"workshop of the world" -- 3/25/14

Delanceyplace.com is honored to be participating in TEDxPhiladelphia this week. This week we will be emailing special excerpts based on TEDxPhiladelphia's theme "The New Workshop of the World".

Today's selection -- from A Prayer for the City by Buzz Bissinger and Design after Delcine by Brent Ryan. Today, many cities are experiencing a creative resurgence. But in 1992, on the first day of Ed Rendell's mayoral term, he joined the ranks of the nations' mayors struggling to combat crime, poverty, municipal debt and homicide. Cities like Los Angeles, where for two weeks in the spring of 1992 the city was crippled by riots. Or Chicago, which had 934 homicides in 1992, more than double the number of homicides in 2013. Or Baltimore and Detroit, where between 1990 and 2000 Baltimore lost 12 percent of its population and Detroit lost 8 percent:

"Across the Northeast and Midwest of the United States, dense, active cities emptied out during the second half of the twentieth century, leaving only shells of their former selves behind. Industrial cities suffered particularly badly. Industry was the lifeblood of a city like Philadelphia, supporting both its economy and its working-class residential neighborhoods. As jobs vanished-between 1950 and 1980 Philadelphia's share of regional employment dropped from nearly 68 percent to only 39 percent (Adams et al. 1991, 17) -- the city's neighborhood fabric began to vanish in turn. Much of the former self-proclaimed 'workshop of the world,' which had more than sixty thousand textile workers alone in the early twentieth century (Scranton and Licht 1986, 113), was by 2000 a wasteland of ruined factories, parking lots, successional landscapes, and impoverished working-class communities (Campo 2010). Almost without exception, the industrial powerhouses that had made midcentury Philadelphia America's fourth-largest city had evaporated by 2000, as if into thin air.

-- Design After Decline by Brent Ryan

"When [Mayor Ed Rendell] woke up [on his first day in office] and went to work, the first item on the agenda, among roughly a thousand, would be how to somehow right the city's financial condition and stave off bankruptcy. Beyond that, one could already feel the first rumblings of the war with the unions that would take place in the coming summer, not a war simply about the usual territories of wages and benefits but a war over the ability of government to reclaim itself and act as an instigator of bold change, not an impediment to it. These were immediate crises that might somehow lend themselves to reversal with ample amounts of luck and miracle. Beyond them lay problems that seemed impervious to hope or even the barest outlines of solution.

"There was the disgrace of public housing, where the vacancy rate hovered at 20 percent and children got third-degree burns from exposed pipes that melted the skin in a sizzle. There was the shame of the schools, whose teachers taught with contempt in a system where 60 percent of the elementary school students lived at the poverty level. There was the flow of manufacturing jobs, 80 percent of which had been lost, and there was the vast industrial heritage of the city, whose once proud moniker, Workshop of the World, was now just a cruel taunt. There was the despair of the neighborhoods, where in many cases the only answer to these once sturdy blocks, as bleached of life as a skull in the desert, was to borrow a chapter from Vietnam and save them by demolishing them. There were the pockets of despair in the city's black neighborhoods, where heroic grandmothers who had already raised their grandchildren were now raising their great-grandchildren and were hoping to veer them somehow from the path of dice games and drugs and drive-by shootings that had become rhythm and regimen. There were pockets of anger in 'changing' neighborhoods, where those who worked and suffered through the wage tax and believed and luxuriated in the heartbeat of the city felt they were being driven out by those who didn't work and didn't care and had no respect for themselves, much less for anyone around them. There was the fear of the men and women who worked at After Six stitching tuxedos or at Whitman's making chocolates or over at the navy yard at the foot of Broad repairing ships suddenly being told to find new lives and new means of employment because these places were closing up for good.

"'There's so much work to be done,' said Nellie Reynolds, who had lived her whole life in the city and had been a longtime activist on behalf of housing for the poor. 'The city looks like it has gone to the dogs. Everybody looks to the mayor like he is the gospel, but everyone knows that it's going to take more than one person to clean up this mess.'

--A Prayer for the City by Buzz Bissinger

author: Brent D. Ryan
title: Design After Decline: How America Rebuilds Shrinking Cities
publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press
date: Copyright 2012 University of Pennsylvania Press
pages: 37-38


Buzz Bissinger


A Prayer for the City


Vintage Books a division of Random House


Copyright 1997 by H.G. Bissinger


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment