Joseph Leidy Elementary, RIP 2013

The front entrance to the school with a cop car and flag blowing in the breeze.  Joseph Leidy sits next to Fairmount Park with the Mann Music Center just a few blocks away.  Across the street are self-storage buildings.  A new industrial (?) development caddycorner to the school still has tyvek wrapping paper on its half-erected wooden frame.

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The windows are barred and padlocked as if something dangerous could get in or out of the building. 

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In the background one can see a row of new single-family homes.  They are in the style of HUD’s neighborhood development projects, and in a surrounding of vacant lots, like this one across from the school.

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It is hard to imagine that this redevelopment project is part of any kind of gentrification despite the fact that thins neighborhood is next to America’s largest urban park- replete with bike lanes, horseback riding, running trails, and sports areas.  My family drives from our West Philly home, through this neighborhood, on our way to the Japanese Gardens, Philadelphia Zoo, Centennial Café or Please Touch Museum.  In most cities, this location, near a large park and public amenities, would be a prime residential location.  In Philadelphia- it is not.

A vacant lot full of trash is across from the school.  The broken window of the home that overlooks the lot speaks to the residential neglect.

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The mural on the side of the school pays tribute to the baseball hall of famers who once lived in this neighborhood.  It depicts smiling children reaching and pointing upwards, framed on one side by ghosts of a glorious past and proud Victorian row homes without broken windows, with greenscape as the centerpiece.  This is a vision that I easily see actualized.  Leidy has the potential to be that greenspace for reaching children, to draw from Philadelphia’ rich, local past of strong local heroes like W.E.B. DuBois whose image graces the mural.  The school is on the edge of a park, a closed ice rink, a community center, and so much more within walking distance.  Where did this vision go wrong?

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Wind blown trash suctioned to the rusty chainlink fence that outlines Leidy’s playground area, a blacktop with overflow parking.

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In some ways, the trash around the school is more revealing of the activities of the details of school life.  A number 2 lead pencil is pinned between concrete and chainlink fence.

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I spent a lot of time inspecting the ground, noticing what my toddler notices when he walks: broken glass bottles, hair barrettes, pieces of weaves, soda cans, and snack wrappers.  This detail of a pencil was an odd finding, but offers a clue of what goes into the building- along with the hair barrettes and packages snacks.

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