It started, as these things often do, with a call from an agitated citizen who is opposed to the Memorial Park planned for 22nd & Market, site of the tragic building collapse that cost seven lives, injured 13 and led to arrests and law suits.
The caller sympathized with the idea of creating a memorial in remembrance of the dead, an idea that was supported by a petition.
But he said the park would become a magnet for the homeless who are already numerous in the area. He feared the park would become an outdoor dormitory where they would sleep, drink, do drugs and what else. The corner is already often trashy, thanks to customers of the convenience store near the corner.
He told me a whole lot of the community felt that way and wanted to know if I would help.
He caught me at a very busy period and told him I couldn’t think much about it, but he should make his pitch again a week later and provide me with names and phone numbers of people who felt like he did.
He was very good about that.
I started to think about the park, and did some research, which turned up a brave piece by Liz Spikol in Philadelphia Magazine online:
I say “brave” because she acknowledged her piece would probably result in criticism of her position, which basically said permanent city decisions shouldn’t be made on the basis of sympathy, there were no memorials for other city tragedies and that as life is slowly coming to 22nd & Market, it needs “dynamism” not “solemnity.”
Her perfectly rational column could easily be portrayed as disrespecting the dead, or putting profits over humanity. Those would be stupid things to say, but Philly has no shortage of stupid.
I thought about the issue for awhile and didn’t feel strongly one way or the other. I usually have feelings about what I write, but not always. I’ll sometimes let someone tell their story through me even if I’m not a supporter. I won’t turn my space over to something I oppose, except to attack it.
Spikol was right in saying other tragedies were not memorialized. What makes this one so special? Sad to say, people die every day on the streets of Philadelphia. Why don’t they get a park?
OK, clearly that won’t happen. Maybe we need something like the Vietnam Memorial, a long wall where victims’ names can be inscribed.
I spent several days making calls, visiting the corner, talking to management of surrounding buildings to see how they felt. Most were neutral or in favor.
Some of the critics lined up by the original caller didn’t want their names used, wouldn’t sign a petition to protest the park. The original caller eventually gave up in disgust.
If you have a problem, but you are not willing to put your name to it because of some vague fear, it’s tough for me to want to help you. That’s true for most journalists.
So this became a nonstory and a noncolumn, but I thought it was good for the Stu-niversity blog, which teaches things, often about how the media really works.
I should be doing more of that.