Would Chinatown still be the same if it were not hemmed in by the Vine Street Expressway and the Convention Center? What if buildings still couldn’t be taller than William Penn’s statue? This month, the Free Library of Philadelphia investigates the humanity, physicality, history, and identity of Philadelphia’s urban spaces in the multimedia exhibition Philadelphia—The Changing City. It's on display now at Parkway Central Library (1901 Vine Street) through April 13.
At every corner, in every neighborhood, the infrastructure, facades, shape, and makeup of Philadelphia are changing. This is a continuum of change, a process of expansion and contraction, influx and flight, and preservation and renovation inherent to the living organism of "urban space." It's accelerating in a visible way in the city of Brotherly Love. A once modest skyline is now populated with staggering, reflective monoliths.
Growth, destruction, distinction
The growing pains of this process can be seen and felt. What we term development can mean growth and enrichment, but it can also mean displacement, destruction, and stratification as Philadelphia reshapes according to where the money flows.
“Images of the city drawn from 300 years of prints, photographs, documents, and maps reveal the planned and unplanned changes that have affected Philadelphia's landscape, its buildings, and its inhabitants,” the Free Library describes the exhibit. Rightfully known for its universities and hospitals, diverse communities, art collections and burgeoning culinary scene, Philadelphia has grown into the World Heritage City of its repute. As with any major city, Philadelphia also bears many scars, borne by the streets, buildings, bodies and communities within its ever-reshaping, ever-renaming districts.
The Secret Cinema unearths historic Philadelphia
One of the events in the Changing City exhibit reinforces all that with film. The Secret Cinema, a curator of neglected films and cinematic fragments, has partnered with the Free Library to present lost 16mm film materials that show the Changing City in motion. Highlights include Our Changing City (1955) and Not in My Block (1964). These moving images, weathered by many years, possess both the evidence and the dream of a specific history in Philadelphia. Through photographs and documents, Secret Cinema springs a static idea of bygone Philadelphia to flickering life, adding dimension and intimacy to an already rounded exhibition. The screening is Monday, March 25, 2019, from 6 to 8pm at the Parkway Central Library. Admission is free, but registration is required online.