeks; the building, designed by the iconic Philadelphia architect Frank Furness, may not be far behind.

Posted by Ellen

Like most American local governments, the city of Philadelphia is pretty much broke and can't afford to operate its public swimming pools.

Two summers ago, the pools never did open. Last summer, neighborhood fundraising financed a few weeks of swimtime in July and August. This summer, we're told, fundraising has been successful enough to open the pool in our neighborhood for a few extra weeks, beginning in mid-June when school lets out.

Rumor has it that one Philadelphia neighborhood is financing its pool operation with a high-stakes Cowpie Bingo game. If you're not familiar with Cowpie Bingo, it's really one of the best games you can play with a rented cow. You mark a grid on a small field of grass and sell chances on squares in the grid; half the take goes to the cause–in this case, lifeguard salaries and tanks of chlorine–and the other half goes to the lucky person who bought the square where the cow deposits whatever she deposits.

The Philadelphia swimming pool cowpie bingo game is said to offer $10,000 to the winner, if the cow cooperates by depositing her pie neatly within a single square of the grid.

This may or may not prove a good financial model for twenty-first-century urban government. Until we know for sure, that No Diving thing is probably a really good idea.