The Philadelphia Barrio
The Arts, Branding, and Neighborhood Transformation
How does a so-called bad neighborhood go about changing its reputation? Is it simply a matter of improving material conditions or picking the savviest marketing strategy? What kind of role can or should the arts play in that process? Does gentrification always entail a betrayal of a neighborhood’s roots? Tackling these questions and offering a fresh take on the dynamics of urban revitalization, The Philadelphia Barrio examines one neighborhood’s fight to erase the stigma of devastation.
Frederick F. Wherry shows how, in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Centro de Oro, entrepreneurs and community leaders forged connections between local businesses and cultural institutions to rebrand a place once nicknamed the Badlands. Artists and performers negotiated with government organizations and national foundations, Wherry reveals, and took to local galleries, stages, storefronts, and street parades in a concerted, canny effort to reanimate the spirit of their neighborhood.
Complicating our notions of neighborhood change by exploring the ways the process is driven by local residents, The Philadelphia Barrio presents a nuanced look at how city dwellers can make commercial interests serve the local culture, rather than exploit it.
“In this bold and deeply original work, Wherry takes sociological understandings of the American underclass to a new level. Against cynical ‘realism,’ he makes a cultural-sociological case for the power of agency and performance and how the arts can effect the material transformation of impoverished ethnic communities.”
“Many of Philadelphia’s ethnic enclaves are celebrated for their vibrant art scenes and urban culture, yet simultaneously maligned as dangerous pockets of crime and poverty. In The Philadelphia Barrio, Wherry illustrates how a variety of community stakeholders—including residents, shop owners and restaurateurs, artists and performers, and local organizers and activists—try to rejuvenate their neighborhood with creativity and sweat equity in the hopes of resuscitating not only its economic vitality but its honor and symbolic reputation in the city as well. In doing so, he shows us how the character of an urban area need not be etched in asphalt and concrete for all time. This is a beautiful book.”