When the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia at Market East — aka the shiny new version of the late, great Gallery — opens in November, it will have a little bit of everything: high-end boutiques, fast-fashion favorites, upscale restaurants and sidewalk cafés, even a movie theater.
And, if you’re going by the project renderings developers plastered this week across Filbert Street, next to no people of color.
Really. In the most prominent imagery, a poster the size of a storefront window at the northeast corner of Ninth and Filbert, dozens of shoppers enjoy ice cream cones and microbrews, saunter down Filbert Street — excuse me, the Filbert District, as the rendering says — and peruse the latest wares at Dolce and dishes offered at Farm to Table. All of them, with maybe two blurry exceptions in the background, are white.
It’s the same with the three other posters across the street. The single image that features a wealth of people of color is hidden under the Ninth Street bridge and partially blocked by a fence.
Yes, it’s only a rendering. But the Gallery, for all its disrepair and decrepit weirdness, was a special place. It was long one of the few truly diverse public spaces in a city that is still, in so many ways, shamefully segregated.
It was a prime example of what the Yale professor Elijah Anderson calls the cosmopolitan canopy: “An island of civility in a sea of segregation, where all types of people get along,” as he put it to me in an interview Friday. His book The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life, includes a chapter on the Gallery: Anderson lived in Philadelphia and taught at Penn for years.
The Gallery was, at first, marketed as the same kind of upscale shopping destination that its replacement is being sold as today. But before long, it transformed into a microcosm of the diverse, working-class city that hosted it. As it became a gathering place for all different types of people, and especially black people, it became a repository for the kind of casual racism that boils under the surface of so many aspects of Philadelphia life.
For some white Philadelphians, the Gallery was a place to be avoided, Anderson noted — the “ghetto downtown.” And black Philadelphians bore the burden of convincing them otherwise.
But for many in Philly, the Gallery was a gathering spot. A place to get your first job in high school. A place to sit at the food court with your friends after work. For some, it was a place to go when you had nowhere else to go.
And then it was gone, just another symbol of what gets pushed out in a changing city.
A couple of weeks ago the portraits of mock customers went up. I passed them myself Friday. So did Tim Roberts, an accountant from West Philly, who’s black. At first he laughed ruefully. Then he kept looking. “Wow,” he said. “Guess they don’t want black people in the Fashion District.”
Then, more serious, he said: “They have to do something about this. It’s a misconception of a city.” He walked over to the single one of the five images that featured a more diverse crowd, and sighed again. “Of course,” he said, “it’s under the bridge.”
I reached out to the Gallery’s developer, Joseph Coradino. “Must be a slow news day if you’re writing about my renderings,” he said. He said that he wanted the Gallery to be an inclusive place and that the renderings were stock images his company altered to show the physical space — in other words, we should be paying attention to the buildings, not the people. (The fact that stock images in general are full of mostly white people is another can of worms.)
But he conceded: “We should have taken pause.”
Imagery matters. This is the premier shopping destination downtown, the embodiment of the new Market East, and the way we sell it matters, too. The people who walk by this every day — the people who would use the new Gallery — need to see themselves in the marketing of it. As Roberts said, they’ve got to change this.
The company’s senior vice president of corporate communications called me an hour later. “Poorly monitored and not at all intentional,” she stressed. The signs are coming down as fast as possible.