Well, I don’t normally love fliers. I don’t like the ones passed out on the street for shoe sales, discounted men’s suits or pizza parlors, or the kind that come in my mailbox alerting me to someone who’s been missing for thirty years, whose four-year-old picture has been altered to make him look thirty-four. And I don’t particularly care for the slips of paper I find under my door telling me the building’s shutting off water in my unit during the exact time I usually like to take a shower. But I love seeing fliers for local events and establishments sitting on the counters of local establishments, precisely because I don’t find them in New York. Or at least not in the neighborhood where I grew up.
Like today, I’m paying for greeting cards at the Papyrus in Center City and see a booklet for coupons related to exhibits and events honoring Benjamin Franklin’s birthday. Philadelphia—yes the entire city—is celebrating Ben Franklin’s year of birth for the next several months, and the Papyrus cashier told me the people who dropped off the booklets insisted she join them in a round of song. (The song was “happy birthday”) What is especially amusing about imagining this scene—beyond wondering if the booklet-distributers, regardless of gender, were wearing long balding-haired wigs and spectacles, is that Center City is not a tourist area. It might be a place where tourists visit, but when I first entered the store I overheard a couple asking if Papyrus sold Philadelphia-themed postcards and the woman behind the counter told them to head to South Street. (South Street is far more like the Times Square of Philadelphia than Center City.) I also love that I can find passes for free yoga classes sitting on a sill in my neighborhood coffee shop, and that almost all the coffee shops exhibit postcards, if not the actual paintings, of local artists.
And to give a little shout out to Philadelphia—an article in the January issue of National Geographic named it the America’s Next Great City. Perhaps the best part of the article is that it features Kyle Farley, a history PhD student who takes the author on a tour of Philadelphia. And at the end of the tour, which leaves off in Rittenhouse Square, he talks about Jane Jacobs’ book The Death and Life of Great American Cities and how she writes about the “ballet” of the Rittenhouse Square. It’s worth sharing some of the steps of that ballet here:
“First, a few early-bird walkers who live beside the park take brisk strolls. They are shortly joined, and followed, by residents who cross the park on their way to work out of the district. Next come people from outside the district, crossing the park on their way to work within the neighborhood. Soon after these people have left the square the errand-goers start to come through, many of them lingering, and in mid-morning mothers and small children come in, along with an increasing number of shoppers. Before noon the mothers and children leave, but the square’s population continues to grow because of employees on their lunch hour and also because of people coming from elsewhere to lunch at the art club and the other restaurants around . . . (and so on). See page 97 for more.