Updated: Friday, September 29, 2017, 4:03 PM
So, Independence Mall stinks now, huh?
I was upset to see five separate essays — and an editorial to boot — on my own paper’s website this week, bemoaning the state of my beloved oasis of majesty in the middle of dingy old Market East.
I was even more upset to realize they all had a point.
The shrubbery, yes, in places is somewhat dismal.
The grass, all right, in spots is brown and bald.
The bathroom is indeed padlocked — and so are some of the historic buildings.
Sure, at night, the mall feels dead and unused.
Yeah, I can see how it can be confusing to navigate from park to park.
But that last part is what I’ve always loved about its nooks and crannies, bursting with the kind of stumble-upon-it everyday history that gives Philly its charm. (Yes, the park includes all the odd little old homes and graveyards and parks spread across Old City and Society Hill.)
The Inquirer and Daily News offices are just blocks from Independence Park. If I’m having a frustrating day at work, there’s no better walk to clear the mind than through the mall, past Signer’s Park and the Second Bank, and the low-hanging willows surrounding Carpenters Hall and the Dr. Benjamin Rush House and, finally, to the historic Rose and Magnolia Gardens. I have a lot of those days.
One of the things about being a Philadelphian these days is the ton of passionate, committed, dedicated people here who see something that doesn’t seem quite right and throw their full heart and being into fixing it.
Bruised and a bit battered, Independence Mall, the heart of our city, deserves that dedication.
At the same time, being a Philadelphian is finding beauty in the lackluster — in loving something despite its objective lameness. Like the Vet — or nearly every team that ever called it home.
I just felt somebody should stick up for the park a little bit.
And it’s not hard to find others who love the place as well.
Almost every day before his restaurant dishwashing job, Olumide Johnson Adigun snags a spot in the hush of the mall’s meditation gardens, along Fifth Street.
There, on Thursday, with a breeze blowing and the birds singing, the 50-year-old father of two concentrated on his coffee-and-doughnut lunch and tried to tune out his worries — the nagging question dominating his new American life: “Am I going to make it?”
“Every day, I come here and feel peace,” Adigun said, beaming. Last year, he fled his native Nigeria amid ethnic fighting. “Every day, I leave, and my worries are gone.”
One critic wrote of the park: “The front parlor no one enters.”
Well, Bob Burns sat right down and stretched his weathered work boots across a bench near Independence Hall. The 57-year-old union electrician, currently working a rewiring job at the Bourse, finds his bench almost every day.
The tourists fascinate him — these people coming from all over to see something so many of us take for granted. The bell. Independence Hall. Hell, he drives by it every day and sometimes doesn’t even bat an eye.
“It’s an honor to live in Philadelphia,” Burns said, his Harley-Davidson hat pulled low.
Alas, Thursday marked his farewell to his bench. On Friday, he was to hang up his boots after 36 years, and a proper saloon send-off had been arranged.
The occasion brought to mind one thing about Independence Mall that Burns would change: “They won’t let us drink in the park.”
Perched atop the steps of the Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery — closed except for weekends, its grounds in need of weeding — Melanie Nadzio, 34, lounged over lunch with Carlos Mora and Francis Smythe, her coworkers from Chubb Insurance. The trio had no complaints.
Still, I get it: The park I love is in need of some more love.
Some good ideas, big and small, are already up on the board: more monuments dedicated to the evolving experience of Native and African Americans, more bilingual guides, a redesign to draw more locals and spur vibrancy, a working toilet. The Park Service, suffering through a federal hiring freeze, needs staffing and funding to get this done.
Maybe my reaction to all these smart ideas says more about me than it does about Independence Mall. Maybe it’s just proof of this native New Yorker’s passage into a full-fledged Philadelphian: Someone offers reasonable, measured, and necessary improvements to a thing I love, and my gut instinct is to say, “I hate you, get off my lawn, and what are you — from New York?”