Cities and Cultural Energy: Coming and Going
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The spirit of a city truly changes over time. Also, every part of a city has its own zeitgeist. This is why one must move around inside the city to get its present flavor, and one must know a city for several decades to truly witness its change.
People who knew American cities through the early 20th century were most privileged to see truly vast change; not only did these cities grow, but their technology, flavor and diversity grew as well.
Philadelphia is a city with which I have had a lifelong love/hate relationship. I've walked through it many times in different decades: 1970's, 80's, 90's, 00's, and now finishing the teens. I have now seen Boston, D.C., New York City, Baltimore and Chicago, travelled throughout California from San Francisco to the edge of Oregon. Still, I think I only got a wisp of the flavor of the major cities in which I could not spend more than a few hours or days. I've lived in or around Philadelphia the majority of my life.
This city is trying very hard to be less proletarian and more cosmopolitan, more rich. However as usual it is missing the mark. South Street, my own personal barometer of Philadelphia's cultural condition, is less tourist trappy than it has been in many years but hasn't recaptured any of the wild, creative energy of its heyday in the '70's and early '80's. There is no one like those punkers and new wavers in Philadelphia anymore.
On the other side of City Hall, there will never again be anything like the Crimson Moon Cafe in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood either. Koko Williams, its ingenious and mega-cultured proprietor, was squeezed for triple rent by her landlord once he noticed she was making some money, and nothing so magical has appeared there since.
Since Philadelphia became something of a foodie capital several years ago, many restaurants and food windows have come and gone. Many are trendy, corporate or both. There are still too many Starbucks. The FYE music store, which was a poor replacement for the stalwart Tower Records, has closed (forseeably), and many of my old haunts are gone or have lost the spark they had for me before.
It's all in the people running the show.
Part of Philadelphia's problem has always been greedy landlords, but when the most creative and energetic people move or fade away, the possibility of regenerating that special vibe may not come again for decades.
I just read that and African American woman, Arriell R. Johnson, has opened a combination coffeehouse-comic book shop in Northeast Phlly. Northeast Philly can be a tough berg for Black people but the demand for both of these kinds of establishments is near-universal and growing. After all, part of the Crimson Moon's attraction was that it was nearby Fat Jack's Comics, and many of their customers would then go to the Moon to read, drink and chat. She turns out, in fact, to be a disciple of the indefatigable Koko Williams.
If more of this kind of synergy can be communicated, saving the substantial culture of a city becomes greatly more possible.