It was one of the most inconvenient weekends to forego a walking tour and decide to drive through. Labor Day block parties popped up on every other street. Which means lawn chairs, parked cars, and pieces of string were used as makeshift barricades to protect parties and confuse unfamiliar drivers. North Philadelphia was turned into a maze as Jeff and I weaved our way in and out of one way side streets. The gray shadow cast on the day made row homes look dingy and abandoned buildings look extra dilapidated. The abundance of churches and corner stores were present but virtually empty for the day as everyone gathered together on front stoops and sidewalks. Barbeque celebrations were in full swing, even with the dark clouds and threat of rain looming over head. The mass of happy people grilling, running, swimming (in blow up pools on the sidewalk), and generally socializing brought the area to life.
As we weaved further Northwest I become a little apprehensive. The block-parties had become scarce, and the empty, quiet streets were a little ominous. However, as we drove along Huntington Street, trying to find a road to lead us south again, I saw something that absolutely surprised me. There were people recreationally riding horses. It seemed so incredibly strange and out of place to see local residents casually walking horses down the city streets, past the throngs of row homes across cement and scattered glass. I approached two different sets of men to inquire about what exactly they were doing. All of them were extremely nice and willing to talk about their equestrian hobby. As it turns out there are stables nearby and you can purchase a horse to ride for as low as $100.00. This is an anomaly that is most definitely worth looking into for a future story.
Though the lively celebrations were welcome it will be interesting to study the area when it is not a holiday weekend. As a former resident, I am well aware that there are not always masses of happy people outside. However, I realized that most of the time that I lived in this neighborhood, I was looking at it as an outsider. All I saw was crime, poverty and unfriendliness. I felt unwelcome and projected my feelings on the rest of the area. I now have to look at it from a reporting stand-point. I have to see the stories that are clearly trotting right past me.
-Leeann Hamilton and Jeff Craven, Group 16, North Central Philadelphia