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West Philadelphia, Born and Raised.

krysg's picture

Idealized "Plan" for West Philadelphia

Charles P. Varle's "Idealized Plan for West Philadelphia"

Nathan Suplee's "Survey Map of West Philadelphia"

Both of these maps are of the planning of West Philadelphia. They were drawn up in the 1800s, one earlier in the century and the second mid-century. I chose a very typical mapping of the city; a very typical tool in city planning. The first map, if you're to look at it closely, follows typical city planning: forming the streets of West Philadelphia into a grid; however, unlike any other map i've seen, the drawing foregrounds certain influential Philadelphia family's homes: the Hamiltons, the Penns, the Pratts, the Binghams, the Powells. Taking this foregrounding and placing it up against the second map, drawn mid-1800s, one can see that Varle's "idealized" version of W.Philadelphia was never realized: instead of being an area frequented by the families of rich and important American delegates or businessmen, one can see that many streets were being vacated (possibly rerouted?) to fit some sort of demand; what exactly the annotations say is hard to decipher. The second map in particular reminded me of my commute home from school, during which I ride the Market-Frankfort line and pass many vacated homes between 63 St. and 52 St. The second map may not be indicating city growth in order to accomidate an influx of people who did not meet the socio-economic standard; however, it is true of West Philadelphia's history that in the twentieth century there was a large migration of African-Americans from the south. Since then, many other immigrant and emmigrant populations have moved in to West Philadelphia, including but not limited to Indian and Pakistani peoples, West African populations, and etc. For me it was very interesting to find the old early-nineteenth-century map of W.Philadelphia (and what the map-maker hoped it would be-- a rich suburb for white American politicians and businessmen to summer to) and juxtapose that against the rich center of people and different cultures that W.Philly has become (for me and many others). Terra incognita-- there was no way Varle could have imagined the influx of different populations into Philly. But the assumption that they wouldn't-- or rather the complete acknowledgement of that sort of existance or potentiality-- to me is particularly telling.



krysg's picture

In re-visiting these maps.

In re-visiting these two maps, the idealized plan for West Philadelphia and the revised mapping of West Philadelphia, I realized that I went way too anthropocentric and adaptation-centric with the project. But I am still somehow satisfied with the maps that I have chosen, because thinking of these maps as strictly tracing human adaptation and leaving out agriculture. These maps do trace human's attempts at "permiculture" and how impermanant permiculture is? But also how unnecessary, if one is to take the lack of parks on the maps as being indicative. I found it interesting to think of this cityscape as a garden, using the definition "a rich, well-cultivated region". That's certainly how West Philadelphia looks from my rooftop! (Picture will be added soon! ..Once my phone decides it wants to cooperate.) And thinking of Philadelphia as a garden is certainly less harsh than other words we could put on it, which may foreground the various problems that people find within the city; however, 'garden' not only highlights a diverse range of upcroppings, but also brings to mind the possibility of a nature that works between humans and nature, each 'pushing' and being 'pushed' in turn by each other's force, creating this ever-changing, ever-cultivated, ever-controlled-and-controlling community of peoples, plants, animals, buildings... Maybe that's only my optimism in the laguage.

Anne Dalke's picture


...what's the relation of the map to the site you'll be re-visiting throughout the semester?

krysg's picture

There's no physical relationship.

I did not center myself in any place on these maps; I did not use a map strictly of the area I will be observing and I did not do these things for two reasons: one, the place from which I observe my neighborhood is on top of my 4-story apartment building. I can see the entire region of West Philadelphia, streets a-grid, train, people walking, and all. Second, building and re-building is important to the nature of an enviroment; none of the areas ANYONE has been observing goes without revitalization or renovation, or even complete reconstruction of the area, done either by humans or weather/seasons/etc. And because the West Philly that I see is now under the burden of gentrification and changing zoning to where Hilton Suites campus housing for UPenn students is popping up, right on the horizon of my skyline, blocking Philadelphia's gorgeous smattering of skyscrapers and replacing it with two ugly, blocky, ritzy, useless buildings that are right east to me.

I think I chose these maps because in a place where there isn't a lot of Ecology, there IS a TON of nature-- that is to say, of the human and much more fickle, invasive, and nonsensicle kind. And this completely changes the flow of peoples, goods, etc, that can or will come into and move out of an area.

Nan's picture


This is so interesting to look at!  Streets and a vision of a city that turned out differently from the way it was mapped.  Such is often the case with idealized or  limited visions of how things will go. In the case of West Philly, as you point out, it is culturally so much more interesting the way it turned out!