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Is Philadelphia a healthy place to live?

Thursday, November 5th, 2009



A University of Pennsylvania exhibit combines the photographs and words of city residents to help answer the question: Is Philadelphia a healthy place to live?

(Photo: Elias Friedman)

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Urban health researchers at Penn equipped residents with disposable cameras and asked them to document where they live, work and play. It’s an attempt to understand how health conditions vary across three neighborhoods with starkly different income levels.

Carolyn Cannuscio led the project.

Cannuscio: I think what pictures can do is they can first, help really tune into the details of how people are living. We can really observe the hard evidence in photographs of the nature of people’s living environments.

'Park Grocery' (Photo: Elias Friedman for the Health of Philadelphia Photo-documentation Project)

'Park Grocery' (Photo: Elias Friedman for the Health of Philadelphia Photo-documentation Project)

The residents — who remained anonymous — talked about their health concerns. Speaking with researchers, one woman worried at the lack of fresh food in North Philadelphia. She said neighbors get much of their food from the corner store.

City resident: When you go inside, it’s a protective glass, it’s like going into a prison or something. You shove your money in there, and then they shove your food out too you.

She says the corner store near her work supports an unhealthy, underground economy.

'Chinese Takeout' (Photo: Aaron Walker for the Health of Philadelphia Photo-documentation Project)

'Chinese Takeout' (Photo: Aaron Walker for the Health of Philadelphia Photo-documentation Project)

City resident: They can also buy cigarettes: one or two or three, which is against the law. And it’s pervasive.

The exhibit is called Trauma, Trash, and Triumph. Researcher Carolyn Cannuscio says there is solid evidence that violence in childhood has enduring effects — both on well being and physical health. She says many participants reported that they feel boxed in by the violence in their neighborhood.

Cannuscio: That is crazy, that we can’t secure a zone of safety for our children so that they can walk to the rec center three blocks away and play or exercise there.

'Stop and Go Ridge Ave.' (Photo: Hannah Johnston for the Health of Philadelphia Photo-documentation Project)

'Stop and Go Ridge Ave.' (Photo: Hannah Johnston for the Health of Philadelphia Photo-documentation Project)

The exhibit at Penn’s Fox Art Gallery includes 60 photos and excerpts from the residents interviews.

Cannuscio: So you’ll see the poetry in the words of ordinary Philadelphians. You’ll see that really living in a city makes you an expert on the health of the city.

What: Trauma, Trash, and Triumph: Images from the Health of Philadelphia Photo-documentation Project
When: Nov 5 – 20
Where: Fox Art Gallery
Cohen Hall at the University of Pennsylvania
Web site: http://www.visualepi.com/index.html


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