Thursday, August 13, 2015

Will New Philadelphians Embrace the Italian Market?

Now that the internet's had a few days to twist its digital panties over the new apartment building near 9th and Washington, I'm wondering less and less how the Italian Market's collective NIMBYs will react to the project, and more about how this luxury apartment building's prospective tenants will impact the market itself.

The south end of the 9th Street Market doesn't really play a nostalgic role in the neighborhood's Italian roots until you reach Geno's. Full of Hispanic restaurants, bodegas, and Vietnamese grocers, it's less old-world-charm and more Bladerunner grit. Though less appealing to tourists and New Philadelphians, the market's southern leg is actually a better microcosm of its surrounding neighborhoods. 

But Milwood Investment & Development won't be catering to the street's shopkeepers and butchers, but those New Philadelphians who do yoga and like their Dickensian grit diluted. 

Basically what I'm posing is, how will the hybrid-bound New Philadelphians take to live poultry and quinceanera stores?

My guess: not well. 

Sure, they'll embrace the charming diversity when they tour their new apartments. Sales reps will be focusing on the market's northern arm and it's charming Italian heritage. But before long, the NIMBYs screaming about parking and traffic will be met with new members, members riddled with xenophobia veiled by a concern for safety. 

If you think I'm wrong, just take a look at a neighborhood a short walk to the market's north. The Gayborhood, once gritty and charming in its own unique way, has traded quite a bit of its cultural heritage for strollers, wine bars, and gourmet pizza. On the surface, it seems harmless. After all, the Gayborhood is safer than it used to be, many of the businesses that closed were underwhelming, and the new ones are thriving.

But the Gayborhood, a neighborhood once so gay it had its own label on Google Maps, is now Midtown Village, just another neighborhood with homosexual tendencies. Once the first New Philadelphians moved in, they called for more, and the gentri-terraforming began.

And that's really what this is, just another futile monologue about gentrification. Because really, nothing can be done about it. And this is exactly what will take place at the 9th Street Market.

Well established institutions like DiBruno Brothers and Giordano's will remain in tact. But its less profitable authenticity like Shun Da Poultry and Mole Pablano will be swapped out for something befitting those willing to pay $2500 a month on new construction. What will come in their wake?

If development in the Gayborhood is any indication, the 9th Street Market will not succumb to the worst form of gentrification, the kind of Disneyfication of diversity that plagues Manhattan and Washington, D.C., but more boutiques, wine bars, and gourmet incarnations of the next trend to sweep the Food Network. 

And like the Gayborhood, on the surface, this transformation looks harmless, even positive. But people no longer move to neighborhoods to be a part of a community, they move to places and establish their comfort zones. Instead of simply accepting the 9th Street Market for what it is, the kitschy and the plainly pragmatic, harbingers of gentrification parasitically chip away at a neighborhood's soul until it meets the lowest common denominator: suburban sensibilities. 

Gentrification isn't an evil villain who wants to raise your property taxes and push you out, it's a brainless virus that unknowingly attacks its host until everything looks the same. It's nothing new and it's not something that can be stopped, but it is something that can be managed. Instead of apolitically ranting at town hall meetings about a bunch of one-off gripes, effective neighborhood leadership could lay down the ground work for a rigid guideline of their community's ideals.

Philadelphia's a big city. Perhaps one day we'll get it right. 

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