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Critical Play Rewrite

Everglade's picture

“It’s beautiful. No, it’s not quite aesthetically beautiful, but… It’s beautiful. I mean, the history, the people. It’s not the best part of Philly, but exactly because it’s not perfect, it has potential for improvement.” 

A Temple student told me so on the train to North Philly, during my last trip for this class. Her words reminded me of what Sharon Zukin said, “the soul of a city is often felt to be in the long-time residents”. She suggested that I talk to some local folks, but unfortunately there was little people outside on that snowy day.

I planned to see the mural which has RISE on one side and SHINE on the other. In the  photo online, it’s visible in distance, the pure white letters prominent among the vibrantly colored squares in the background. But standing right in front of the mural, I saw something else hidden under the shiny surface. 

The squares were not just colors, but portraits of artists of this project and residents of this area. By incorporating these portraits, the mural showed respect for the people who gave it life, and connected art with everyday life.

The letters were not purely white, either. Scribbles were all over them. Voice. Inspired. Attitude. Power. Soul. History. Dreaming. Beautiful. We believe life. Love. Hope. 

Here I feel the need to describe the surroundings. The building walls were all made of brick or cement, with barely any paint or decoration. Many shops along the streets were either closed or, even worse, broken. Grass grew from the cracked pavement. It was snowing heavily so the ground was all covered, or else I guess it would look a lot filthier. There was a boot on the street, bright pink, little girls’ style. Not a pair, only one. I didn’t want to imagine what happened or why it was here. People on the streets were standing or rambling aimlessly. I felt like I was the only person who was heading somewhere. I walked fast and held my hat low, hoping no one would notice I’m a girl and I would be safer this way.

Looking back at the mural, the scribbles of such positive and hopeful words seemed really odd. But the letters shone dazzlingly even if they were not impeccably white. So was this area, I thought. It was fascinating even if it’s dilapidated. The surface was just a face; what’s unseen from the surface was its true essence. I didn’t know the area well enough to tell how it’s going to develop or what potential it had, but I could sense that it was full of hope and had its unique culture and character. It might need a little repair and cleaning, but it didn’t need to be wiped out its vitality and be transformed into indifferent uniformity. Now I walked peacefully with my head up, smiling at strangers and attentively searching for interesting things around. I found several other murals of different styles, which really was a light in the dark muddy hue of this area. I especially loved the one on the wall of a kindergarden, which had 123 and ABC on it.

If it wasn’t for the mural, I would probably never go to North Philly, because everybody told me to avoid that dangerous area. Now I’ve been there and felt surprisingly good, and I wanted to do some research, know more about it, and go back several times. According to Flanagan’s Critical Play, the mural is “a creative act that shifts the way a particular logic or paradigm is operating.”(12), which created a drastic change in my opinion of North Philly. The mural is “a powerful means for marginalized groups to have a voice”(11), as it allowed people from North Philly, who were not so wealthy or successful in common opinion, to express their feelings about their home—“authentic” rather than desolate. By using “the street as the gateway to cultural intervention”(12), it demonstrated its idea more directly and ardently. 

Now let me take us back to our first trip into the city, during which I had an experience in a similar sense. At first I thought Philadelphia was the perfect Logan Square and shiny skyscrapers, but after my embarrassing encounter with a homeless man, I understood that a city is not the skyline but its people, and there’s a different beauty, “a kind of low-down but truer sense where the self can develop”(Sharon Zukin), beneath the surface.

It’s magical to me that my first and last trip have such similarity. It’s also magical that, Philadelphia never ceased to amaze me. 

Works Cited

Zukin, Sharon. The Cultures of Cities. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1995.

Flanagan, Mary. Critical Play: Radical Game Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009.