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Helping The Woodlands get even better

Posted on 11 April 2014

WoodlandssurveyDo you visit The Woodlands whether it is for jogging, dog walking, nature or leisurely walks or other activities? Now you can be part of the Woodlands planning and have an impact on the future of this beautiful historical site.

The people involved with preservation and development of the Woodlands cemetery and mansion would like to hear from you. They have prepared a community survey asking about your use of The Woodlands as well as about your favorite places there. The information gathered will help make improvements to the site “that align with how our community enjoys the space.”

To fill out the survey, click here.

This summer, on June 5, The Woodlands is hosting the 3rd Annual Benefit, with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, music and more. The benefit guests will get a chance to kick off the fully-funded $1 million project to preserve the Cryptoporticus (a covered gallery) and North Terrace, and peek into the basement servant’s quarters. For more information, visit The Woodlands website.

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Letter to the Editor: Support Meatless Monday in Philly schools

Posted on 21 March 2014

Back in November, West Philly Local reported on the Meatless Monday resolution that City Council passed urging residents to avoid eating meat just one day a week (Editor: you can read it here). The end of the article mentioned the next goal: get the Philadelphia School District to implement Meatless Monday.

I’d like to voice my support for Meatless Monday in Philly schools, now that the campaign is in full swing. I want the healthiest food possible available to children in our city, and adding more plant-based foods to the menu will help make that happen. While it would be great to serve organic, fresh, non-GMO fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, I recognize that the District doesn’t have the means to do so. However, taking meat off the menu one day a week is an easily achievable step the District can take towards healthier meals.

I encourage everyone to visit www.PhillyMeatlessMonday.com to learn more about the campaign and to sign the petition urging the School District of Philadelphia to join many others that already participate in Meatless Monday.

Krystina Krysiak
West Philadelphia, PA

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Being white in (West) Philly: One woman’s take

Posted on 13 March 2013

[Editor’s Note: This month’s Philadelphia Magazine story, “Being White in Philly,” has been widely criticized in the city. West Philadelphia native Jocelyn Degroot-Lutzner, 22, grew up on 49th Street. She has her own thoughts about growing up in a multiracial community. This was originally posted on her company’s website IdiomsFashion.com. She gave us permission to re-post it here.]

As a 09’ graduate of Central High School, “Temple’s biggest district feeder,” I can only hope that my shock towards Robert Huber’s recent article for Philadelphia Magazine reciprocated similar feelings from my fellow Central grads (most of whom are probably neighbors of his son). As I sat reading the article on my lunch break at my New York City internship for an online magazine, I couldn’t help but lose my appetite as I felt my face grow red. His sweeping generalizations, seemingly one-sided research and the description of the “dance” he does at Wawa made me clench my fists in pain.

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 9.23.00 AMI am a 22-year-old, white, female, Jewish, middle class, West Philadelphia native. I grew up in an area once referred to as West Philadelphia, but may only be known to you now as its re-branded name of Cedar Park or University City. My mother has occupied the same house in West Philly for over 30 years. Both of my parents work from home in their third floor offices.

During an interview I once had with the president of Starr Restaurants for a job as a hostess, I remember telling him that I grew up in West Philadelphia. He questioned whether my parents were hippies, I responded “no.” I never questioned as to why my parents choose to raise my younger brother and I in our neighborhood. Why would I question something that was normal to me?

I attended a few different public schools as well as one private school: Wilson School for Montessori and kindergarten; Powel Elementary School for 1st-4th grade; Girard Academic Music Program for 5th grade; Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School for 6th-8th grade; Friends Select School for 9th; and Central High School for 10th-graduation.

I grew up with block parties, attended the University City Swim Club in the summer and worked at various jobs in my neighborhood. I taught swimming at the West Philly YMCA, sold movie tickets at the movie theater formerly known as The Bridge, sold overpriced fashions to Penn students at the West Philadelphia Urban Outfitters, and then sold those same Penn students drinks and Ethiopian food at Gojjo’s Ethiopian Restaurant back on Baltimore Ave.

Has race been a part of my life? Yes, without a doubt! Walking around West Philly I’ve been called every moniker for “white girl” that you could (or couldn’t) think of: Snow Bunny, White Chocolate and Britney Spears to name a few. I have also ventured downtown and been inappropriately hit on by white men older than my father. What did I learn from those experiences? Definitely not that one man is more respectful to young women than any other.

I remember leaving my first day of work at Urban Outfitters, we stood at the front door and emptied our pockets and personal bags as the managers checked us for any missing Urban Outfitters merchandise. While checking we were told whom we should be keeping an eye on for stealing. Race was never stated outright, was it inferred? Definitely. What was stated outright was that we should not forget to keep an eye on the well-to-do looking Penn students; they had a long history of being petty thieves at Urban Outfitters, even with daddy and mommy’s money in their wallets.

I grew up on 49th street and have a long relationship with University of Pennsylvania students. In 4th grade I had a “Penn Pal”, very literally. We exchanged letters and toured the university at the end of our school year. I attended a University of Pennsylvania Partnership public elementary school, not as big of a relationship with Penn as you might think. I’ve sold them movie ticket after movie ticket, drink after drink and watched them get caught stealing at my prior job.

I would say, overall, we have a somewhat tension fueled relationship and I say this even knowing a handful of friends that currently attend the university. Once I had a discussion with Angela Leonardo, a close childhood friend who will be graduating from Penn this May, she was reminiscing on her freshmen orientation,

I was in the tour group and near the end one of the kids asked if it was true that you shouldn’t ever go past 42nd street, and the tour guide was like, yeah I’m not sure…I haven’t ever been out there, I think it’s probably best not to… people have definitely been confused over the years when I tell them I grew up at 49th street. It was also impossible to get most of my friends to come over for dinner or hangouts.

My mother remembers twenty years ago when she was getting her masters from The Wharton School, the school’s car service would drop her off a block away from our house, refusing to go past 48th street. They also sent her a letter, suggesting she should not live past 46th street.

Has race been a part of my life? Again, I say yes! As an 11th grader I participated in Operation Understanding, it was a life changing experience for Philadelphian African American and Jewish 11th graders to learn “each others histories and cultures to effectively lead the communities of Philadelphia and beyond to a greater understanding of diversity and acceptance.”  We traveled to Senegal and Israel and exchanged experiences that challenged each of us to see differently. Race was discussed daily, if not hourly.

I want to quickly discuss drugs, since it seemed to be such an important factor of Huber’s article. As a white person, more often than not I was the minority in my various schools. Drugs did not become an evident part of my classmate’s lives until I attended private school as a high school freshmen. Suddenly, people where being expelled for selling drugs or doing them on school grounds. Besides my current university, the private school I attended as a 9th grader, had the largest proportion of white students compared to other race and ethnicities and the white students were the ones doing drugs.

If I had one hope for the day I choose to begin to raise a family, it is that my children are blessed to have such a well-rounded experience of their community and our world. Hopefully it can be similar to the one I feel so lucky to have grown up in. I hope they get to experience sledding on trashcan lids in Clark Park, eating chicken patties at Brown Sugar on 52nd street, samosa’s at International Food & Spices, pretending to be models at the Kingsessing Recreation Center’s free after school programs, teaching 3-year-olds to swim at the West Philly YMCA, fighting for Philadelphia public school students at the Philadelphia Student Union office on 50th and Baltimore, and making friends that are Black, White, Asian, Hispanic (etc.). I don’t want to raise my children “color-blind” – they would miss so many beautiful things.

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Local books are worth it

Posted on 22 February 2012

Though West Philadelphia has long been on the forefront of the Philadelphia food justice movement that aims to obtain what we eat from local sources and/or sources that pay the producers fairly, the same cannot be said for what West Philly folks read. In the past three years, West Philadelphians, especially the academic communities of the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University that have traditionally supported local booksellers, have been steadily and increasingly turning away from them in favor of Amazon.com.

Obviously, we’re not alone. The national market for books has been utterly transformed since Amazon came onto the scene in 1996. According to 2011 research done by Albert Greco, a Fordham University marketing professor who studies book retailing, Amazon has 22.6% of the book market — ahead of Barnes & Noble (17.3%), Borders (8.1%), Books-A-Million (3%) and independents (6%) with the remainder of the market going to various other non-book based retailers including price clubs, supermarkets, and convenience stores.

Full disclosure: I work at a local independent West Philadelphia bookstore, Penn Book Center (not to be confused with the Barnes and Noble, Penn Bookstore). Thanks to Penn and Drexel professors who choose to stock their required course texts at an independent bookstore, each September and January the PBC fills up with student customers excited to purchase their coursebooks. But the store also fills up with other students squatting in the aisles with iPods, droids, laptops, or just pen and paper in hand, with no intention to purchase books, but rather to copy down the ISBN numbers so that they can go purchase the books on Amazon.

The explanation I hear most frequently from these students is that Amazon is simply cheaper, a huge factor especially for students who are demanded to buy large quantities of expensive textbooks. The explanation I hear most often from my friends and peers who opt for Amazon—young professionals who are book lovers of varying levels—is that Amazon is also convenient, allowing exceedingly busy people who can’t make it to a bookstore during business hours to shop efficiently.

The parallel to the local food movement raised at the beginning of this piece becomes relevant here: these are precisely the points of resistance that local food activists face in trying to create and nurture systems of connecting West Philadelphians with locally and fairly grown food. It may be faster, more convenient, and slightly cheaper to buy a burger at McDonalds on 40th & Walnut or Checkers on 48th & Lancaster than it is to buy the necessary component ingredients at Mariposa Food Co-Op (even when subbing tofu or veggie burger for beef), but a growing number of West Philadelphians would agree that it is “worth it” to do so. During my recent new member orientation at Mariposa, I got educated on the historical context of the move towards food cooperatives and the history of West Philly residents’ commitment to food justice. We talked about what it meant to be a co-op member and how it was an investment in the community of West Philadelphia.

Yet, when it comes to books, perhaps many of us know it’s vaguely bad to purchase them from the multinational corporation that is Amazon, but could any of us really articulate why it’s “worth it” to buy books locally?

Here are three big reasons:

1) Amazon is steadily and systematically driving down the cost (read value) of books, a trend that will dramatically affect what books publishers are able to offer us, as readers. Selling books at deeply discounted prices often means that Amazon itself is taking a loss on book sales, figuring it will recoup this money through the sales generated when that book customer becomes an electronics or music or clothing customer. Amazon recently declared they would sell all ebooks for $9.99 regardless of publisher’s costs, effectively setting a hard price ceiling. Says Teresa Nielsen Hayde, an editor at Tor Books (an imprint of Macmillan), this price fixing in print and ebook publishing has taken a “shark-sized bite out of the market for hot new bestsellers, which is trade book publishing’s single most profitable area. That revenue source is what keeps a lot of publishing companies afloat. It provides the liquidity that enables them to buy and publish smaller and less commercially secure titles: odd books, books by unknown writers, books with limited but enthusiastic audiences, et cetera.” The result, she says, is “fewer and less diverse titles overall, published less well than they are now.”

2) Spending money in our local Philadelphia community puts money back into our local economy. No, really. The owners of West Philadelphia bookstores, House of Our Own (Debbie Sanford), The Last Word (Larry Maltz), and Bindlestiffs (Alexis Buss) are all West Philadelphia residents. Penn Book Center owners Michael Rowe and Ashley Montague are Philadelphia residents who employ almost all West Philadelphia staff. Spending a dollar at one of these local stores means they will then spend that dollar at the hardware store, or the grocery store, or on rent to their West Philly landlords, meaning the money changes hands several times within our community before it leaves. A dollar spent at Amazon supports nothing but Amazon.

3) Our local stores can do everything Amazon can do, sometimes for not much more, sometimes for less. Want a good used book of a common title for a class? The Last Word is truly a used book mecca. Want a rare, out of print, or just a not commonly available title? Penn Book Center will order it for you. And just like produce can sometimes be cheaper at Mariposa than at Fresh Grocer (whereas cereal certainly is not), it’s worth thinking critically about the different types of books you’re looking for and where it makes sense to get them from. House of Our Own and Penn Book Center, as they operate on independent business models set by different people with different wisdom, are sometimes able to offer better deals on packaged coursebooks and/or commonly used paperbacks than is Amazon.

As of February 18th, 2012, Mariposa Food Co-op has 1,225 members and counting.

Imagine if 1,225 West Philadelphians joined together in intentional commitment to buying books from local vendors at fair market prices? Imagine what kind of statement that would make about us as a neighborhood, about us as an intellectual community that values the service that print publishing houses provide and the life-changing creative work that writers offer. That’s a community I’d like to live in.

Emma Eisenberg

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